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Unsung Heroes: Shailesh Raval, and every teacher who prioritised learning

Unsung Heroes: Shailesh Raval, and every teacher who prioritised learning

( January 6, 2021 )

Teachers in rural and urban areas had to come up with innovative methods to ensure students did not miss out on an education during the pandemic

At a government school in the Parpada village of Gujarat, Shailesh Raval teaches with the help of 20 loudspeakers installed across the hamlet
Image: Shirishkumar Patel for Forbes India

About 150 kilometres from Ahmedabad in Banaskantha district of Gujarat, every morning when the clock strikes 8, a loud voice booms across loudspeakers in the village of Parpada. It’s 55-year-old Shailesh Raval instructing students to pull out their books and get ready for class. Raval’s daily routine has remained the same as it was before the pandemic—only, as schools across the globe went online, his classroom moved outdoors.

Students in rural areas do not have access to smartphones, tablets, computers or TVs. A study conducted in June by the NGO Smile Foundation surveying 42,831 students across 23 states found that 56 percent of children had no access to smartphones, which became an essential device for e-learning during the Covid-19 lockdown. Existing disparities in education only worsened during the lockdown. Due to the pandemic, a lot of children were in danger of being pushed out of formal education, especially those from marginalised communities.

The teachers at the local government school in Parpada did not want their students’ education to suffer, so with the help of the head of the village, they set up 20 loudspeakers across the hamlet. “We visited each and every house and encouraged the students to join the loudspeaker class. We also requested their parents to sit with them while the class was going on to make sure their child did not get distracted and paid attention. Parents were quite supportive and thankful of this decision,” recalls Raval who is the vice principal of the school and has been teaching the village students for 27 years now. The school has about 200 students.

Classes commenced in June and seven teachers head to the panchayat office one by one to teach the students from classes 3 to 8. They take six classes every day, with each class lasting half an hour. To make sure that the students are on the same page, teachers repeat instructions three times as the students, sitting at home or in a public space, listen.

Raval and the teachers do face some challenges while teaching through loudspeakers. “Teaching without making eye contact with the students becomes difficult at times. We don’t know if the students are able to understand what we’re trying to communicate. I teach mathematics and have to keep trying different ways to teach them, because this subject is tough to teach without a blackboard,” says Raval, who invites the students to come and see him after school hours if they find it difficult to grasp the lessons. “A lot of students come to me to get their queries resolved. Despite all the challenges we are ensuring that the learning continues,” he adds.

To make sure students are paying attention, Raval at times randomly calls out a student’s name, which gets their attention and also makes them feel special since their names are being called out on a loudspeaker with the entire village listening in.

Teachers at schools in urban areas, where the transition from classroom to virtual learning has been more or less smooth, faced other challenges. It was a task to adapt to teaching online given that many of them were new to these technologies. They also had to redesign the teaching structure and syllabus from that of a traditional classroom to online. Keeping students engaged is a task wherever they are, and when they are not in a classroom, it’s a bigger challenge.

“It was a task to design effective teaching material to suit the new way of teaching and successfully implementing it to get the desired results,” says Garima Gupta, 45, an English teacher at a leading school in Noida, Delhi, who has been teaching students online since April. “Students were excited as well as confused, and it was a challenge for us to control these inquisitive minds who aspired to explore and experiment,” she adds.

Where teachers struggled with technology, it became difficult for them to take control of the situation, as students, making the most of the new experience, got up to mischief. “With time I learnt that making the sessions innovative and interactive helps keep the students attentive in my class. Also, one cannot deny the role of parents, who despite their own personal and professional challenges, monitor these kids. Yet at times, making these students switch on their camera is still a Herculean task,” says Gupta, laughing.

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Siffcy kicks off today

Siffcy kicks off today

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‘India should rededicate itself to skilling and educating youth

‘India should rededicate itself to skilling and educating youth

(January 12, 2022)

Now is time for the key stakeholders – the government, corporates, and the civil society – to work in greater synergy than ever and devise targeted interventions

National Youth Day 2022 is a good time to acknowledge the contribution of the youth to nation building, especially at the critical juncture when the economy is trying to recover from COVID-19.

The past two years have been trying, to say the least, and it is at this time that the youth of the country have stood up to be counted. They have taken it upon themselves to help with efforts to ease the shock of the pandemic on the population. With the population’s average age  29, India is a young country. Our youth have helped bring about a startup boom in the country. They are the ones responsible for making India the third largest base of Unicorns in the world.

India must now focus on educating and skilling the youth so they can contribute even more to the country’s progress. Governments, both at the centre and the states, must introduce schemes for the young to enable access to education.

