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  • Cancer: why health inequalities in cancer are making the world’s biggest killer that much more dangerous

    Isabella Lopez-Scott There are many areas in healthcare in which spotting inequalities is obvious, for example, those who can afford private healthcare, dental services, and mental health treatments. However, in specific diseases such as cancer, the lines become more blurred, making it harder for us to identify areas in which socio-economic differences, as well as race and gender, play a part. Whilst these areas are hard to locate, it is crucial they are dealt with, and the system is changed to reduce these differences as rates of cancer diagnosis are only increasing. Policy-makers must implement changes that allow earlier interventions and address imbalances in treatment received and diagnoses. Why the UK public has been failed: There are many reasons for which there are increasing rates of cancer, including changes in the environment and an increase in fast food consumption. However, the leading cause is health inequalities, which are responsible for 33,000 cases of avoidable cancers every year. This is a damning figure and should act as a wake-up call for politicians to implement new policies that tackle health inequalities, as well as an in-depth review of leading factors for health inequalities. Unfortunately, these have been side-lined by our current government, with public health grants reduced by a fifth since 2015 and junk food advertising ban delayed until 2025. The leading cancer in areas of deprivation is lung cancer, with individuals working blue-collar jobs being more likely to smoke than those in white-collar jobs. Obesity is also a leading risk factor for cancers, and those living in deprived areas are more likely to have diabetes and be obese. This is especially prevalent in children, with obesity prevalence being 33% for children living in deprived areas. The Marmot Review was published in 2010 as an independent review to propose strategies to reduce health inequalities in the UK. It focussed on six policy objectives, including giving children the best start in life, fair employment, and a healthy standard of living for all. However, 14 years later, the results have not been good. There have been consistent failures from the current administration in Westminster to implement any of the recommendations made in the report. Since then, inequalities have only gotten worse, with funding cuts causing many local authorities to have reduced budgets for public health matters, such as anti-smoking campaigns. A starting point for tackling inequalities in the UK would simply be an increased and focussed budget. How the EU is leading the way: In February 2021, the European Commission set up the European Cancer Inequalities Registry as a part of their beating cancer plan. It aims to provide accurate and reliable data on cancer prevention and identify trends and inequalities between regions. It has gathered data on all countries within the European Union based on sex, age, income, and disability. This data has shown that cancer causes almost a quarter of all deaths in these countries, with five new cases diagnosed every minute in 2022. Many inequalities have become evident between countries thanks to this initiative. This is due to the difference in funding between countries’ health systems, how they are structured, and whether the healthcare system provides free services. For example, in Malta, Cyprus and Latvia, less than 1/3 of cancer treatments are reimbursed or covered compared to Germany, which includes coverage for all cancer medications. The differences highlighted between countries are startling, with cancer mortality rates being consistently higher in Central and Eastern European countries. Why is this? It comes down to many factors, from underlying risk factors to variations in cancer detection. Policy recommendations by Boyle focus on adopting healthier lifestyles, with a particular focus on reducing smoking and alcohol consumption as well as more nutritional diets. This is because, particularly in Eastern Europe, the consumption rates of tobacco are concerningly high, with 28.2% of the population of Bulgaria consuming tobacco daily. This registry also found that screening alone is insufficient to ensure early detection, although cancer screening is associated with better outcomes. In particular, breast cancer screening rates vary hugely between countries and can be concerningly low, as in 11 EU countries, less than half the women between ages 50-69 have had a mammogram in 2 years. The registry proposed many different policy options for the EU to implement to combat this, with its main focus being raising awareness of cancer and possible symptoms to encourage people to attend screenings. In order for the UK to be able to reduce levels of inequalities in cancer specifically, a new strategy must be taken. One way of doing this could be to adopt a method similar to the European Union’s and start an initiative against cancer inequalities, complete with national surveys and public initiatives. However, whilst cancer inequality is troubling, it is only symptomatic of a broader problem within the UK that health care as a whole is unequal. There are many precursors to cancer, such as diabetes and smoking, that are vital to tackle and get under control before any other action against cancer can be taken. The issue with this is that our current government has shown great reluctance and disinterest in taking measures against healthcare inequality. Whilst policy recommendations have been made and papers campaigning for equality have been written, nothing will change unless our government changes.

