Ed-tech Start-up CollegeDunia Ranks as the Country’s Third Best Education Portal

Edu-tech start-up CollegeDunia was announced the 3rd best education portal of India recently. While 1st and 2nd positions are held by Siksha and Careers360, CollegeDunia a two year old portal has left many of the renowned websites behind. As per the Alexa statistics, the portal now stands at 627th position in the entire country.

Sahil Chalana, Founder, CollegeDunia said, “When I started CollegeDunia in 2014, my aim was to make information about college admission available to everyone. Initially we covered only 20 streams. Today we offer information about almost every course in every stream including not so talked about paramedical, agriculture, veterinary sciences etc. It is obviously an honor to rank as 3rd best education portal in the country, but we are aiming for even bigger reach in coming times. We have reached our target 1.8 lakh visitors per day and have also launched our app. Our mission is to empower student with proper knowledge, so that he/she can take informed decisions towards building a successful career.”

CollegeDunia offers an easy to use interface where students can search for colleges according to states and streams. The new CollegeDunia app makes the entire college admission process even simpler by offering information on finger tips. The app is created with a very easy to use interface and it notifies the start of admission and closure of admission dates for the selected colleges and streams. There is more to CollegeDunia than the mobile app and colleges , it’s the exam section , with extensive amount of information about each exam , collegeDunia’s exam section pioneers as an elite information provider in the education domain.

Another great thing about CollegeDunia is, unlike most portals it offers the users the option of reviewing a college. This way other users can benefit from his experience and can avail the unbiased opinion from a fellow student. This review system builds the trust factor as well as offer a more inclusive user experience.

Today, CollegeDunia has partnered some of the most esteemed colleges and higher educational institutes in India. All of these institutes, for example, NIIT, IIBS, GNIOT, Poornima University, Alliance University etc are recognized leaders in the field of high education. The start-up is presently planning on taking the same model abroad and incorporating foreign Universities in their data base.

About CollegeDunia

Established in 2014 CollegeDunia is an educational portal designed to offer all around admission related information to higher studies aspirants. The portal today offer full-fledged information about more than 20,000 colleges as well as over 150 examinations in India. Streams that are covered in the portal are Arts, Commerce, Engineering, Medical, Law, Management Agriculture, Architecture, Aviation, Computer Application, Dental, Design, Education, Hotel Management, Mass Communication, Paramedical, Pharmacy, Veterinary Sciences and various Vocational Courses. The portal lets one segregate college on the basis of locations too. CollegeDunia presently lists almost all major cities and towns of India on their portal and app.  

[Source:- Business Wire]

Indonesia cancels Gurdip’s execution

Activists light candles during a vigil against the death penalty outside the presidential palace in Jakarta on Thursday.

Indonesia on Friday cancelled execution of an Indian drug convict, after senior Indian diplomats intervened hours before the execution was to take place.

Gurdip Singh, 48, of Jalandhar was to face the firing squad in the island of Cilacap, on Friday morning as part of the planned execution of 14 drug convicts who had received the death sentence in Indonesia.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj acknowledged the development and said “Indian Ambassador in Indonesia has informed me that Gurdip Singh whose execution was fixed for last night, has not been executed.”

Mr. Singh’s wife Kulwinder Kaur told the media in Jalandhar that he has been sent back to jail and that he spoke to her over phone on Friday morning. Appealing the Indonesian government for mercy to Gurdip Singh, Kulwinder Kaur said he has spent years in jail which was enough penance for his crime if he was guilty and he should be sent back to his country.

“A priest was invited and a van had also arrived to carry his body but the execution was halted at the last minute. He was then sent back to the prison,” she said. Mr. Singh was one of the ten convicts who were allowed to return to the jail while the Indonesian authorities executed four other prisoners.

Mr. Singh was arrested in Soekarno Hatta airport in 2004 for smuggling 300 gm heroin. Subsequently he received a death sentence at lower courts which was upheld by the Supreme Court of Indonesia. Several of the death row convicts had applied for pardon but Singh chose not to apply. Human rights organisations had demanded that Singh should have been pardoned in view of the long prison term that he has already served.

The Hindu reported on July 28 that the government of President Widodo had notified families of the fourteen drug convicts that it would carry out the death sentence as delivered by the Indonesian court.

The notification did not mention the time of carrying out the capital punishment but it was understood that the executions would take place within 72 hours of the notification as required under Indonesian law.

Responding to the reports of the planned execution, on Thursday, Vikas Swarup, Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that Indian officials had met Gurdip Singh [in Indonesia] and were camping in the island of Cilacap.

[Source:- The Hindu]

Gurujam, tigers and friendship lessons: social media buzz

Gurugram

If you thought renaming Gurgaon to Gurugram was funny, the citizens of the area had another option in mind – especially after Thursday evening’s downpour.

 The traffic nightmare due to waterlogging in the Millennium City was so bad that some commuters were stuck since Thursday evening. Some reached home only in the wee hours of Friday morning.
Meanwhile, Bengaluru residents were sympathetic. NOT.

International Tiger Day

July 29 is celebrated as International Tiger Day, with a view to bring awareness to declining tiger numbers around the world.

Norway

Forget expensive birthday presents and rings with diamonds as big as your head – nothing can beat this.

Norway is considering giving Finland an entire mountain as a present for the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence from Russia, notes The Independent.

“The arctic summit of the mountain Halti is currently on the Norwegian side of the border between the two Scandinavian countries, and stands at 1,365m above sea level.

The Norwegian Prime Minister is considering granting Finland the top of the mountain, which would become the country’s new highest peak, by moving a national boundary in that area by around 40 metres,” writes The Independent.Hope England is listening to this. *coughKohinoorcough*

[Source:- The Hindu]

The Rise of Educational Escape Rooms

In most classrooms, it’s not a good sign when students’ eyes flick to the clock. It means they’re distracted and waiting to get out. In Nicole Naditz’s 12th-grade class in Sacramento, California, the opposite is true; students desperately eyeball the clock, wishing for more time. Naditz’s trick? She’s incorporated a new style of teaching into her lessons that was originally designed for adult games. The increasingly popular escape room has been given an educational twist—padlocked boxes that can only be accessed by decoding verbs, performing math problems, or solving scientific puzzles.