Some state governments like those in Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Haryana have gone the extra mile in implementing welfare schemes for the youth. Case in point: the Government of Madhya Pradesh has overseen the implementation of welfare schemes such as the MP Mukhyamantri Kaushalya Yojna, the Kanya Saksharta Protsaahan Yojana, the Ladli Laxmi Yojana, the Mukhyamantri Awas Sahayata Yojana, and the Vimukt Jati Hostel Yojana to improve access of youth to scholarships, food, and shelter, and skill development.

The state administration is organizing employment fairs in every district of Madhya Pradesh on 12 January. which will benefit three lakh people.

But there are limitations to the efforts that governments alone can make, and they must be supported by the civil society in skilling the youth for employment. I would like to take the example of one such initiative – Smile Twin e-learning Program (STeP) – run by Smile Foundation. The livelihood program trains urban underprivileged youth in the 18-32 years age bracket with market-oriented job skills such as English, basic computer use, personality development, retail management, soft skills, and makes them employable in the retail and service sectors of India. The program is operational in 18 cities of 16 states and 65,000 youth have benefitted from it so far.

Role of youth in pandemic mitigation

The role of youth in pandemic mitigation is peerless. They are the ones who have led every initiative from mass vaccination to infection prevention and ensuring access to critical help for millions of Indians. Today, several youth are leading the implementation of the One Health concept across the country. Through this initiative, the Union Government’s Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying is establishing the One Health approach to leverage human capital and physical capital to prevent future pandemics.

The One Health concept recognizes that animal health, human health and the environment are inter-connected and inter-dependent. And youth are playing a key role in implementing One Health across thousands of farms across India.

What we can do

What we can do for the youth is to ensure access to quality education and healthcare, and to opportunities for learning and upskilling. The pandemic has exacerbated inequality and blocked access for millions of youth to these building blocks. Now is time for the key stakeholders – the government, corporates, and the civil society – to work in greater synergy than ever and devise targeted interventions. These interventions must be geared to bridge the gap in ensuring widespread access to learning and skill development, and opportunities for self-actualization for young people.

All the three key stakeholders have unique strengths that they bring to the table. The government brings with it scale. Corporates being with them financial muscle and planning prowess. And civil society organisations have rich experience of delivering outcomes on the ground by implementing strategy to the T. What these stakeholders must do is to work to eliminate the trust deficit. Together, these stakeholders can deliver population scale change furthering sustainable development.

And here too, youth will be the backbone, driving change for the better.

 Dr Abodh Kumar, professor, Department of Economic Studies and Policy, Central University of South Bihar. He is President of India awardee for stellar work in academics and a recipient of Inspired Teacher award .

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Skilling Youth Today Is Key To Shaping India’s Tomorrow

Skilling Youth Today Is Key To Shaping India’s Tomorrow

(January 12, 2022)

Fresh graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to seek employment due to lack of appropriate skills and experience required in the job market.

The youth of the country are a dynamic population that plays a crucial role in the nation’s growth and development. They form strong pillars of the social and economic growth of communities. One in every third person in India is below the age of 24. This creates a large pool of human resources with high untapped potential for development. A nation’s productivity and development depend on the skills that its workforce holds. As a result of the demographic dividend, the youth will be key to building a strong economy. With an abundance of natural resources, improving world-class infrastructure, and policies that support self-reliance, India is on a path to breaking barriers and positioning itself among world leaders. At the heart of this progress are the people, especially the youth who are the principal resource contributing to national growth.

However, according to UN reports, young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than other adults and are continuously exposed to low quality of jobs, greater labour market inequalities, and longer and more insecure school-to-work transitions. With the onset of the global pandemic, the youth of the country were subjected to a disconnect from quality education and work opportunities as economic activities plunged. As per the results of the latest quarterly Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS), conducted by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, around 23 per cent of urban youth in the 15-29 age group remained unemployed in January-March 2021. As per data from independent economic data agency CMIE, India’s labour participation ratio has fallen to 40.15 per cent in November 2021, i.e., 60 per cent of employable people in India have fallen off the job market. These factors make it important to help the youth of the nation access training and skill development opportunities through public and private initiatives.

Fresh graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to seek employment due to lack of appropriate skills and experience required in the job market. Widening skill gap is the major reason for growing inequality in job opportunities and increasing unemployment among youth. There is a growing need to restore the balance between demand and supply of skills in the market. Skilling and training of youth for 21st-century employability skills and capabilities will help create a skilled workforce that can contribute towards socio-economic growth. The youth must be trained in real-time market-oriented skills that encompass soft skills as well as technical skills rather than specific skills taught in isolation. Holistic skills training will not only help the youth get employed and participate in the workforce but will also allow them personal growth and a climb up the social ladder.