  • Preserving Our Story: Navigating the Future of Digital and Cultural Preservation

    By Tauseef Parkar The destruction of the Library of Alexandria centuries ago serves as a lesson on the fragility of human knowledge and culture. This ancient library was a beacon of learning, housing invaluable texts from worldwide. Its loss meant that countless works of science, philosophy, and history were lost to the flames, a devastating blow to our intellectual achievements. The tragedy of Alexandria is not just about the burned books but about the pieces of human history and wisdom that were erased forever. Fast forward to today, and we face a similar threat, not from fire but from the potential loss of our digital data. Our lives are now digitally documented, from family photos and personal messages to critical research and cultural expression. Yet, this digital existence is vulnerable. Technical mishaps, obsolescence or cyber-attacks can lead to losing precious digital memories and knowledge. In an era where digital technology has become intertwined with cultural expression, the preservation of our digital heritage is emerging as a crucial challenge. As more artistic, intellectual and cultural content moves online, questions about its longevity and accessibility have gained prominence. In the digital realm, where our knowledge, memories, and artistic expressions find their home, the question arises: what does it truly cost to ensure these are passed on to future generations? Imagine a world where our most personal stories, treasured memories, and shared experiences are at risk of disappearing into the digital void. This is our current reality, where the potential loss of our digital data is not just a technical issue but a cultural one. Our lives, intricately woven into the fabric of the digital world, face the threat of being forgotten, leaving a void where once our digital data provided a legacy. As we strive to protect these digital reflections of ourselves, we confront a challenge that resonates at the core of our being. This is a journey of safeguarding not just data but the very stories that define us, ensuring that our culture and knowledge are preserved, cherished, and passed down to future generations. The Current Digital Preservation Challenges Our digital age has enabled the creation and sharing of cultural content at an unprecedented scale. However, a report by UNESCO highlights that nearly 70% of digital data is at risk of becoming inaccessible within a decade. This statistic reveals a stark reality: without proactive measures, much of our contemporary cultural heritage could be lost. Current approaches to digital preservation face several challenges. High costs are a significant barrier. For instance, WordPress's initiative to offer a century-long digital legacy preservation service for $38,000 is prohibitively expensive for most individuals and institutions. Moreover, there is a heavy reliance on private corporations for data storage and management, which raises concerns about data longevity and accessibility in the event of a company's dissolution. Moreover, national policies on digital preservation often lack comprehensive strategies and adequate funding. While initiatives like the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy address aspects of digital integration, they often sideline cultural preservation, which is critical. Similarly, institutions like the Library of Congress face limitations in funding and technological resources, hindering their ability to embrace digital archiving measures fully. To address these challenges, a varied and complex policy approach is needed: Government Funding and Support: Governments should allocate specific funding to digital preservation projects, similar to traditional cultural preservation grants. This would enable public institutions like libraries and archives to update their technological capabilities and expand their digital collections. Standardising Digital Formats: There is a need for international standards for digital storage formats to ensure long-term accessibility. Collaborative efforts between governments, tech companies, and cultural institutions can lead to the development of universally accepted, future-proof digital formats. Public-Private Partnerships: Encouraging partnerships between public institutions and private tech companies can leverage the strengths of both sectors. For instance, tech companies can provide the infrastructure and innovation, while public institutions ensure accessibility and longevity. Community Involvement and Education: Raising public awareness about the importance of digital preservation and encouraging community involvement in these efforts can build a more robust preservation ecosystem. Educational programs can also train the next generation of digital curators. Global Collaboration: Digital preservation should be a globally coordinated effort. International bodies like UNESCO could play a pivotal role in bringing together different stakeholders to develop and implement global strategies for digital cultural preservation. Decentralised Models and AI in Digital Archiving Exploring decentralised models for digital preservation can be a revolutionary step. Instead of relying solely on large institutions or corporations, a distributed network of preservation could be established, utilising blockchain technology. This approach not only diversifies the risk of data loss but also democratises the process, allowing communities and individuals to participate actively in safeguarding digital heritage. Furthermore, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning offer promising avenues for digital preservation. These technologies can automate the categorising, tagging, and archiving of digital content, making the process more efficient and less prone to human error. AI can also help predict and prevent data loss by identifying at-risk digital formats and recommending timely interventions. Environmental Sustainability The environmental impact of digital storage, particularly the energy consumption of large data centres, is a growing concern. Integrating green technology and sustainable practices into digital preservation strategies is essential. This might include using renewable energy sources to power data centres or developing more energy-efficient storage technologies, thus ensuring that our efforts to preserve digital heritage do not harm the environment. Legacy Planning for Digital Assets and Digital Libraries Encouraging individuals to plan for the legacy of their digital assets can play a critical role in personal digital preservation. This involves educating people about options for transferring their digital footprints, such as social media content, personal blogs, and digital art, to designated custodians or archival services upon their passing. This personal approach to digital legacy planning could complement broader institutional efforts. Establishing collaborative international digital libraries could serve as a universal repository for human knowledge and culture. Such a project would involve pooling resources and expertise from across the globe to create a comprehensive, accessible, and multilingual digital library, preserving the world’s literary and cultural output in a centralised yet globally distributed digital format. Integrating these innovative ideas into the existing digital and cultural preservation framework can significantly enhance our efforts to safeguard our heritage. From decentralised models and AI applications to environmental sustainability and personal legacy planning, these strategies represent a forward-thinking approach to preserving our past and present for future generations. As we adapt to the digital age, embracing these ideas will ensure a rich, diverse, and accessible cultural legacy. Preserving our digital cultural heritage is a technical challenge and policy imperative. As we forge ahead in the digital age, our policies must evolve to ensure that our era’s cultural and artistic expressions are preserved and accessible for future generations. By adopting a holistic approach that includes government support, standardisation, public-private partnerships, community involvement, and global collaboration, we can safeguard our digital legacy for generations to come.

