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Issue Brief No. 13

Statistical Literacy – A Vital Ingredient for an Informed Indian Citizenry

Numbers are tricky. They can illuminate as much as they can mislead; inform as much as they can disinform; and reveal hidden problems but also mask real issues. However, one common attribute is that they emit an aura of credibility – even when they are deployed to mislead audiences, distort findings, or conceal facts. Statistics, a field earlier confined to either the ivory towers of research institutions or the obfuscating corridors of governance, is now a common form of public communication. However, a key question is lost in this avalanche of data that is fed to the people: What is the extent of statistical literacy in India? In this Issue Brief, P.C. Mohanan, former Acting Chairman, National Statistical Commission (NSC), writes on the need to evaluate and enhance statistical literacy – a competence that is required for a knowledge society but has not attracted the attention of policy makers, enumerators, the academia, and pedagogues. Although this form of literacy is elusive to define and measure, the manner in which citizens emerge as active constituents of an informed society depends in good measure on their ability to grapple with the numerals that they encounter on a daily basis. The rising relevance of data journalism, and the widespread use of numbers as a tool to enhance public messaging, should be met by increasing the popular awareness of statistics and its nuances. This Issue Brief highlights the increased use of data in India’s public communications and emphasises the need to ensure that data-based statements are presented in a clear, correct, and unambiguous manner. Mohanan shines the spotlight on some common errors that distort results and emphasises the importance of accuracy of language, logic, and context in conveying statistical results. He highlights the role of data journalists in identifying lapses and correctly conveying the messages revealed by the numbers, as wider dissemination of statistical literacy will result in a better understanding of key issues and facilitate the emergence of a discerning citizenry. Keywords: Statistical Literacy, Data Journalism, National Statistical CommissionAlso by the AuthorPolicy Watch No. 16: Credible Data for the Public Good: Constraints, Challenges, and the Way Ahead [PDF 541 KB]

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Essay

Leveraging Social Mobility: What India’s Schools are Missing

What are schools meant to do for adolescent-aged children? Are they merely institutions that instil conformity while imparting basic knowledge of the three R’s? Should they blindly roll out prescribed syllabi to prepare students for year-end examinations or can they inculcate thinking and other skills to face life in and beyond school? Are teachers meant to, to borrow from the title of the late French philosopher Michel Foucault’s celebrated work on modern prisons, “discipline and punish”; or can they creatively channelise the energies of students towards reflection, social engagement, and “rearing of selves”, as exhorted by the American philosopher, John Dewey? Moving from theory to practice, how has the U.K.’s society and politics approached the challenging linkages between education, income, and social inequality, and what are Indian schools missing?

These and related questions sprang to the mind of Akila Radhakrishnan, a 2022 Chevening Gurukul Fellow for Leadership and Excellence at Oxford University. A trained Sociologist and a Social Policy Specialist at UNICEF-India, a sabbatical at Oxford gave her the time, space, and ambience to take a step back from her decades of ground-level experience to look at how India’s schools could better cater to the interests of their students and the country.

Placing school education against the social and political backdrop, Dr. Radhakrishnan argues the case for a wider approach to school education – perhaps the most important external intervention in the shaping of an individual. She raises, among other issues, the importance of imparting socio-emotional as well as vocational skills to young children. The larger question that directs her first-person Essay on the options that lie ahead for India’s school education framework is the following: Are India’s schools preparing its children for life – be it the domains of self-management and further education, or the world of work?

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COVID-19 Compendium: Official Information on COVID-19 Released by India and the WHO [HTML and PDF]

An up-to-date compilation of more than 1,800 official statements by the Government of India from January 17, 2020. Links to articles published by The

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Credible Data for the Public Good: Constraints, Challenges, and the Way Ahead [HTML and PDF]

Bits and bytes of information propel today’s knowledge society. This Data Revolution is as transformational as it is multi-dimensional. India, however, remains a laggard and is yet to harness the full potential of data for the public good. In this Policy Watch, P. C. Mohanan, former Acting Chairman, National Statistical Commission (NSC), takes the reader through the data collection, analysis, and dissemination process in India. In particular, he points out the deficiencies in the institutional, implementational, and procedural elements of the country’s official statistics machinery. For a country endowed with a multiplicity of resources that are matched by the problems that confront it, the scientific use of data to address peoples’ issues has often been subverted for either political reasons or because of the inability of the structures that are in place to deliver timely and credible data for decision-makers.As the rest of the world races ahead by adapting newer technologies and creating independent bodies that ensure credibility of data, India appears to not only stagnate but regress as well. The way out, Mohanan says, is to harness the available technologies in a meaningful manner, improve statistical literacy, and insulate the statistical system from political vested interests. HTML Version [PDF 549 KB]

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The Law of Sedition and India: An Evolutionary Overview

Article 124A, characterised aptly by the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, as the “prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code de

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Dissent & Democracy: Why the Sentinel Should Strike Down IPC Sec. 124A

Sedition laws sit at the crossroads of politics and society, and law and justice. The political nature of this “offence against the state” tests the l

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The Sedition Law in India - Select Resources

Article 124A of the Indian Penal Code has been through engaging court speeches, Bills and Acts, Reports of commissions and committees, and insightful