At the core of skilling is basic education. The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) is a step in the right direction as it aims to address the skilling of the youth to prepare a workforce that is fit for industrial revolution 4.0. Focus on vocational training will allow students to grow in sectors of their interest and help them tap their true potential to contribute fully to the nation’s development. While the NEP 2020 is at work, there is a need to address skilling and training for the youth who are currently looking for employment and skill acquisition. Given the rise in digitization across India, remote and virtual-mode learning needs to be leveraged to reach out to youth in semi-urban and rural India to provide skilling opportunities that can enhance talent and help provide access to employment opportunities, leading to the development and growth of communities. Skilling fresh graduates and those who lack the skills required for the job market and upskilling those looking to move industries or move upwards in their current sector will be a definite addition to the quality of the national labour force.

Make no mistake, skilling and training will be key in forming a world-class workforce that aids the Indian economy’s ascendancy. Addressing the skilling and training needs of India’s youth will also help our country achieve its sustainable development goals of reduced inequality, decent work and economic growth, and poverty eradication and overall wellbeing. We need to take steps now to harness the true potential that the youth of India hold so that our country is able to realize its demographic dividend.

The article is written by Santanu Mishra, Co-Founder and Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation.

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International Day of Education: Transforming education with digitisation

International Day of Education: Transforming education with digitisation

(January 24, 2022)

There is need to work collaboratively to help students get dynamic growth through education, writes Santanu Mishra

The pandemic has brought many unavoidable and abrupt changes in the sphere of education. The education system across primary, secondary, and higher learning has been disrupted, leaving students with major learning gaps and many without access to learning tools. Efforts have been made to mitigate these hardships, wherein educationists, social entrepreneurs, organisations, and government establishments have led the way in transforming the education landscape of India.

Traditional to digital

India has the world’s second largest education system, consisting of government-run, public, and non-government schools across urban and rural India. Up until now, with low adoption of digital education, India’s education system followed traditional methods of learning. However, this changed with the pandemic, as both private and public institutions adopted technological aids to offer what was best for students with new educational tools and innovations.

Students were quick to transition from four-walled classrooms to learning from screens. To address the issues of lack of digital access in rural and semi-urban India, the private and social sectors came forward to complement government efforts through interventions that allowed children from all sections of the society to access digital devices and internet connectivity, helping pupils transition from traditional methods of learning to the digital mode.

Shift in strategy

As we battle the pandemic, some tectonic shifts have taken place. India has fully vaccinated more than 61% of its eligible population. This success has made it possible for all educational institutions to think about and plan reopening. It is now important that as educationists, we ensure a smooth transition back to the classrooms by adopting a hybrid method of teaching and learning, while preserving gains from digitisation of education.

Need of blended learning

Students were among the worst sufferers of the pandemic, as their education came to a sudden halt with schools shutting down. While most shifted to digital learning, for the lesser privileged students, this transition came with numerous challenges. A sample survey of over 40,000 children at education centers across the country suggests that nearly 60% did not have access to smartphones. Home learning was not easy for them either, as many of them are first generation learners and cannot expect support and guidance from their parents.

We used a blended learning approach, where we used a variety of ways that were customised as per the individual needs of children, including digital learning, normal phone-based learning, community cluster classes, door-to-door visits, as well as radio and television-based learning programmes. Through these, we made efforts to help children continue their education. Special emphasis was paid on the mental and emotional well-being of children through engaging activities, music, art, yoga, and even one-on-one counseling when needed.

The pandemic also disrupted skilling of youth, along with forcing the market to generate new requirements. This has also been highlighted in the focus given to skill development and vocational training in NEP 2020.

There is need to work collaboratively to help our children and youth get dynamic growth and education. On the brighter side, the pandemic has preponed many innovations in teaching and learning. For example, the hybrid model of education seems to be the new normal as we prepare our children for the immediate future.

(The author is co-founder and executive trustee, Smile Foundation)

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Vaccines a macro-economic indicator: Economic Survey

Vaccines a macro-economic indicator: Economic Survey

(January 31, 2022)

Adds that vaccines have emerged as the “best shield” against Covid to save lives and sustain livelihood

Vaccines have emerged as the “best shield” against Covid to save lives and sustain livelihood, said the Economic Survey. And India’s vaccination drive should be viewed as a macro-economic indicator, as it has become critical to re-igniting economic activity.

Outlining the Centre’s “agile, strategic and pre-emptive” response to cope with uncertainties thrown up by the pandemic, the survey noted that it was not just the production of vaccines locally, but also its administration across the country that made the difference.

Jump in FDI
Significantly, the pharmaceutical industry appeared to have got a booster dose, with foreign direct investment in the sector seeing a “sudden spurt in FY21 vis-a-vis the previous year, showing a 200 per cent increase”, according to the survey.

“The extraordinary growth of foreign investments in the pharma sector is mainly on account of investments to meet Covid-related demands for therapeutics and vaccines,” it added. In April-September 2021, FDI inflows stood at ₹4,413 crore, 53 per cent more than the same period in 2020.