  • The Dragon's Global Chessboard: Navigating the Complexities of China's Economic Strategies and Effects on Global Economy

    By Syed Hussain In the intricate mosaic of global economic relations, China's strategic decisions and internal economic challenges have become increasingly significant, influencing not only its domestic economic landscape but also exerting profound effects on the global stage. Among the myriad challenges it faces, the crisis within China's commercial property sector and the geopolitical tensions in the Red Sea stand out for their potential to impact both China and the broader international economy. The commercial property sector in China, which once epitomised the country's rapid economic growth, has encountered severe turbulence. Marked by a glut of unsold inventory, plummeting property values, and burgeoning debt levels, the crisis is symbolised by the plight of property giant Evergrande, struggling under massive financial strain. This downturn results from a combination of speculative investment, over-expansion, and stringent regulatory measures aimed at reining in excessive borrowing. The repercussions are far-reaching, eroding household wealth, dampening consumer confidence, and posing significant systemic risks. The decline in property values, coupled with stalled construction projects, not only suppresses consumer spending but also threatens to introduce bad debts into the banking sector, potentially leading to tighter credit conditions and stifling economic growth. On the international front, the tensions in the Red Sea, particularly around the strategically crucial Suez Canal, present a significant geopolitical challenge. This vital maritime route, essential for the global oil trade, has seen disruptions due to regional conflicts. This has directly affected China's energy security and the dynamics of the global oil market. Despite current oil price stability, the potential long-term effects of these disruptions could lead to significant shifts in global oil markets, affecting prices and supply security. China has strong interests in Red Sea security, with 60% of its Europe-bound exports passing through the Suez Canal in 2021. However, it has avoided involvement in America's military coalition responding to Houthi attacks on shipping, instead stressing solidarity with Arab countries. Though China could leverage its ties with Iran to help resolve the crisis, it seems unwilling to. Instead, China is valuing their relationship, causing them to lack sway over the Houthis. Moreover, China's state media blames the US for Middle East tensions. Under its "Global Security Initiative," China touts an alternative model prioritising economic cooperation over military solutions. But this vision has brought few concrete results, and China appears comfortable with the current threat level, routing some ships south while others continue northern passages. With limited influence and a desire to avoid deeper entanglement, China is unlikely to take an active mediation role despite its high stakes in Red Sea stability. Moreover, the altered competitive dynamics between Russia and Saudi Arabia, key oil suppliers to China, could have implications for China's energy strategy and its international relations.  As the world’s second-largest goods importer, accounting for close to 11% of global goods imports in 2022, China plays a pivotal role in international trade dynamics. Its imports from countries with high trade exposure to China, such as Mongolia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Vietnam, and Laos, underscore the interconnectedness of global economies with China's demand. Additionally, China's unwavering commitment to external lending, growing at an average annual rate of 12.3% since 2013, reflects a geopolitical strategy rather than purely commercial interests. Despite the wobbly economic recovery, China's leaders, including President Xi Jinping, have emphasized the importance of bolstering business confidence and lifting domestic demand, marking consumer demand as a top economic objective for 2023. Addressing the crisis in the commercial property sector requires a careful recalibration of economic policies to stabilise the market and restore investor and consumer confidence. Concurrently, the crisis in the Red Sea necessitates strategic international positioning and a thorough reassessment of energy security strategies and supply chain resilience. For the first time in decades, it appears that China's economic sprint is significantly slowing, a concerning development for a global economy that has long relied on China's nearly 1.5 billion population for broader growth. This slowdown has wide-ranging implications across political and security spheres, necessitating a comprehensive understanding of the potential ramifications for 2024. Among the critical challenges facing China is the alarming rise in youth unemployment, with recent data indicating a jobless rate of 21.3%. This trend, coupled with an increasing number of graduates returning to rural areas, underscores the difficulties in the job market, potentially leading to social unrest against a backdrop of China's complex history with student movements. Additionally, the real estate sector, which constitutes about one-quarter of China's GDP, is in the throes of a severe crisis. The struggles of debt-laden giants like Evergrande and Country Garden, with $124.5 billion in defaulted bonds, raise fears of a financial system collapse and a broader economic downturn. This scenario is exacerbated by the real estate market's role in local government financing, risking a significant blow to public savings and local fundraising mechanisms. The potential for a Chinese economic downturn to trigger a global recession, given China's substantial share of global GDP and manufacturing, underscores the need for careful management to prevent an international contagion. These challenges emerge as President Xi Jinping begins his third term, facing numerous domestic and international pressures. The geopolitical landscape, characterised by tensions with the United States and regional powers, alongside the ongoing war in Ukraine, presents a complex backdrop for China's economic and foreign policy strategies. The potential for an economic slowdown to influence China's stance on foreign policy offers a dual-edged sword, potentially leading to either a more cautious approach or more aggressive actions to advance national interests.  China's economic outlook is further complicated by deflation and a shrinking population, with 2023 seeing the slowest growth since 1990. This slowdown, amidst weak private investment, modest consumer spending growth, and declining exports, alongside challenges such as youth unemployment hitting a high of 21.3% and a severe crisis in the real estate sector, showcases the complex interplay between domestic policies and global impact. The potential for a Chinese economic downturn to trigger a global recession, given China's substantial share of global GDP and manufacturing, underscores the need for careful management to prevent an international contagion. The situation is summarised by rising trade protectionism and intensified geopolitical conflicts, as highlighted by Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, alongside the rapid growth of China's "new three" industries of electric vehicles, solar energy products, and lithium batteries, which, despite bolstering the economy, have sparked concerns among developed country trading partners over the potential for low-cost imports to disrupt local industries. This evolving economic landscape, coupled with China's demographic challenges, including a declining population and rising youth unemployment, necessitates innovative solutions to navigate the "new normal" of slower growth and structural changes. The international implications of China's economic strategies, particularly in sectors developed with heavy state subsidies, highlight a growing clash with the market-oriented capitalism of developed countries, raising questions about the future of global trade relations and the need for a balanced approach to industrial policy and international cooperation to address mutual concerns and avoid trade conflicts. In conclusion, the combination of domestic economic challenges, including the commercial property sector crisis and geopolitical tensions, alongside the broader implications of a significant economic slowdown, underscores the complex interplay between China's domestic policies and its global impact. The global community remains vigilant, recognising that the unfolding situation in China will significantly influence economic trends and geopolitical alliances in the coming years. As China navigates these challenges, its strategic decisions will critically shape the future of the global economy, highlighting the importance of strategic insight and adaptability in managing the intricacies of international economic and political relations, making the unfolding situation in China a significant influence on economic trends and geopolitical alliances in the coming years.