Naditz is no outlier. Over the last year, there’s been worldwide growth in educational escape rooms, and many educators are adapting the concept to fit the needs of their students—in both physical and digital learning environments. They’re an innovative way to bring technology and critical thinking into the classroom, and the benefits are twofold: Games have a history of promoting engagement in a learning environment, and the collaborative elements help students develop social skills.

Naditz shares a narrative with her class before the game begins. The inventorClaire Levine has been kidnapped, and her robot has been reprogrammed to destroy a hospital. To save it, students must activate the kill switch inside a box—but they need to get through four padlocks to do so, and they’ve only got 45 minutes. Multiple locked boxes and clues are scattered through the room—deciphering these leads to hidden keys and combination passwords. There’s a black-light flashlight that reveals hidden messages, and a QR code that directs players to a video containing a four-digit code.

“Unlike other forms of games where the player controls an avatar [such as Voki or Minecraft], escape rooms place the player directly into the game,” said Scott Nicholson, a professor of game design and development at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. “Because of that, the effects of experiential learning can be more effective, as there are fewer barriers between the player and the experience.”

Nicholson has been researching the evolution of escape rooms since 2014 to see how they might fit into an educational program. He is widely considered the global expert on escape rooms, in part because he’s published the first academic discourse in this emerging field. “Escape rooms create a moment of passion around specific topics that then can be used as the spark to then ignite interest in something for a player to learn more about later,” he said.

Nicholson considers the growth of educational escape rooms a signal that educators are willing to adapt their behavior in order to better communicate with their students. “The concept of meaningful gamification is not to provide external rewards, but rather to help participants find a deeper connection to the underlying topic,” he wrote in a recent white paper.

While the use of escape rooms in education is a nascent idea, the first recreational escape room can be traced back to Japan in 2007. Now, there are 4,785 globally, the majority recreational, spanning 75 countries, according to the Escape Room Directory. They vary in design and style, but

Mayer and his colleague, Lisel Toates, started brainstorming. They specialize in using game design to demonstrate practical applications of mathematics, technology, and communication skills, and the computer game Minecraft seemed a natural fit for building a virtual escape room. They decided to combine the digital space with real-life physical props to encourage lateral thinking. Plus, if it was successful, it would be easy to share with his 22 school districts, as most game assets could exist on a thumb drive.

The eighth-grade class was studying steampunk literature, so Mayer created a corresponding narrative: An eccentric professor was trying to travel back in time to save his daughter’s life in Victorian England. To rescue her, participants needed to activate a portal, which involved referencing work they’d studied in class. Mayer ran his first room in May 2016, and structured it so that students started on their computers and then transitioned to their physical classroom, using the props he’d brought (wacky ink and 3D printed models) to help solve clues they’d encountered online.

He was impressed by how readily students took to the game.“It was social interaction, engagement, and immersion,” he said. “And we’ve had feedback from educators saying that students who don’t respond to traditional classes start to shine [here].”

Students are more likely to retain knowledge when they can apply what they’ve learned, a practice often labeled “active learning” or “constructivism” by education scholars. A 2011 study of physics teachers who changed their teaching method from a traditional teacher-centered approach to an active approach showed that learning improved 38 percent in students’ understanding of kinematics. A different higher education-focused study reported that students learning traditionally were twice as likely to drop out of courses and three times as likely to leave college altogether compared to students using active-learning methods.

To quote the student-development theorists Arthur Chickering and Stephen Ehrmann, “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers.”

So far, Mayer has built three escape rooms, covering history, English, and science, and he has run them a total of five times—twice for students, and three times to show teachers how they work. Now he’ll focus on spreading them through his New York districts and beyond. An upcoming talk he’s slated to give at the American Association of School Librarians is titled “Escape Into the Curriculum.”

Nicholson has observed the escape-room trend growing, both inside schools and in the wider world. In a recent global analysis of escape rooms, he discovered that 8 percent had a purely educational framework, while 22 percent included some educational elements. “Many recreational rooms do have components that are educational,” he said. “Some rooms taught about history and other culturally relevant topics, and some took advantage of an interesting story of local interest and used the room to help players learn more.” Good historic examples are the 1866 Ontario Gold Rush room in Ontario, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall in Make a Break Berlin, in Germany. Some have a more political framework, such as theCuban Crisis game at Escapology in Orlando, Florida.

Shauna Pollock, a Toronto-based educator and the author of Creating Classroom Magic, a book about using the Disney-inspired principles of magic, safety, and courtesy in teaching, believes educational escape rooms have enormous potential to be effective in schools, since they can be adapted to any subject. “[They can] excite learners and help develop their skills, teaching them content through immersive, engaging play,” she wrote in a recent paper.

This style of puzzle-based learning is well suited for web-based games, which also provide access to a larger audience. In 2012, Arizona State University trialed this by building Science Detectives: Training Room Escape, a click-through online escape room for preK-12 learners. “Instead of the typical lecture, we wanted the student to have fun playing a game that just so happens to require using the Scientific Method to succeed,” said Charles Kazilek, the chief technology officer at Arizona State University.

Kazilek said escape rooms are a “natural problem-solving environment,” and he designed Science Detectives to produce a player summary when completed—something that students can print out for their teachers. They’ve had 98,000 visits to their homepage since launch, and Kazilek is working on a follow-up, Science Detectives: The Case of the Mystery Images, to release later this year. “One of our students commented, ‘It’s okay to trick us into learning.’ These types of games have the ability to do just that,” he said.