V Ashok, Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO), ACG, is not surprised by the FDI increase.

“Most of them are formulation companies that got FDI. All of them have got funds for Covid medicines, other drugs, for increasing capacities..,” he told BusinessLine.

Focus on healthcare

“The Economic Survey has rightly considered vaccination as a macro-economic parameter. India’s highly successful vaccination drive has been a big protection and a confidence booster. We believe that going forward, continued reforms, focus on capital expenditure, continuous strengthening of our healthcare systems and the micro containment strategy to ensure minimal supply chain disruptions will all act as a booster dose to the economy, enabling India to grow at sustained high rates,” said Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General at the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII).

“The increased spending on health augurs well for the entire country. While some part of this was pandemic-induced, it must be lauded. We hope India continues on this trajectory so that the penetration of quality healthcare services reaches the lowest strata of the society,” said Santanu Mishra, co-Founder and Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation.

Increased spending

Pointing out that the health sector had been worst hit during the pandemic, the survey said expenditure on health increased by 73 per cent to ₹4.72-lakh crore in 2021-22, as per Budget Estimates, from ₹2.73-lakh crore in 2019-20.

It also pointed to the Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission, a new centrally sponsored scheme, with an outlay of about ₹64,180 crore in five years to develop capacities of primary, secondary and tertiary health care systems

Keeping in mind the committed health spend of 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2025, the survey said that between Central and State governments, budgeted expenditure on health reached 2.1 per cent of GDP in 2021-22 against 1.3 per cent in 2019-20.

Pharma sector

The survey said that during 2020-21, total pharma export stood at $24.4 billion against imports of $7.0 billion. However, it highlighted the country’s dependence on the import of bulk drugs that are used in the formulation of medicine, which varies between 80-100 percent in certain cases. This issue of import dependence for critical bulk drugs was examined by a high-level committee and a composite set of actions to incentivize bulk drug production has been initiated, said the survey.


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Allocation for education up by 11.86 percent

Allocation for education up by 11.86 percent

(February 01, 2022)

The finance minister said programmes and partnerships with the industry will be reoriented to promote continuous skilling avenues, sustainability and employability

Presenting the Budget 2022-23 in Parliament, Sitharaman also announced that a digital university will be established to provide access to world-class quality universal education to students across the country with a personalised learning experience at their doorsteps. Credit: DH illustration

With a key focus on online learning, the finance minister announced an allocation of Rs 1.04 lakh crore to the education sector. This is an increase of Rs 11,054 crore, or 11.86%, over the allocation in 2021-22.

Of this, Rs 63,449 crore was allocated to the Department of School Education and Literacy, which saw an increase of Rs 9,000 crore in allocation. The revised estimate for 2021-22 is Rs 88,001 crore. The lion’s share of the allocation for the education sector was set aside for samagra shiksha. It rose from Rs 31,050 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 37,383 crore in 2022-23.

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Medical Tourism struggles to recuperate from Covid pandemic losses

Medical Tourism struggles to recuperate from Covid pandemic losses

(February 17, 2022)

Only about 50-60 per cent improvement was seen in this space in the last quarter

Despite India being an attractive destination for people undertaking medical tourism from many countries, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, West Asia, , Maldives and Africa among others, this segment was severly impacted after Covid pandemic. This hospital sector is now trying to recuperate from the losses it incurred. According to the Ministry of Tourism website, foreign tourist arrivals for medical treatment in India in the calendar year ending December 2020 fell by 73 per cent to 1.82 lakh as compared with 6.97 lakh in 2019. As per experts, corporate hospitals earn 10-15 per cent of the total revenue from medical tourism in the pre-Covid period. Patients generally prefer India for elective surgeries like organ transplant, oncology, joint transplant, heart surgeries, along with complex surgeries too in some cases.

“In pre-Covid times, 10-12 per cent of our total revenue came from medical tourism. During the first wave, revenue came to nearly zero because the air traffic had come to a halt. Subsequently we revived a little bit. Talking about the last quarter we were at 50-60 per cent of the pre-Covid levels. Patients were coming to us through an air-bubble arrangement. Most of the recovery is from Bangladesh,” Dilip Jose, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Manipal Hospitals told BusinessLine.

“With the regime change in Afghanistan, we will have to see if the traffic comes back to us. Earlier a lot of pediatric patients used to come to us from Afghanistan. We do see a trickle of patients coming from Tanzania but nowhere at the same level we used to see three or four years ago. Now, also we are getting a few patients with cardiac ailment from Afghanistan in Delhi but they are not at all close to the pre-Covid levels,” Jose further stated.

As per Anil Vinayak, Group Chief Operating Officer, Fortis Healthcare, contribution of medical tourism to the company’s revenue was nearly 10-11 per cent before Covid hit the country and it plunged to as low as 2 per cent for sometime during the Covid period.