  • COVID-19 and its Implications on our Mental Health

    By Isabella Lopez-Scott The COVID-19 pandemic had many implications for the economy, education, and healthcare. However, one factor that has been seriously overlooked is the impact on the mental health of the general public. Since the pandemic, there has been a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression. Major risk factors reported were younger age, those identifying as female and pre-existing health conditions. Many variables have led to this, including financial stress caused by the pandemic and the subsequent cost of living crisis, bereavement caused by losing loved ones to COVID-19 and isolation that affected many across the world. Effects on younger people For many young people, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns happened at critical stages in life, whether coinciding with essential exams or removing the opportunity to maintain or develop friendships. In a study done in 2020, it was shown that 63% of the participants met the criteria for probable depression and 51% for anxiety. What are the factors contributing to this? The quarantines that occurred imposed intense social isolation on everyone, especially young people and children. The adjustment from school to online learning and a lack of social interaction left many feeling lonely, with young people from primary service having significantly higher levels of loneliness than the general population. Many were also left alone in abusive households during lockdowns with little to no support, contributing to many feelings of isolation and fear. The NSPCC reported receiving nearly a quarter of a million referrals in 2020/21, with a record number of calls from those worried about domestic abuse. Effect on women The significant effect of COVID-19 on the mental health of women has many roots, from increased fear over pregnancies to the increased risk during lockdowns to violent partners. A study done in China in 2020 showed that, after the announcement that the virus was able to be transmitted between humans, there was a significant increase in scores on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) alongside a greater probability of pregnant women scoring within the cut-off for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. In postpartum women, there is a significant negative correlation between postpartum depression and social support available. However, the government’s lockdowns during the pandemic significantly reduced social support, from family and friends to professional help. The outdated Mental Health Act The effects of COVID-19 are still being felt today, many years later, showing that change is needed in the way in which mental health policy is approached and changed. The Mental Health Act (MHA) was created over 40 years ago and contains the law and procedure of when individuals may be detained and receive mental health treatment against their will. Considering it has been so long since it was changed, an update is long overdue, with many policies having the opposite effect of what is intended. This act has many issues, namely racial disparities, its ineffectiveness on the younger generation and inequality for those in deprived areas. An independent review panel made recommendations for improvement in December 2018, including abolishing community treatment orders, providing appropriate wards for young people, and allowing for the right to appeal decisions. However, these changes are yet to be implemented by the government despite the Department of Health and Social Care publishing a White Paper and consultation in response. Why have these changes still not taken place? Many factors have contributed to the lack of action. As the King’s Fund noted, three main enablers are data, funding, and workforce. There is a significant gap in the government’s data for those detained by the MHA. This is due to a decision to cut costs in 2013 and abolish the use of KP90, the primary data collection programme for the Department of Health. The decision to cut this has led to incomplete and inaccurate data being recorded by both NHS and non-NHS healthcare providers. The changes in the White Paper have significant financial implications as only some of the suggested reforms have defined costs. This has led to many of the other changes suggested being ‘subject to funding’ with little to no confirmation on the status of these being put in place. Finally, there are disproportionately high vacancy rates for mental health trusts. This is not helped by the proposed changes, which would increase workload and training requirements. The pandemic has had a severe effect on the mental health of the population, with a specific impact on women and young people. Whilst this effect was worldwide, the UK alone shows serious concern with little to no support shown thus far from the government. Due to the rise in formal sectioning of individuals under the Mental Health Act of 11.8% during lockdowns, urgent action is needed to alter this act. The outdated act should make changes to allow those detained to appeal decisions, young people to be placed in appropriate facilities, and automatic advocates to be placed by hospitals for those without one. Until these changes and more are implemented, this act will not be able to effectively deal with the aftermath of the pandemic.