At the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Sherry Jones, a games-studies instructor, is admittedly receptive to games in education, but was especially impressed with how quickly escape rooms engaged students. She said they’re structured so that players instantly become active participants, with a vested interest in winning. “In games, you read materials and have a Q-and-A session,” she said. “There’s no hand holding here.” Jones believes that  escape rooms will start spreading through education as a “way to make the classroom a lot more fun.” That, in turn, could create a stronger incentive for learners to engage with their studies. “Escape rooms in education is pretty new,” she said. “There aren’t many initiatives—apart from Breakout EDU, but that’s not a full-scale escape room.”

Launched in 2015, Breakout EDU is a recurring name in the educational escape-rooms space, and what the French teacher Nicole Naditz uses in her California classroom. The company sells small boxes, priced $89 to $119, filled with escape paraphernalia (think padlocks, UV lights, and hint cards), and an empty thumb drive for downloadable lesson plans, created to complement the curriculum. This allows teachers to access the large Breakout community of more than 8,700 members worldwide, and download custom escape games, as well as build their own.

Naditz heard about Breakout EDU at a teaching conference and was intrigued; the idea of engaging students through collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking was appealing. She created two classroom escape experiences for her class, both in French. “In life and work outside of the classrooms, solutions aren’t singular, nor are they neatly packaged or synthesized into multiple-choice responses,” she said. “Breakout events prepare students for a more nuanced approach to solving problems.”

“The current K-12 system is obsolete,” said the Breakout EDU founder James Sanders, a former White House Innovation Fellow with a background in education and tech. So he devised a new one, using the escape-room model as a guide. Rather than breaking out of the room, players are trying to break into the box, and every lock involves challenges that create learning experiences.

“Breakout EDU games can help players explore Common-Core topics,” said Nicholson. “The gamification of the content can create short-term intense engagement.” However, he warns that the teachers don’t become obsolete; they need to create time for the class to analyze their gameplay. “Without reflection, we don’t learn. Reflection is how we take a short-term activity, connect it into our existing memories, and embed it into our long-term knowledge,” he said. But not everyone agrees. For some teachers, Breakout EDU is overly simplistic. “I think this is a rudimentary step,” said Jones, the games-studies instructor. “It’s great for starting out, as it’s plug and play, but it doesn’t push participants to be more active.”

Since this field is still in its early days, it will take some time before there’s a full scale roll out in schools. And because it’s so new, Nicholson’s research is the extent of the data on how escape rooms benefit learners. Educational escape rooms don’t exist in a vacuum; games must align with education standards and student engagement must be supervised. “Escape rooms are a tool, but not a magic wand,” Nicholson said. “They can engage players in the short term but need to be paired with other activities to bring about long-term change.”

But their potential is undeniable. “In the end, who does not like mystery and puzzles?” Kazilek said. “When you combine them with key learning objectives, you have a winning combination.”

the basic premise is the same: People are trapped inside a space for a specific amount of time and need to solve a number of puzzles to get out. Puzzles tend to be theme-related; in a prison room, you might decode graffiti, pick handcuffs, or defuse a bomb. Turning this into a classroom activity creates a number of challenges—teachers have to grapple with constraints imposed by classroom size, facilities, and the Common Core standards.

But Brian Mayer, a gaming and library-technologies specialist at Genesee Valley School Library System in New York, believes the payoff is worth the effort. He started looking into the concept in April 2016, after he received a request for a literature-themed escape room from a teacher in his district. “It’s been people requesting it from us. We’re not pushing people to do this,” he said.

[Source:- The Atlanta]

AP fact check: Hillary Clinton’s speech and other remarks from DNC’s final day

U.S. Representative and Convention Chair Marcia Fudge (D-OH) stands at the podium as Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton secures the nomination during the second day at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTSJSQ2

WASHINGTON — In her speech accepting the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton wrongly implied Donald Trump has proposed banning Islam in America and sketched out a plan for defeating Islamic State militants that merely mirrors what the U.S. is already trying to do.

Clinton spoke Thursday night to the largest TV audience she is likely to have until the presidential debates, meaning many Americans were probably hearing of her agenda for the first time. Although she brings plenty of policy detail when stacked against the broad-brush ideas of her Republican rival, in some cases there’s less than meets the eye to what she says she will do.

A college education, for example, might not end up as debt-free for everyone as she suggested.

For his part, Trump spun a story about the Iran nuclear deal that was more fiction than fact at an Iowa rally that preceded Clinton’s convention speech.

CLINTON: “I’ve laid out my strategy for defeating ISIS. We will strike their sanctuaries from the air, and support local forces taking them out on the ground. We will surge our intelligence so that we detect and prevent attacks before they happen. We will disrupt their efforts online to reach and radicalize young people in our country. It won’t be easy or quick, but make no mistake – we will prevail.”

THE FACTS: Clinton might as well have said she laid out President Barack Obama’s strategy for defeating Islamic State militants. Everything she mentioned, the Obama administration already is trying to do.

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CLINTON: “Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all.”

THE FACTS: Tuition-free for students who go to an in-state public college or university. Debt-free is a harder lift.

Clinton has adopted parts of Sanders’ plans to defray some of the costs of higher education. Under her proposal, the government would pay for tuition at in-state colleges and universities for students from families earning less than $125,000 a year. That would leave students still bearing the cost of room and board, which makes up more than half of the average $18,943 sticker price at a four-year public university, according to the College Board.

Experts worry about other impacts: Will colleges raise tuition once the government starts paying, increasing the cost to taxpayers? Will more students flock to public colleges because of the subsidy, also raising costs?

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CLINTON: “In my first 100 days, we will work with both parties to pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II.”

THE FACTS: It would be the biggest since World War II only if you don’t count Obama’s $814 billion 2009 stimulus. Clinton doesn’t have price tags on all her proposals, but the bulk of the investment appears to be her plan to spend $275 billion over five years on roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Obama’s stimulus included infrastructure as well as tax cuts and aid to state and local governments, all intended to boost the economy and hiring.

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CLINTON: “We will not ban a religion.”