“ We have recovered up to 6-7 per cent now. By the middle of the next financial year, we hope that we will reach the pre-Covid level of 10-11 per cent and from there on, we can expect some growth,” Vinayak stated.
According to Dr. Girdhar Gyani, Director General, Association of Healthcare Providers (India) (AHPI), India has been a leading country to attract medical tourists along with Thailand and Singapore in SAARC and ASEAN group of countries. India attracts medical tourists from Africa, GCC, Central Asia.

Even European nationals find it attractive to avail healthcare services in India owing to cheaper rates with low waiting time but Covid has changed the equation, he said.

“Covid however has hampered medical tourism not only for India but also across the globe. Patients in general have been the biggest loser. Along with them, the industry has also suffered financially as hospitals over the years have added infrastructure including logistics and manpower to cater to foreign patients,”


“Now that the international flights will hopefully open up from March-April, and the international travel comes to a pre-Covid level, we should be seeing the bulk of the patients coming to us,” Jose of Manipal Hospitals said while further adding that we will have to wait and watch.

“In the first wave the flights were not operating and this has continued for almost 2 years. Secondly, there was fear of infection. Put together, there has virtually been a complete ban on overseas patients for the past two years. Now that Covid wave is receding, hopefully there will be movement, once the normal operation of airlines begins,” Gyani of AHPI stated.

Meanwhile, Neha Pandey, Director, International Marketing, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad said, “depending upon how affected any particular country is, patients may not choose that nation as an option for medical tourism. Some countries may also not give visas to certain countries because of the risk involved in international travel to that particular country.”

She further added that the world is also experiencing an economic crisis, and many patients may have to give it a second thought if they could bear the cost of medical tourism at the moment. “Value of currency is going low because of the shutting down of businesses and global import and export. The Indian Government has also made strict protocols to Grant Medical Visas,” she said.

“Medical tourism in all states has been impacted by waves of Covid-19. We are working on re-branding the State and re-organising our strategy in post Covid-19 times where the stress will be on health and wellness. We are in discussions with some good players in this space who are willing to offer quality service to tourists across various budgets and needs,” said Sonia Meena, Additional Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board.

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The Metaverse – What It Holds For Gen Next And What Challenges It Faces

The Metaverse – What It Holds For Gen Next And What Challenges It Faces

(March 23, 2022)

Samsung recently launched its latest flagship smartphone simultaneously on metaverse and in the real world a few days back.

This was the first time that such an event was being held in a virtual format, but for all the hype, attendance was more for the novelty factor alone, as the live web cast of the event on Youtube gave a better experience. If the video grabs of the metaverse version were anything to go by, the graphics looked more like the video games of the 90s than that of a cutting edge new technology.

So, what is the reason behind all this interest in the metaverse with all the tech biggies ranging from Facebook, (which has even changed its name to Meta), to Microsoft, Apple, Amazon etc. rushing to be a part of this phenomenon?

It is obvious that organizations and investors can see business opportunity through the metaverse, which is why they are taking it so seriously and spending big money on developing the hardware, software as well as the infrastructure to get it going.

For example, Meta is developing a record-breaking supercomputer to power its metaverse, reaching quintillions of operations per second, that is thousands of petaflops in one second. To put it in context, the Param Pravega supercomputer commissioned recently at the IISc Bengaluru, has a capacity of 3.3 petaflops (1 petaflop equals a quadrillion or 1015 operations per second).

Other companies are racing to build chips, AR/VR mounts that can capture physical movements of not only the head but of arms and hands as well, cloud infrastructure and networks to handle the massive amounts of data that will need to be transferred, stored as well as processed.

As an aside, one marvels at the brilliance of Facebook’s move to rename itself Meta – with one stroke they have made sure that their name is a part of the next big thing in technology!

Already, deals in the millions of dollars are being made to purchase space on the various metaverses that exist as of now. And the reason for this is simple – the inhabitants of the various metaverses will in the most likelihood be individuals with sufficient purchasing power – those who are driving the consumption in the physical world as well. Not being present in the metaverse could have a very adverse effect on the bottom lines, if not immediately, definitely in the medium as well long term.

Which is probably why even bankers like J P Morgan, who foresee the metaverse becoming a USD 1 trillion yearly opportunity, have set up their presence in the Metajuku mall in a metaverse called Decentraland.

To be honest, the potential for a virtual world or worlds is enormous, for it would liberate us from the limitations that we live with.

As the world learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic, seeing rows of faces on a computer screen is a poor substitute for physical meetings or classes. In the metaverse, we would be able to interact with others almost as if we were physically meeting with them, for the ultimate objective would be to provide a world that was as close to reality as possible.