  • AI: a support or danger to learning?

    By Zaira Imran Since the pandemic, the innovation of AI technology and its integration into several industries and sectors has been rapid. Most notably, late 2022 saw the launch of ChatGPT, the landmark generative AI tool. Generative AI is especially transformative as it can answer questions, perform written tasks and respond to prompts while also being able to produce audio, images, text and video, making it particularly relevant for the education sector. The education sector was forced to embrace digitalisation as online learning became the norm during lockdowns; however, by now, classes have resumed similarly to pre-pandemic ways. This resistance to digitisation implies that it should not be taken for granted that AI will truly last in education spaces, let alone transform them. Nevertheless, the Department for Education actively supports the use of AI in schools. Many believe the pace of AI integration in industry necessitates its development in the education sector to keep the sector’s efficiency aligned with the world economy. This begs the question: how can policymakers take advantage of the benefits of AI in enhancing education without causing detriment to the learning experience of students? The Assumption of Necessity As the AI industry embeds itself within the economy more succinctly and at a rapid pace, it has become clear to many that AI is here to stay and will keep changing the way we work and communicate. Furthermore, as the world economy embraces AI technology, it is expected that all sectors, including education, must adapt to these changes, too. To further this point, the UK education sector currently struggles significantly from underfunding and teacher burnout. Hence, it could benefit from the supply-side tools that AI offers. These factors combined set up a situation in which education providers must adapt and embrace the potential of AI in order to stay afloat in this fast-changing high-tech world. It is equally important for students to understand how to use AI to equip them with the skills necessary for their future careers. Yet, it is worth questioning whether this necessity is real or whether it is a speculative prophecy. After all, the education sector is much less digitally integrated than the average company and British educators are not well trained in digital learning tools. There may also be concerns that this perceived necessity could blind policymakers and education providers into pursuing a wholesale AI revolution in the education sector whilst having little awareness of what AI is, how it is changing and what its integration would really mean for students’ learning experience. Within this context, perhaps the greater necessity lies in exercising caution and resistance regarding the implementation of AI as opposed to the full embrace of the technology. Help or Harm? The key benefits of AI in the classroom include reducing costs and teachers’ workloads while increasing efficiency and providing AI training and learning tools for students. Artificial intelligence could be used as teaching assistants to help teachers do administrative tasks like marking and lesson planning, they could equally be used as instructional assistants to help explain difficult concepts to students and administrative assistants for school administrators. These are some of the potential ways that AI could increase efficiency and reduce workloads. This is especially beneficial if it allows for more teacher-student interaction, as the teachers are not as distracted by their administrative tasks. An even more intriguing possibility of AI in the classroom is creating a more personalised learning experience as AI could help meet individual learning goals by analysing student data in order to decide the best speed at which the student learns, the materials they would prefer and the order that suits them. However, this hypothesis of the personalised learning experience immediately raises alarms around data privacy concerns and the highly individualised nature of learning this results in. A major concern is that the introduction of AI interferes with the social connections fostered in schools. A potential consequence of personalisation in the classroom is that students lack motivation to interact with each other as any help they require, they can get from their AI assistant. Similarly, it reduces the need for the student to ask the teacher for help which may be even more troublesome. As schools do not just function as spaces to acquire skills for careers but also spaces to grow and learn as people, the threat to social connection and collective learning that AI potentially poses is rather worrying. Furthermore, student skills cultivation may also be threatened by a personalised assistant AI as it provides many shortcuts for students in which they do not have to think critically or solve problems for themselves, resulting in dependence on technology. Therefore, it would be essential to foster students’ critical thinking abilities in how they are using AI, allowing them to develop their own considerations of its strengths and weaknesses. The Question of Implementation Besides the risk AI poses to student skills and socialisation, it also presents a large challenge to policymakers as AI grows and changes quicker than policymakers can comprehend it, let alone implement its integration and regulation. Teachers are also ‘bewildered’ at the pace of change. They cite concern for potential cheating, children’s mental health and the security of the teaching profession due to a lack of trust in the government’s ability to regulate the risks. Nevertheless, it is important for educational spaces to mirror the environments children will face when they grow, and AI can significantly benefit overstretched teachers. Therefore, a cautious, human-centred approach to integrating AI in schools is best, and this would likely involve AI acting as an administrative help as opposed to making choices and giving advice. The true benefit of AI in the classroom would be if it could help maximise teacher-student contact time and reduce teachers' burdens. Yet, it would still require regulation in the case of cheating and student use. AI integration in schools should be resistant rather than wholly ‘revolutionising.’ Sources: AI can transform education for the better Artificial intelligence in education | UNESCO School Leaders Warn AI Is A ‘Real And Present’ Danger To Education AI in Education Artificial intelligence in schools – everything you need to know - The Education Hub Generative artificial intelligence (AI) in education - GOV.UK How AI Is Personalizing Education For Every Student