THE FACTS: Trump never proposed banning Islam in the U.S., as Clinton seems to suggest. He proposed a freeze on the entry of all foreign Muslims into the U.S., then adapted the idea with several iterations. Recently he said he’d stop immigration from any country compromised by terrorism, or impose “extreme vetting” on people coming from places with a history of terrorism. He’s also spoken in support of surveillance on mosques in the U.S. As contentious as his thinking has been on the subject, it hasn’t extended to outlawing a religion.

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TRUMP, boasting about how he would have conducted talks with Iran over reducing its nuclear weapons capabilities: “I would have said sorry, we can’t give you the $150 billion back. We want to give you the money back, but we don’t have it. It’s not there.”

THE FACTS: The Iranians immediately would have called Trump’s bluff. That’s because the U.S. never had $150 billion to give back in the first place.

Iran had foreign assets spread across numerous banks and countries before it struck a deal with the U.S. and other countries to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. The sanctions meant Tehran couldn’t access these funds abroad. But Iran’s government knew very well where its money was.

Much of the revenue came from Iran’s oil sales to China, India, Japan and South Korea. These countries were able to purchase Iranian petroleum before the July 2015 nuclear agreement, but U.S. financial restrictions made it all but impossible to facilitate payments. So the money mainly sat in escrow in those countries, instead. These were not funds within the grasp of a U.S. president.

Trump’s comment also doesn’t reflect how banks work. Money is fungible. If you have a bank account, it doesn’t mean specific bills of currency or bars of gold are sitting in a box waiting for you to pick them up. The can’t-find-your-money argument doesn’t work.

Trump got the sum wrong, too. Iranian and U.S. officials agree that the amount of frozen funds totaled about $100 billion.

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CLINTON, on taxing the wealthy and corporations: “Because when more than 90 percent of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, that’s where the money is.”

THE FACTS: While vague, Clinton’s claim probably relies on outdated figures and exaggerates inequality.

Her assertion echoes similar claims made by Sanders during the primary campaign, though it’s not clear if she is referring to income or wealth or over what time frame. According to Emmanuel Saez, the University of California at Berkeley economist whose research on the wealthiest 1 percent helped spark the Occupy Wall Street protests, income gains have been more widely shared in recent years.

The top 1 percent captured 52 percent of the growth in incomes from 2009 through 2015, still a hefty amount. But that’s down from the 2009 through 2012 period, when the top 1 percent captured 91 percent of the growth.

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CLINTON: “In Atlantic City, 60 miles from here, you’ll find contractors and small businesses who lost everything because Donald Trump refused to pay his bills. People who did the work and needed the money, and didn’t get it – not because he couldn’t pay them, but because he wouldn’t pay them.”

THE FACTS: Indeed, Trump casinos failed on several occasions. During the bankruptcy of the Taj Mahal Casino in the early 1990s, some contractors who’d helped Trump build the property went bust because Trump’s company didn’t pay what it owed them. Trump himself was short on cash at the time, though his bankers did give him a $450,000-a-month allowance to maintain his lifestyle while his debts were renegotiated.

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DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION VIDEO, narrated by Morgan Freeman: “She could have joined a big law firm, been a corporate bigwig. Instead she chose the Children’s Defense Fund. There, she went door-to-door gathering stories to help children with disabilities over denied schooling.”

THE FACTS: She had a “bigwig” path in her legal career, too.

Although Clinton did devote her early career years to the Children’s Defense Fund, she also worked at the Rose Law Firm, a prestigious Little Rock, Arkansas, firm and the third oldest in the United States. Clinton became its first female partner when her husband, Bill, was the state attorney general and then governor. Among the firm’s clients were Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart and several brokerage houses. It became well-known during the Whitewater scandal, when investigators probed real estate deals between the Clintons and a Rose client, Jim McDougal.

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CLINTON: “Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again – well, he could start by actually making things in America again.”

THE FACTS: Trump has regularly sourced his branded products from overseas, including his menswear line and products for his hotels. Trump has defended himself on the grounds that as a private businessman his priority is to make money. But in stump speeches, Trump has regularly shamed companies like Apple for doing the same and manufacturing products elsewhere.

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TRUMP: “We pick up 73 percent of the cost of NATO. We’re paying to protect them. Wouldn’t it be nice if people would pay, and we could do things properly? … That’s got to change.”

THE FACTS: No, the U.S. picks up just over 22 percent of the cost of NATO operations, based on last year’s figures. Trump’s figure of 73 percent is based on the U.S. share of overall military spending by NATO member countries, not of the money devoted to the alliance.

Because of high spending and unique military resources possessed by the U.S., the alliance acknowledges that it is over-reliant on Washington in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, in-flight refueling, ballistic missile defense and airborne electronic warfare. NATO asks member nations to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Of the 28 NATO nations, only five — the U.S., Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland — meet or exceed that percentage.

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TRUMP: “We’re fighting in Yemen.”

THE FACTS: Only a small number of U.S. special operations troops are in Yemen and they’ve not been near the fighting. In Yemen, Houthi rebels backed by Iran are fighting government forces backed by Saudi Arabia. The United States has provided logistical and intelligence support to longtime ally Saudi Arabia. Separately, the Pentagon has provided military support, intelligence, ships and a small contingent of special operations forces to help fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as part of the ongoing counter-terrorism fight.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that U.S. special operations forces have advised the Yemeni and Emirati forces in the region, but they are working at the headquarters level, not near the conflict.

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TRUMP: “We’re right now the highest-taxed nation in the world.” He acknowledged his numerous past assertions of this have been questioned, and added, “OK, we’re one of the highest taxed.”

THE FACTS: Closer, but still wrong. The U.S. tax burden is actually one of the lowest among the 34 developed and large emerging-market economies that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2014, according to the OECD. That’s far below Sweden’s tax burden of 42.7 percent, Britain’s 32.6 percent or Germany’s 36.1 percent. Only three OECD members had a lower tax bite than the U.S.: Chile, South Korea and Mexico.