Our relationship with the world around us is primarily through our senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste, and for any virtual world to be immersive, all the senses need to be invoked and involved.

This brings us to the biggest challenge that the metaverse faces – allowing its inhabitants the ability to seamlessly enter and interact within it, in an as life-like and natural manner as possible. Till it achieves this, the metaverse will remain the domain of those comfortable with using the mouse and keyboard, or maybe voice commands, to move and communicate.

Current technology has given us the option to engage virtually through our eyes and ears through VR headsets and other similar devices. Locomotion, as well as movement of our limbs within virtual worlds is possible through sensors attached to our legs and hands, while actions can be carried out through mouse clicks or voice commands.

Our imagination is linear, based upon what we already know, so most of us would imagine that advances in technology would probably be in the lines of lighter headsets and sensors that could be easily put on or removed.

But we could be wrong.

In April 2021, Elon Musk’s company Neuralink released a video showing a macaque monkey, named Pager, playing Pong. In itself, this was no big deal because monkeys have earlier been taught various skills.

The mind blowing fact was that Pager was playing the game, and very well too, by thinking his moves. There was a chip embedded in his brain that read the signals being sent by the part of his brain that controlled hand movement, and transmitted them wirelessly to a sensor in the computer that then converted these signals to move the cursor on the screen.

To take this to the next logical step, theoretically at least, the reverse should be possible – sensory input like sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, received in the metaverse could be felt by us in the physical world through chips implanted in our brain. Once that is achieved, users could seamlessly flit between and enjoy the best of both worlds! An extreme version of this could be the world that was portrayed in the Matrix movies.

This then leads us to the effect that the metaverse will have upon our society. As with anything related to technology, it is usually the young who are the early adopters, so good or bad, it is they who will be experiencing first.

The nearest parallels that we have in current technology are social media and multiplayer games like PUBG etc., and if the effects of the metaverse are similar, then there is need for extreme caution that needs to be taken.

In their drive to monetize their massive investments, it is highly unlikely that the corporations running the metaverses will give proper importance to the checks and balances that need to be put in place before our youth are drawn into them.

As we have seen with popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the highly sophisticated AI algorithms running in the background can turn what appears to be an open platform into an echo chamber, reinforcing the user’s beliefs – however distressing they may be.

Already, we have seen a dire warning issued by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the UK that some apps in the virtual-reality metaverse are ‘dangerous by design’.

This warning was in response to an investigation by the BBC, where a researcher posing as a 13-year-old girl, witnessed grooming, sexual material, racist insults and a rape threat in an App called VRChat. The app was accessed on Facebook’s Meta Quest headset from an app store present there. The only requirement to access the app was a Facebook account.

The researcher, though she was posing as 13 year old, was allowed to enter virtual-reality rooms where not only was she shown age-inappropriate items and avataars simulating explicit acts, she was also subject to approaches by numerous adult men.

By its very nature, technology brings progress – both desirable as well as undesirable. And it requires not just the desire and ability, but also tremendous amounts of will power and enormous resources, to ensure that the undesirable does not overpower the desirable.

We are still unable to monitor the content on the publicly available content on the Internet, and it is assumed that a large amount of the content as well as traffic relates to pornography and prohibited trades.

Considering that we still struggle to ring-fence the Internet, it is essential that measures to ensure safety of users are envisaged and put in place before the metaverse reaches the proportions its creators hope it will.

It is necessary to not only curate content wherever possible, but also to put in place proper entry barriers, linked if necessary to official identity documents, if there is any hope of making the metaverse safe our children and youth to leverage the benefits it can bring.

The author is co-founder and Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation. The opinions expressed in the article are author’s own.

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World Health Day 2022 should help us introspect, strengthen the fort with help from all stakeholders

World Health Day 2022 should help us introspect, strengthen the fort with help from all stakeholders

(April 06, 2022)

This year’s World Health Day stresses on the need to protect people and the environment that they are part of.

The World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 every year to kindle hope for the world, to reimagine a world where clean air, water and food are available to all, where economies are focused on health and well-being, where cities are livable, and people have control over their health and the health of the planet. With the theme ‘Our Planet, Our Health’, World Health Day 2022 is aimed at attracting global attention towards the well-being of our planet and the humans living on it.

In the run up to World Health Day, WHO released a new air quality database that shows that around 2,000 more cities/human settlements are now recording ground monitoring data for particulate matter, PM 10 and/or PM 2.5 . Almost the entire global population (99%) is breathing air that exceeds WHO air quality limits and is threatening their health. A record number of over 6,000 cities in 117 countries are now monitoring air quality, but the people living in them are still breathing unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, with people in low and middle-income countries suffering the highest exposures.

Estimates show that more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are due to avoidable environmental factors. This includes the climate crisis which is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. The climate crisis is also a health crisis.