  • Is La Laicité in schools the separation of religion from the state or the separation of Islam from French society?

    By Oriane Nagberi La Laicité is an educational policy that exists in France as a secular policy, intercepting every part of French public life. From hospitals to government buildings to schools - the French policy outlines that any form of religious behaviour within the public sector is forbidden. But has it had a disproportionately negative impact on the Islamic population of France, removing their right to practice their religion? Secular activity has been part of the French constitution since 1789. The constitution of the Fifth Republic from the 4th of October 1958 claims for “the organization of public education free and secular at all levels” as “the duty of the State.”. La Laicité believes that by removing religion from state activities, societal equity can be achieved, manifesting the French value of “Egalité” as everyone will be viewed as equals - no matter their religion. However, as immigration to France increases, a particular group has started to become more evidently disproportionately impacted by secular policies which impact public education -  Muslim Women. As a policy, La Laicité has led to disruptions towards Muslim women’s education as France has banned the wearing of the hijab and head covering within their schools. In some cases, this has led to the suspension or even expulsion of Muslim girls who come to class wearing their religious garments, and they are forced to choose between their religion or their education. This article will analyse the primary arguments in favour and against the policy of La Laicité. French policymakers often make the argument that due to the increasing diversity of the state, La Laicité could not have been better timed. In order to demonstrate this, they refer back to a world where the policy didn’t exist and to a time when the Catholic church tried and succeeded in intimidating politicians and influencing public policy. This argument demonstrates how the original influence of the church over policy can ruin democracy and in turn, deauthorise the state. French politicians argue that via La Laicité they can make sure decisions are fully democratic and remain uninfluenced by the political stance of religion. Furthermore, they see this as the best way to advance equality as the state remains unchanged by the predominantly Catholic views of France, making it a better place for those who practice a plethora of other beliefs. However, we bring this argument back to education - and ask the question, “ If a Muslim girl wears a Hijab to school as her personal choice how will it impact educational policy-making?”. It appears to be ridiculous to believe that the presence of the Hijab or any other form of religious wear within the classroom can change how educational policy is informed. If pupils in a classroom are under the voting age in France and have no power to make or fight against any policies - how can we say they will in turn, create a bias within French policy with what they wear? Instead, this indicates that issues lie with the institutional power of religion, not its daily practice. The second argument presented in favour of La Laicité is the stance that French policymakers must remain true to the cultural standards of France, which a century-old constitution has set. This is an argument that often relates to the assimilation or integration debate of immigration. And leaves us with the question of whether policy should adapt itself to change or remain stagnant in order to adhere to its traditional values. A counter view to this claim agrees that the policy is old, but most notably, dated, and only functions well in a society in which there is one religion; this will allow for the policy to tailor itself better to the necessary measures of separating the state from religion - instead of going overboard with the policy by excluding parts of religions which are more essential to its practice. Here we note the difference between the wearing of a hijab for Muslim women and the display of a cross around a Catholic woman’s neck. The wearing of the Hijab for Muslim women is more essential to the religion of Islam than the adornment of a cross for a Catholic woman - as this is something which has been described and discussed within Islamic scripture.  Hence, while the policy of La Laicité may have functioned well in 20th-century France, globalisation means society has become much more complex. Contemporary French society has become much more ethnically and religiously diverse - and it is difficult not to notice that these regulations have failed to take this into account. Thus, we can deduce that La Laicité has the possibility of disproportionately impacting Muslim women and girls and thus, the policy might require restructuring so that its impact may remain equal. Thus this article argues that it is possible to maintain secularity by not looking to suppress religious expression - as the two may be mutually exclusive. This can be done by adapting policy to the ever-changing populations of France and removing the more trivial elements of secularity, such as the ban on religious wear in schools - as this does not impact policy-making. This will also eliminate the stress of Muslim girls having to choose between their religion or their education - which will better achieve equality as all girls receive the privilege of having to make sacrifices to their identity in order to enter the public areas of the state. We highlight that La Laicité is a policy which has failed to adjust itself to the fact that there has been a significant increase in the Muslim population in France in the last few years who are disproportionately affected by this policy. It is possible to maintain secularity by not looking to suppress religious expression - as the two may be mutually exclusive.

