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Govt helps 1 lakh students to become literate through reading melas

Until September this year, reading full sentences was a distant dream for 13-year-old Sundar Kumar who now feels himself to be fairly competent in reading.

Sundar is one of the several thousand students who had attended the Reading Campaign, an initiative by the Delhi government to turn non-readers into readers under its Chunauti scheme.

“I used to get confused while reading complex sentences but now I read out stories to my younger sister,” says the Class VI student at Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodya Vidhayalay, Lajpat Nagar.

After a baseline test conducted in Sundar’s school in September last week, he was selected in the non-reader Nishtha section. Here, he was not only given extra-coaching by the teachers in classrooms but was also taught by volunteers and teachers at the reading melas for six consecutive weekends.

On Friday, the results of its reading campaigns organised in all government-run schools in Delhi were presented to the state government by the Directorate of Education (DoE).

“The results of Delhi government’s reading campaign are found to really encouraging. It has been revealed that one lakh students have learnt to read advance stories in Hindi after the campaign,” said Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia.

The reading campaign was launched on September 5 this year on the occasion of Teacher’s Day to target the students of class VI to VII after a survey revealed that most students of Class VI in government-run schools were unable to read. The target was set to make them able to read Hindi fluently by November 14, Children’s Day.

“As per the baseline assessment, earlier, only 25 per cent children in Class VI could read an advanced story but now it is 46 per cent. Similarly, only 52 per cent children in class VII could read an advanced story, now it has risen to 64 per cent and in class VIII the percentage of students who can read advanced stories has gone up from from 55 per cent to 68 per cent,” Sisodia said.

The target of these reading campaigns was that by Children’s Day students of Class VI should be able to read Hindi fluently,” he added.

According to the government, out of total 6,323,70 students enrolled in class VI and VII in government-run schools, the campaign focussed on 3,59,152 i.e. 57 per cent of the total enrolled children.

The Delhi government’s reading melas have proved to be a hit among students as well as parents. Several parents, who also attended the melas, claimed to have learned reading and writing basic sentences.

“Earlier, I couldn’t read or write but after being taught by the volunteers at the reading melas, I can now sign instead of putting thumb prints,” says Sunita Kumari, a resident of Lajpat Nagar.

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A simple solution to end the encryption debate

Criminals and terrorists, like millions of others, rely on smartphone encryption to protect the information on their mobile devices. But unlike most of us, the data on their phones could endanger lives and pose a great threat to national security.

The challenge for law enforcement, and for us as a society, is how to reconcile the advantages of gaining access to the plans of dangerous individuals with the cost of opening a door to the lives of everyone else. It is the modern manifestation of the age-old conflict between privacy versus security, playing out in our pockets and palms.

One-size-fits all technological solutions, like a manufacturer-built universal backdoor tool for smartphones, likely create more dangers than they prevent. While no solution will be perfect, the best ways to square data access with security concerns require a more nuanced approach that rely on non-technological procedures.

The FBI has increasingly pressed the case that criminals and terrorists use smartphone security measures to avoid detection and investigation, arguing for a technological, cryptographic solution to stop these bad actors from “going dark.” In fact, there are recent reports that the Executive Branch is engaged in discussions to compel manufacturers to build technological tools so law enforcement can read otherwise-encrypted data on smartphones.

But the FBI is also tasked with protecting our nation against cyber threats. Encryption has a critical role in protecting our digital systems against compromises by hackers and thieves. And of course, a centralized data access tool would be a prime target for hackers and criminals. As recent events prove – from the 2016 elections to the recent ransomware attack against government computers in Atlanta – the problem will likely only become worse. Anything that weakens our cyber defenses will only make it more challenging for authorities to balance these “dual mandates” of cybersecurity and law enforcement access.

There is also the problem of internal threats: when they have access to customer data, service providers themselves can misuse or sell it without permission. Once someone’s data is out of their control, they have very limited means to protect it against exploitation. The current, growing scandal around the data harvesting practices on social networking platforms illustrates this risk. Indeed, our company Symphony Communications, a strongly encrypted messaging platform, was formed in the wake of a data misuse scandal by a service provider in the financial services sector.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

So how do we help law enforcement without making data privacy even thornier than it already is? A potential solution is through a non-technological method, sensitive to the needs of all parties involved, that can sometimes solve the tension between government access and data protection while preventing abuse by service providers.

Agreements between some of our clients and the New York State Department of Financial Services (“NYSDFS”), proved popular enough that FBI Director Wray recently pointed to them as a model of “responsible encryption” that solves the problem of “going dark” without compromising robust encryption critical to our nation’s business infrastructure.

The solution requires storage of encryption keys — the codes needed to decrypt data — with third party custodians. Those custodians would not keep these client’s encryption keys. Rather, they give the access tool to clients, and then clients can choose how to use it and to whom they wish to give access. A core component of strong digital security is that a service provider should not have access to client’s unencrypted data nor control over a client’s encryption keys.

The distinction is crucial. This solution is not technological, like backdoor access built by manufacturers or service providers, but a human solution built around customer control.  Such arrangements provide robust protection from criminals hacking the service, but they also prevent customer data harvesting by service providers.

Where clients choose their own custodians, they may subject those custodians to their own, rigorous security requirements. The clients can even split their encryption keys into multiple pieces distributed over different third parties, so that no one custodian can access a client’s data without the cooperation of the others.

This solution protects against hacking and espionage while safeguarding against the misuse of customer content by the service provider. But it is not a model that supports service provider or manufacturer built back doors; our approach keeps the encryption key control in clients’ hands, not ours or the government’s.

A custodial mechanism that utilizes customer-selected third parties is not the answer to every part of the cybersecurity and privacy dilemma. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that this dilemma will submit to a single solution, especially a purely technological one. Our experience shows that reasonable, effective solutions can exist. Technological features are core to such solutions, but just as critical are non-technological considerations. Advancing purely technical answers – no matter how inventive – without working through the checks, balances and risks of implementation would be a mistake.

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