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TRUMP: “Religion’s voice has been taken away. It was taken away by Lyndon Johnson in the 1970s because of a dispute he had, I think, with the church. And this was his way of silencing the church.”

THE FACTS: Trump was two decades off on the timing, and stretching in saying religion’s voice in politics was silenced by LBJ. Churches still have a loud political voice.

Before his years as president (1963-1969), Johnson as a senator in the 1950s achieved a law that prohibits religious groups and certain other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The potential penalty for doing so is the loss of tax exemption.

As Trump noted, the GOP platform calls for the repeal of that law so that religious groups could engage more directly in partisan politics. Opponents say that would clash with the constitutional separation of church and state.

Since the law’s enactment the rise of the religious right, the continuing influence of evangelical conservatives, the clout of the Roman Catholic church on social issues of the left and right and advocacy by liberal religious organizations are evidence that religion has not been silenced in politics.

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TRUMP: “Median household income is down for the middle class since Obama took office.” — tweet.

THE FACTS: True, if using the latest official data. More recent, though unofficial, estimates suggest that household income has gone up marginally on Obama’s watch. Either way, it’s a weak spot in Obama’s economic record.

Median household income declined by 3 percent from 2008 through 2014, according to U.S. Census data.

According to more current estimates by Sentier Research, a private firm whose founders include former Census officials, median household income increased in 2015 and into 2016. That would mean median household income has risen 2 percent from June 2009, when the recession ended, to $57,206 in June 2016, Sentier says.

[Source:- PBS newshour]

Assam budget: Sonowal govt’s focus on healthcare, education

assam, bjp, budget, assam budget, assam BJP budget, assam BJP, BJP budget, assam CM, sarbananda sonowal, india news

Education, agriculture and healthcare got the maximum focus, while several items including candles, kerosene stoves, packaged drinking water, cinema tickets, LED bulbs and tubes, citronella oil and feeding bottles would become cheaper, as theBJP-led government in Assam tabled its first budget, of Rs 78,253.36 crore, that showed an overall deficit of over Rs 2880 crores.

Placing the budget, state finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said while the education sector along with sports, art and culture would get 20 per cent of the budget allocations after 26 per cent for general services, the agriculture and rural development sector would get 10 per cent. Sector-wise allocation of the remaining sum will be as follows: water supply, sanitation, housing and urban development (8%), transport (6%), social welfare and nutrition (5%), irrigation and flood control (5%), and others (9%), besides public debt (6%).

On the education front, the budget envisaged establishing three more medical colleges (in Nagaon, Dhubri and Lakhimpur) under centrally sponsored scheme, besides completing construction of one each at Kokrajhar and Diphu. While an All India Institute of Ayurveda would be set up at Raha, he also announced setting up three new universities and 21 new polytechnic institutes, and making three engineering colleges (Karimganj, Golaghat and Dhemaji) fully functional in the current financial year.

The budget also proposed converting gender-specific schools to co-educational ones, while students of Class IX and X of government schools would get free textbooks from the next academic year. Laying stress on improving primary and school education, Sarma said that while eight new district institutes for teacher education would be set up, 17,000 TET teachers would be appointed by April 2017. Altogether 297 upper primary schools on the other hand would be covered under computer-aided learning programme, he added.

While the BJP-led government had promised social security during the recent assembly elections, Sarma announced setting up women’s cells in 63 police stations, appointing 4,000 police personnel, providing cyber crime detection facilities and setting up citizens’ committees in all the 345 police stations.

On the agriculture front, Sarma announced I-cards to farmers, installation of 61,000 shallow tube-wells, promoting organic farming, covering 1.50 lakh fishermen under group insurance scheme, setting up 40 new milk cooperatives and 244 rural godowns, among others.

[Source:- The Indian Express]

Pelli Choopulu: A gem of a film

Ritu Varma and Vijay Devarakonda

Many a time, while watching a well-made Hollywood rom-com, we wonder why this genre isn’t explored enough in Indian cinema. Slice-of-life films can be great fun when they hit the right note. Debutant Tharun Bhascker has written and directed one such film. Pelli Choopulu is effortlessly cool. Portions of what unfolds on screen could happen to you or those around you. It’s that real.

We’ve seen films where the key protagonists take up engineering out of compulsion, later summon courage and go against their parents’ wish, follow their passion and prove themselves. What if the guy is incorrigibly lazy to even work towards his dream? Prashant (Vijay Devarakonda) likes the idea of being a chef but if there’s an easy way to make money, by becoming a son-in-law to a business tycoon, he wouldn’t mind it. A mix-up brings him face to face with Chitra (Ritu Varma), an MBA who wants to further her dreams in Australia.

He’s a dreamer and she’s the practical one, willing to work and has sharp business acumen. Poles apart in their outlook to life, they find a small connect — both don’t like dousing a samosa in sauce. Real food, cooked from scratch, is what works for them. She suggests starting a food truck — less investment, better returns.

It’s a joy to watch the journey of these two characters. The parents, grandmother and their friends add to the humour. Priyadarshi who plays Kaushik, spouting Telangana dialect, is a riot. He, along with Abhay who plays the photographer friend, brings the house down on many occasions. Even small characters make an impact, for instance the little boy with a twinkle in his eyes, who sits through the ‘Pelli Choopulu’ conversation.

You know the protagonists will inevitably fall in love but the narrative keeps you hooked. The end is all heart without getting melodramatic. In 125 minutes and amidst all the laugh-aloud humour, Tharun makes a gentle, intelligent case for an educated, independent working woman. He also asks parents to not give in to societal pressure and give their children some time to find their calling.

Vivek Sagar’s music has hummable songs and a spot-on background score that elevates the film. Anish Kuruvilla returns as an actor and is a natural. Nandu appears in a brief role.