  • The Verdict of Dubai: Reflecting on COP28's Outcomes for Global Climate Action

    By Stathis Poulantzas This article attempts to critically assess the 2023 COP28 Summit in Dubai, over a month after its conclusion, by exploring its pivotal decisions and analysing their implications for global climate policy, while also highlighting its failures for agreements in key topics. Focusing on key topics discussed like fossil fuel elimination, nuclear energy or other renewable energy sources, and climate finance, it evaluates the summit's effectiveness in addressing urgent environmental concerns and setting a progressive path forward for climate change. The article aims to present an in-depth analysis of the political, economic, and environmental stakes involved, the roles of key nations, as well as the summit's potential long-term impacts on global climate goals. To commence, the debate stealing the show in Dubai surrounded the present and future of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels, the main cause of carbon build-up in the atmosphere, disrupts the natural carbon cycle and drives anthropogenic climate change, pushing the world towards a critical 1.5°C warming threshold, a situation widely acknowledged as needing urgent action. The main question on the topic is centred around whether we should “phase-out”, or “transition away” from fossil burning, with the latter eventually being agreed upon. Nevertheless, such a decision can be seen as a step back from the initial discussions of gradually eliminating this energy form, where no particular timeline was agreed. Another crucial concern about this decision is the reference to the role that transitional fuels, and especially natural gas, can have in the energy transition. On the bright side, countries have not agreed to transition away from burning fuels in almost 30 years, so this climate summit can be viewed as a diplomatic success on this topic. Another upside was the agreement of the delegations to phase out inefficient state subsidies for fossil fuels as soon as possible, with exceptions for cases addressing energy poverty or facilitating a fair transition. Nonetheless, given that major economies like the USA, UK, and other developed countries such as Norway continue to fund fossil fuel extractions, indicate that a significant journey lies ahead to eliminate these subsidies. Moreover, COP28 delegates from over 100 countries agreed to aim towards triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030, a move expected to drastically cut carbon emissions and provide more widespread access to clean energy. Renewables nowadays are becoming ever more viable due to reduced costs, enhanced battery storage, and regulatory incentives. Thus, a push for their increased energy share is essential for the world to achieve a 43% emissions reduction by 2030, in order to stay below a 1.5°C temperature rise (right now at 1.1°C since 1980, according to Nasa). However, without addressing the injustices from unequal energy development, these improvements might continue existing inequities. Also, key players such as China, Russia, and India did not support this initiative, a significant obstacle to a worldwide climate agreement between all major actors. It is worth noting that special focus was granted to nuclear energy, a very important form of nuclear energy, especially endorsed by France and Japan, which nevertheless also bears numerous risks. The nuclear energy lobby during the summit worked hard to promote this energy form, especially small modular reactors. They pointed out that it can provide “realistic pathways to providing the clean energy that countries need to meet this goal (of reaching net zero emissions by 2050)”. However, it is vital to highlight that the construction of a nuclear power plant requires, on average, 15 to 20 years. If the dangers of nuclear reactors are additionally taken into consideration, it is arguably better to focus on safer and more short-term solutions. What’s more, most developing nations will severely struggle to significantly increase their share of renewable energy, as well as reduce their fossil fuel dependence, given the rising interest rates worldwide and their rising debt to GDP ratio. Especially taking into consideration that over 70 states are currently facing “debt distress” according to the IMF, it is clear that the global financial system and, crucially, the richest actors with large emissions, should restructure the debt of developing countries and provide large funds in order to facilitate their climate-focused investments. Recognizing these financial challenges, developed countries causing high emissions committed in the UAE to a climate loss and damage fund, first proposed in COP27 in Egypt last year, marking a crucial step towards addressing these disparities. Such a fund aims to assist vulnerable and developing nations most affected by climate change, helping them adapt and build resilience against natural disasters, sea-level rise, and biodiversity loss. Despite criticisms over the fund's logistics, including its funding and management, it is seen as a vital initial measure to direct aid to the most vulnerable communities. Although this action seems to be heading in the right direction, in reality, it nevertheless lacks substance; all developed countries participating have pledged a combined $700m, which does not even remotely come near the $400bn yearly attributed to climate change. In fact, it has been estimated that the fund will cover around 0.2% of the yearly needs of developing nations. In parallel, the two largest global emitters, the US and China, have only promised $17.5m and $10m respectively, to the fund, far fewer than the approximately $100m that the UAE, Germany, Italy and France have pledged. To note some more general points about COP28, countries also decided to accelerate the reduction of non-CO2 emissions and placed a special focus on cutting methane emissions globally by 2030 by around 25%. Delegates from over 150 states additionally endorsed a declaration for sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems, and climate action, while the FAO announced a plan to combat hunger, and a fund of around $2.5b was pledged for the protection of large forests. Finally, it is noteworthy that the EU was a valuable partner in negotiations, with its widely-known ambitious goals (55% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030, 90% by 2040, and climate neutrality by 2050), comprehensive policies across various sectors, and its support towards the gradual elimination of fossil fuels being all essential driving components in Dubai. All in all, pressure was mounting for countries in the COP28 to adopt a new climate agreement amid growing gaps in the goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. While the summit was overall an important step forward, particularly due to the diplomatic breakthrough on the issue of transitioning away from fossil fuels, and the commitment to triple renewable energy, it also demonstrated the considerable distance that is yet to be travelled. At this critical point for global climate health, major emitters must make courageous environmental decisions. Without their leadership, we risk exceeding the crucial 1.5°C warming limit and jeopardizing an equitable transition for all nations. One can therefore understand that the stakes for the next climate summit, COP29, to be hosted by Azerbaijan, are immensely high.