Apart from human-induced climate hazards, scientists are wary of future pandemics that might strike, and brace for them, two years since the deadly coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic struck us. Covid-19 is not the last pandemic, and the next one is imminent, unless we come together to prevent it.

Scientists and epidemiologists have pointed out the link between animals and humans for transmission of infectious diseases. A research paper published in Nature suggests that approximately three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases in humans have an animal origin.

Covid-19 and some of the other deadliest disease outbreaks around the world in modern times, including the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009, West African Ebola pandemic between 2014 and 2016, Zika virus outbreak and the Nipah virus, have shown the need for concerted efforts to be battle-ready and tackle future pandemics that are yet to come.

In the early 2000s there came a concept ‘One Health’ that recognizes the interconnections and health interdependencies among humans, animals, and the shared environments in which we live and interact. With the changing risks of global spread, the timeliness of early detection is emerging as a prerequisite in our ability to detect outbreaks at the stage when they can still be contained.

An estimate by the Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying shows that an annual investment of approximately $22-$31 billion, globally, would strengthen animal sector systems, enough to prevent pandemics like coronavirus, saving trillions of dollars.

Preventing diseases from spreading – from wildlife to livestock, and eventually to humans is critical. Also, early detection and control of these diseases in livestock, could prevent human pandemics and mitigate the devastating consequences of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). This requires the adoption of a One Health approach for disease prevention.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years almost derailed the healthcare infrastructure in many countries, including India. Shortage of oxygen, ventilators and PPE kits virtually throttled the fight against the virus, especially in the stressed phase when the second wave hit the country.

It was, with the support of non-governmental and civil society organizations that India could rebound and stand back on its feet. One such initiative was Smile Foundation’s Health Cannot Wait campaign that solicited long-term investments through donations to strengthen healthcare infrastructure in the country. It supported in setting up oxygen banks for critical patient support among vulnerable communities, mobilization of PPE Kits & N-95 Masks for frontline health workers, distribution of hygiene kits (including masks, soaps, sanitizers, oximeters), tele-counseling to dispel vaccine hesitancy, spread awareness on COVID-appropriate behavior and the provision of primary healthcare services to reduce the load on health infrastructure.

However, there are many other critical diseases that impact public health, especially in a diverse country like India. Several stakeholders and organizations, including global non-profit Malaria No More, are working towards addressing diseases like Malaria that have an impact while acknowledging that there are several barriers in addressing vector borne diseases. India is now in the last leg of achieving its Malaria elimination goals and is in major need of participation from the public and private sector, along with corporation from the public.

In fact, the World Health Assembly had in May 2015 adopted Global Technical Strategy for Malaria and set the ambitious new target of reducing the global malaria burden by 90% by 2030 by scaling up malaria responses and moving towards elimination.

Stakeholders engaged in India’s fight against malaria have shown that community action is helping countries achieve their malaria elimination goals.

The discussion around health remains incomplete without the fight against HIV and AIDS.

HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed 36.3 million lives so far. While there is no cure for HIV infection, with increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care, including for opportunistic infections, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.

In India, National AIDS Control Organization (Naco) steers HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, education, sensitization, and control programs.

Safe Zindagi, part of Program Accelerate and funded by USAID and Johns Hopkins University, has been working with the National AIDS Control Organization (Naco) since 2019 to advance progress towards the UNAIDS 95-95-95 goals to achieve epidemic control in India. Programs like Accelerate assist Naco in addressing gaps in programming and outreach among at-risk populations, including People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and four key population groups — female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and people who inject drugs.

There are organizations that are coming forward to bridge India’s healthcare gap for marginalized communities. One such facility is ‘Mitr Clinic’, India’s first-ever clinic that works exclusively for the

transgender community and is run by them. Started by Project Accelerate, a programme raising awareness on HIV and AIDS, Mitr Clinics support and address the needs and issues of members of the transgender community by engaging in conversations and activities built on faith and trust. No healthcare mechanism is complete without the focus on child health and nutrition. But the government along with various civil society organizations are working tirelessly towards strengthening child healthcare in India. So far, Smile Foundation has provided over 27.7 million meals to more than 200,000 families in 23 states of India. It aims to provide three square meals to more than 250,000 families and is working to provide 50,000 home isolation kits to Covid patients.

State governments are conducting some interesting health programs to push for improved health outcomes. States like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh are working towards this in a concerted manner. The government of Madhya Pradesh runs a bouquet of integrated health schemes such as the Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram, and the Navjat Shishu Suraksha Karyakram, apart from the Ladli Lakshmi Yojana which seek to provide end-to-end support to improve health and wellbeing of citizens.

What we now need, is greater integration of efforts to bring this all together towards the achievement of the national goal of health outcomes that are better than those in the developing world, so we can then aim to better these further.