The film ultimately belongs to Vijay Devarakonda and Ritu Varma. Vijay lives his part of an affable guy who needs to be goaded to doing something worthwhile. It’s tough to think of anyone else in Ritu Varma’s role. Observe her in a scene in the café where she quietly registers the impact of what her father tells her about earning to fund her dreams in Australia. It looks like she does nothing, but she conveys the mood of a girl cornered.

From the décor of the houses to the interiors of the food truck, nothing looks fake. Many rom-coms make you laugh while in the cinema hall. Very few make an impact by portraying realistic characters. This falls in the second category.

[Source:- The Hindu]

ILP lessons usher in winds of change in tribal education

BHUBANESWAR: A wind of change is sweeping through the tribal communities where a group of NRIs and their Indian volunteer friends have been trying to improve the state of primary education through a slew of programmes under India Literacy Project (ILP).

ILP has been working in eight States of the country including Odisha where they have partnered with NGOs to work in Dhenkanal and Keonjhar districts. Apart from focused intervention on strengthening existing primary education apparatus, it is also funding partner agencies for child rights advocacy.

The ILP projects are currently under implementation in 180 villages and hamlets covering 150 Anganwadis and 153 schools. In most of these areas which include Telkoi, Harichandanpur and Rasol, literacy rate among the tribal communities is as low as 25 to 35 per cent.

“Our core focus was to bring the children to school and keep them retained which we have slowly achieved. As of now, more than 60 per cent of the schools are functioning and at least one teacher is coming to each school,” said AL Rangarajan, Programme Manager, ILP India.

The focus has been to activate the school managing committees and mother committees so that dropout falls and retention improves. The initiative has borne fruit, slowly but surely, in around 40 per cent of the schools. Parateachers have been roped in to support regular schools. An integrated approach is adopted for child protection, development and care, said Sunita, a member of ILP’s US chapter.

Secretary of Unified Action Council Nimai Satapathy said a major area of focus as well as challenge has been to impart learning to children through tribal dialects in communities like Juang and Paudi Bhuyan. There are 29 such dialects but primers are available only for 10.

Chairperson of Campaign Against Child Labour Ranjit Pattnaik said advocacy to protect children from exploitation in beedi, mining and fisheries sectors has also been initiated under ILP. The objective has been to curtail the gaps and institutionalise the system. ILP is implementing 28 projects in 12 States covering three lakh children.

[Source:- The New Indian express]

The BFG: An enchanting journey

I’ve always been too awkward, too self-conscious, to laugh out loud in theatres. But there were parts in Steven Spielberg’s The BFG that blew all reticence into smithereens, that inspired the sort of wide-eyed wonder and unabashed laughter we all promised our childhood selves we’d safeguard into adulthood. For those of us whose birthdays were never good enough for lack of an admission letter from Hogwarts, The BFG is the closest a film has come in a long time to waking the child inside, providing the assurance that life’s quite all right and encouraging us to dream away. The whiff of Harry Potter that pervades through the film perhaps has something to do with John Williams composing music. He made music for the first three Harry Potter films after all. Or perhaps it has do something with the story being about an abused orphan who can’t wait to escape the shackles of her orphanage. Or perhaps it has do with the magicality of the world she goes on to inhabit. Or perhaps it has do with the film being an adaptation of a children’s book (The BFG by Roald Dahl).

It’s a pity that The BFG that had its international release a month ago hasn’t quite set the box office on fire, for it shows what a difference filmmakers of the calibre of Steven Spielberg can make, when they handle such ‘small’ films. Spielberg imbues the story world with a soul that’s often found missing in many enjoyable Hollywood films made for children, like, say, the recent The Secret Life of Pets. When made with such earnestness, it makes you, the adult, not just simply tolerate ‘the scenes made for children’, but discover the very child in you.

The mood is set as early as in the first scene when Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) peers out of her window, and spots a giant sneaking around in the neighbourhood. When the giant, played by the utterly convincing Mark Rylance, carries her away, her bedsheet and all, you’re reminded of the irony of Sophie telling off a few unruly drunks for calling her “little missy”. As the Big Friendly Giant (BFG) gambols away with little Sophie in his palm, like she were a trinket he chanced upon on the road, you know that her call to adventure has officially commenced. But as BFG realises, the hard part isn’t carrying her to Giant Land; it is in protecting her from the other man-eating giants—the Gizzardgumper, the Meatdripper, the Bloodbottler, and the Butcherboy— and in making his place habitable for her. I loved how BFG uses his colossal palm to mitigate the force of the water, so Sophie can take bath. I loved how he realises that the fireplace is a bit too hot for her to dry herself later… how his hand-kerchiefs are like blankets to her, and vice-versa.

Genre: Fantasy adventure
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast:Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader
Rating Four stars

It is delightful when this situation gets turned over its head eventually, as BFG partakes in a feast at the royal household, and it is now the turn of humans to think up inventive ways to accommodate a giant who finds even the royal palace so small that he has to crawl in the corridors. The ludicrousness of how they use a piano to manufacture a seat for BFG, how a garden sprinkler is used to pour coffee, is all, to put it simply, so much fun to behold. The jokes write themselves when your situation has the Queen of England coming face-to-face with an awkward giant, who “doesn’t have the foggiest idea in the wonky world” about civilised life.

BFG’s language, incidentally, is a running joke through the film, and it’s all classic Dahl. A TV is a telly-telly bunkum box, a radio is a radio squeaker, a pumpkin pie is a frumpkin fie… He even has a word, the whizzpopper, that makes even something like flatulence seem bewitchingly wondrous. And therein lies the beauty of The BFG that manages to make the most mundane things explode with life and magic. Is that a lamp post you saw on the road, or a giant in disguise? So long as you’re watching The BFG, you feel like the world is devoid of troubles, like it is probably a jolly good place after all. Isn’t that what we go to theatres for, after all?

[Source:- The Hindu]

NFL’s best, worst in the red zone, and what it means for 2016

It is probably not news to most that the red zone is important. I’ll spare you the clichés about it being the most valuable real estate in football and instead point out that we never hear about an organization adding an athletic receiver to serve as a “midfield specialist.” You don’t tune into the Field Position channel on Sundays. Teams don’t succeed or fail solely upon what they do inside the 20-yard line, but it sure doesn’t hurt when they dominate in the shadows of the end zone.After experiencing a bunch of bad luck in 2015, the Cowboys and Tony Romo look primed to improve this season. Bill Barnwell predicts which NFL teams will rise and decline in 2016.

As much as we know that the red zone matters, we don’t necessarily have a great idea of who matters more often than not in that zone. There are vague archetypes — big, athletic tight ends are good to have around — but do you know which offense was best in the red zone last year? Or which defense did the best job limiting damage inside its own 20? Probably not.

Let’s change that and take a big-picture look at the red zone. Are there teams that consistently perform well with the end zone in sight? Is that a reliable, meaningful skill? Can teams bend without breaking? What does history tell us about how teams will perform inside — and outside — the red zone in 2016?

Offenses in the red zone

For the purposes of our analysis here, Football Outsiders does a great job of tracking how an offense performs in the red zone as part of their Drive Stats, which are compiled by Jim Armstrong. After stripping out the possessions which amount to Hail Mary attempts or kneel downs before a half, Armstrong calculates performance on a per-possession basis in a number of categories. One of those is the average number of points a team scores per trip to the red zone. Last season, the league’s best red zone offense will be of little surprise: Carolina, which had a dominant power-rushing attack led by league MVP Cam Newton, averaged 5.54 points per red zone trip. The 32nd-ranked Browns, meanwhile, averaged 4.15 points per possession inside the 20.

The Panthers were also an effective offense outside of the red zone, though, and the Browns were a mess in about every context imaginable, so those numbers aren’t particularly surprising. That brings up an interesting question: are there offenses that consistently raise their game in the red zone and play better than their overall performance would suggest? Likewise, are there useful offenses which consistently bog down inside the 20 and settle for field goals?

I used the Drive Stats to check this out. They go back to 1997, leaving 19 seasons of history to examine teams ranging from the 2003 Colts (who averaged a league-high 6.06 points per red zone trip) to the 2000 Cardinals (who somehow only managed to pick up 3.11 points per possession). For those offenses, I wanted to try and answer three questions:

  1. Is red zone performance consistent from year-to-year?
  2. Do teams that play better or worse in the red zone than we might expect in a given year keep that up the following year?
  3. If not, what happens to teams with a big gap between their overall performance and their red zone numbers?

Red zone performance plays a huge role in overall offensive performance. The correlation coefficient of the relationship between rank in points scored per red zone possession and rank in points scored per offensive possession is 0.65, suggesting that 42.8 percent of the variance between teams’ offensive performance is defined by their respective performances in the red zone. That’s not necessarily a surprise, but it’s worth pointing out in light of the numbers to come.

Football is a notoriously noisy sport, so it’s no surprise that teams are inconsistent from year to year. The correlation coefficient in terms of rank in points scored per possession by teams from year to year is 0.46, which implies that 21 percent of a team’s points scored in a given year can be explained by how they performed the previous year.

Red zone performance is far more fickle. The correlation coefficient between a team’s rank in points scored per red zone possession one year to the same stat the following year is just 0.24, meaning that just 6 percent of the difference from year to year is explainable by the previous season’s performance. In other words, great overall offenses are far more likely to repeat success the following year than offenses which are strictly great in the red zone.

The best red zone offenses in 2014 were unable to keep up the feat in 2015. That starts with one of the more bizarre outliers in league history: In 2014, the Raiders were 31st in points scored per possession, but on their infrequent trips into the red zone, they led the league in average points scored per trip inside the 20. While they still outperformed their overall rank last season, they were 20th in points per possession and 10th in points per red zone trip. The Broncos fell from second in points per red zone possession to 22nd. The injury-scarred Cowboys dropped from third to 27th. The Chargers and Eagles arrested the fall some, but even they were no higher than 16th. Meanwhile, after posting the league’s worst red zone offense in 2014, the Jets improved to fourth this past year. This just isn’t a consistent skill.

You also won’t be surprised to hear that teams can’t reliably outperform their level of play, either. The Raiders are an extreme example, as they had a 30-gap difference between their rank in points scored per possession (31st) and points scored per red zone trip (first). The flip side of that would be the Giants, who were eighth in the league in points scored per possession and 31st in points per red zone trip. The Raiders were 30 spots better in the red zone in 2014; the Giants were 23 spots worse last season.

Those gaps almost always disappear the following year. The correlation coefficient for that difference in rankings from year to year is just 0.14, accounting for 1.9 percent of the difference. There were three teams that underperformed in the red zone by a difference of 10 ranking spots or more last season — the Giants, Bears, and Bills. Those teams historically have come in line the following year; the difference between their points scored per possession rank and points scored per red zone possession rank the subsequent year is just 1.6 spots.

I suspected that these teams would improve their overall offensive performance the following year; if you figure that they were perhaps unlucky in the red zone, you might suspect that they would improve in that small sample sliver of the field and it would drive scoring up across the board. Instead, strangely, that isn’t the case. These teams actually score less the following year, as their average rank in points scored per possession drops by 5.4 spots.

Meanwhile, the teams that are better in the red zone than they were elsewhere improved by an average of 3.3 spots in the points scored-per-possession rankings the following year. Four teams fit that bill in 2015: the Raiders, Lions, Chargers, and Titans, with the Raiders and Lions (13th to 3rd) narrowly making it over the bar. Even if these teams aren’t significantly better in the red zone again — and history suggests that they won’t be — they seem to raise their broader offensive game and improve the following year. The only reliable way to be great in the red zone is to be great everywhere else, too. The data suggests red zone success often predicts greater overall success in the following season.