Source :

Privacy Policy - Smile Foundation

Information Gathering

1. Smile Foundation collects information from the users in a number of ways, for example when the user:

  • Makes a donation
  • Signs up for a campaign
  • Signs up to stay updated

2. While forwarding a donation for Smile Foundation the well-wishers have to submit some personal information as it would help us ensuring genuine contributions:

  • Your name
  • Your email and mailing address
  • Your telephone number
  • Your payment processing details
  • Any other data as required

3. Smile Foundation does not collect or record the user’s personal information unless he/she chooses to provide it.

Use of Personal Information

1. General browsing of Smile Foundation website is anonymous and it does not register the user’spersonal information except the time, date and place of visits and the name of internet service provider. This data is used only for statistics and diagnosis.

2. By signing up for various services offered by Smile Foundation, the user explicitly authorizes us to collect information based on the user’s usage. The information is used to help provide a better experience to the user and is used as per the user’s specified instructions.

3. Smile Foundation keeps the user information strictly confidential and this information is secured safely. All relevant information collected through Smile Foundation website is handled and used by internal and/or authorized officials only. It is nevershared with any external agencies or third party individuals.

4. Smile Foundation uses the information givento it in the following ways:

  • To keep an accurate record of all the donations received
  • To update users about its happenings and developments through bulletins and newsletters, with an option of not to subscribe for the same
  • To make sure the user is receiving the most appropriate and relevant information
  • To find out more about the people who are visiting the Smile Foundationwebsite, donating, or joining its campaigns

5. Usually, Smile Foundation does not store user data. In case of specific sign-ups, the data is stored as per user request. The user can opt to delete all the information he/she has provided by simply requesting such by mail. All information, without exception, will be deleted in two working days.

Privacy of e-mail lists

Individuals who join Smile Foundation’s mailing lists via its website or through its campaigning engagements are added to its email database. Smile Foundation does not sell, rent, loan, trade, or lease the addresses on our lists to anyone.

Cookie Policy

1. Cookies are pieces of electronic information which will be sent by Smile Foundation when a user visitsthe website. These will be placed in the hard disk of the user’s computer and enable Smile Foundation to recognise the user when he/she visits the website again.

2. The user can configure his/her browser so that it responds to cookies the way he/she deems fit. For example, you make want to accept all cookies, reject them all or get notified when a cookie is sent. The users may check their browser’s settings to modify cookie behaviour as per individual behaviour.

3. If a user disables the use of cookies on the web browser, or removes or rejects specific cookies from Smile Foundation’swebsite or linked sites then he/she may not be able to use the website as it is intended.

Payment Gateway

1. SmileFoundation uses well-recognised and proven technology for payments. Payment information is transferred by the use of an SSL connection which offers the highest degree of security that the donor’s browser is able to support.

2. Several layers of built-in security, including an advanced firewall system, encryption of credit card numbers, and use of passwords, protect the collected information.

External Web Services

1. Smile Foundation uses a number of external web services on its site to display content within its web pages. For example, to display video it uses YouTube. As with the social media buttons, Smile Foundation cannot prevent these sites, or external domains, from collecting information on the user’s consumption of the content embedded on its site.

2. The Smile Foundation website contains links to other websites for the benefit of its visitors. This Privacy Policy does not apply to such other websites.

3. Smile Foundation is not expressly or impliedly responsible for, or liable to any loss or damage caused to a user by the collection, use and retention of Personal Information by such website in any manner whatsoever. It is important that the users review the privacy policies of all websites they visit before disclosing any information to such websites.

Changes to Privacy Policy

1. As and when the need arises, Smile Foundation may alter its privacy policy in accordance with the latest technology and trends. It will provide you with timely notice of these changes. The users may reach out to Smile Foundation if they have any queries about any changes made to its practices.

2. If you have any questions at all about Smile Foundation’s privacy policy, please write to us at: [email protected]

Refund and Cancellation Policy

Welcome to this web-site of SMILE FOUNDATION. We make public our policy on refund and cancellation of donations received for the social cause on payment gateway as under:-

  • No refund/cancellation for the donated amount by any donor will not be entertained, the online donations through the online payment gateway.
  • No cash or refund of money will be allowed.
  • If any in-kind support received by the donor from any where the material will be reached to the poorest of the poorer communities.
  • Once received the donation for a cause will not be refunded to the donor. No cancellation to be made. The donation will be used for the community development, children education or women’s empowerment.
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Supplementing & In Alignment with Government Initiatives


Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
National Education Policy
Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao
Digital India


Skill India
Enhancing Formal Skilling


National Rural Health Mission
Universal Health Coverage
National Digital Health Mission
Promotion of Govt. Health Schemes


Anaemia Mukt Bharat
Poshan Abhiyan
Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan
Anganwadi Strengthening