Defenses in the red zone

The same is true for defenses, which appear to be even more random from year to year than offenses — correlations across the board are lower. Just 30.8 percent of a team’s points allowed rank can be explained by its rank in points allowed per red zone trip. And 7.4 percent of a team’s points allowed rank is explained by its rank last year. The red zone year-on-year comparison accounts for just 2.4 percent of performance. It’s almost entirely random.

The poster boy for all of this would be the Legion of Boom in Seattle. The Seahawks have retained many of their stars on defense, but their red zone performance has oscillated wildly. In 2013, the Seahawks allowed the league’s fewest points per possession and kept up their historic dominance inside the 20, allowing the fewest points per red zone trip. In 2014, they were second in points allowed per possession … but fell all the way to 30th in points allowed per red zone trip, maintaining their high ranking in overall performance by keeping teams from reaching the red zone. And then last year, the Seahawks were consistent as can be, finishing fourth in both points allowed per possession and points allowed per red zone trip.

There were three teams to “underperform” by a comfortable margin in the red zone last year. They were pretty successful without being dominant red zone forces, though. The Broncos had the league’s best defense by points allowed per possession but were just 15th on red zone trips for a 14-rank gap, a difference they shared with the Chiefs. The only other team with a gap of 10 spots or more was in New England — Bill Belichick’s defense has often been described in the past as a bend-but-don’t-break unit. The numbers here suggest that the idea of a consistent bend-but-don’t-break defense is a myth, and indeed, previous research suggests that they weren’t really that sort of defense in the past, either. The Pats were ninth in overall points per possession allowed and 20th on red zone trips.

Those teams do typically get worse the following year; they decline by an average of 5.6 spots in terms of points allowed per possession. Teams that excel in the red zone, meanwhile, see an improvement. Four teams had a positive gap of 10 spots or more between their ranking in points allowed per red zone trip and their ranking in overall defensive scoring allowed per possession. Those teams improve their points per possession ranking by an average of 5.3 spots the following year.

Strangely, the team atop that list on defense is the Giants, who were the polar opposites of their offense. Eli Manning and company were good around the field and terrible in the red zone. Steve Spagnuolo’s defense was pretty bad in most spots and much better defending the goal line. It ranked 29th in points allowed per possession and 13th in points allowed per red zone trip. The Chargers also fit in this group, as do the teams which ranked second (Vikings) and third (Steelers) in red zone performance. They are defenses likely to improve some in 2016.

Quarterbacks

Going back to the beginning of the QBR era in 2006, a look at red zone numbers reveals video game statistics for many of the game’s top quarterbacks. The typical qualified quarterback — one who has thrown 300 passes or more in the red zone over that time span — has thrown more than 10 touchdowns in the red zone for every pick.

The best quarterback in the red zone over that timeframe? Depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to just give your team a chance to score without making mistakes, look for Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown 164 touchdowns against just eight red zone interceptions on his 601 pass attempts, good for a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 20.5. The passer who completes the most passes, moving the ball forward in a dangerous space, is Drew Brees, who hits on 62.1 percent of his attempts. Brees has also thrown the most touchdown passes, with 226 touchdowns against just 19 picks. Tom Brady seemingly ranks second or third in just about every category.

Above all, though, there’s Peyton Manning. Over that 10-season timeframe, nobody posted a higher Total QBR (82.7) or passer rating (103.3) in the red zone than him. In addition to crazy traditional numbers — Manning’s thrown 203 touchdowns against just 10 picks — he was more efficient than any other passer in the tight spaces of the red zone. Teams couldn’t sack him, with Manning going down on a league-low 1.8 percent of dropbacks in that area of the field. Ben Roethlisberger, for comparison, takes sacks on 7.4 percent of his red zone dropbacks. With Manning getting so many passes off, 27.5 percent of his pass attempts resulted in touchdowns. That, too, led the league. Brees, Rodgers or Brady inherit the throne with Manning’s retirement, but the two-time Super Bowl champion was an absolute monster in the red zone.

Pass-catchers

Let’s finish up by seeing which receivers dominate the most in the red zone, again going back through 2006. There’s a variety of ways to gauge receiver impact, but one simple, understandable way is to track how frequently receivers turned their routes into touchdowns. ESPN Stats & Information tracks route frequencies, so we can see how often players were targeted and what they were able to do with those targets.

Cutting down the list to players who have 200 or more red zone targets in that span or more, we get a lineup that would jibe with our perceptions of who might succeed and fail in the red zone. The guys at the bottom of the list are mostly undersized, speed-first wideouts: guys such as Devery Henderson, Harry Douglas, Devin Hester and DeSean Jackson, who has to be one of the best wide receivers in league history to never post a season with 10 or more receiving touchdowns.

At the top of the list? I’ll give you one guess.

That’s a group mostly consisting of big, physical receivers capable of winning at the line of scrimmage and creating separation to bring in tight throws. Marshall might have better numbers, of course, if he had better quarterbacks. And Owens’ numbers are deflated by his propensity for drops — T.O. dropped nearly 10 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. Compare that to Greg Olsen, meanwhile: the former Bears and current Panthers tight end hasn’t dropped a single one of the 131 passes thrown to him in the red zone as a pro. Jason Witten, too, has a (positive) 0-fer on 157 tries.

You probably came into this thinking Rob Gronkowski was the best red zone receiver in football, and a couple thousand words later, you have it confirmed. I’ll throw something else out there as a nugget to close things up, as there might be a contender to Gronk’s throne. Last year, Gronkowski only managed to turn 10.1 percent of his routes into touchdowns, which was ninth in the league. The Jets combo of Brandon Marshall (12.0 percent, fourth) and Eric Decker (15.6 percent, second) both came in ahead of Gronk.

No. 1, though? That would be Washington’s Jordan Reed, who produced touchdowns on a staggering 18.2 percent of the routes he ran in the red zone last year. He can’t keep that up, but can he be the closest thing to Gronk the NFC has seen since Jimmy Graham? That’s one of the many stories worth monitoring when the regular season — and the red zone — finally opens for business in September.

[Source:- ESPN]