  • Cyber Up! Japanese and Polish Cyber Capabilities After the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

    By Pawel Plonka Thirty years ago, world militaries would not have imagined the significance of the digital in modern-day warfare. Military affairs in relation to capabilities have experienced revolutionary changes since the Gulf War, especially concerning the development of precision-guided munitions. Yet, as the 1990s were a watershed in the redefinition of military strategy, the 2020s seem to carry a similar weight. Recent years refreshed the memories of actors around the globe that war does not take place only on land, at sea, or in the air — it also occurs in the cybersphere. In 2023, the Canadian Defence Minister remarked: ‘Putin’s war on Ukraine has reminded all of us that the cyber domain is crucial to our national security’. The interesting cases to look into are two powers threatened by Moscow and Beijing respectively - Poland and Japan. While they do not share much in common, these states can learn a lot from each other’s experience of enhancing cyber capabilities. Already in 2016, Professor Christopher W. Hughes of Warwick University and Paul Kallender of Keio University wrote: Japan has been overlooked as a ‘cyber power’ but it is now becoming a serious player in this new strategic domain. Japanese policy-makers have forged a consensus to move cybersecurity to the very core of national security policy, to create more centralised frameworks for cybersecurity, and for Japan’s military institutions to build dynamic cyberdefense capabilities. In hindsight, they could not be more right. The Japanese drive for increased cyber-capabilities has continued for years now. Between 2018 and 2019, the spending on cyber-defence doubled after the growth in the personnel of the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ (JSDF) Cyber Defence Group.  War in Ukraine and an increasingly unfriendly environment in East Asia gave these directions a new impetus manifested by the three security documents published in 2022 (the National Security Strategy, the National Defence Strategy, and the Defence Buildup Program). These documents were created within the spirit of a ‘proactive contribution to peace’, enabling stepped-up investment in power projection capabilities. They set out a goal to double the state's national defence budget by 2027, rendering it the third largest one in the world. ‘An active cyber defence’ posture was adopted by Tokyo. The measures comprise necessary mandates enabling the government to access and neutralise an attacker's servers preemptively. Moreover, the military will reinforce cybersecurity throughout the country to protect critical civilian and informational infrastructure. These ambitions accompany the further growth of the personnel in cyber-related units to 4,000 by 2027, quadrupling its present size. Cyber workforce associated with the Ministry of Defence would also expand, reaching 20,000. Japanese regional rivals’ cyber-related staffs encompass an estimated 175,000 and 7,000 in China and North Korea, respectively. These countries have violated the Japanese cybersphere the most in recent years. China is believed to have directed cyberattacks at 200 Japanese organisations, while North Korea continuously performs malicious and illicit cyber-activities to finance its nuclear weapons programme. Overall, in the first half of 2022, Japan experienced 114 ransomware attacks, marking an 87% surge compared to the preceding year. These dynamics reflects both shifts in global security challenges and a major paradigm shift in the regional security outlook of the Indo-Pacific. Cooperation also emerged as a core point in its refined cybersecurity strategy. Firstly, Japan intends to deepen and solidify its strategic relationship with the US, also in the cyber domain. Washington is of paramount importance for regional stability and Tokyo is of great significance for safeguarding American interests and recently acting as a ‘spear’ within the security alliance. The collaboration between countries would materialise in bilateral exercises, joint intelligence as well as surveillance and reconnaissance. Such integration of capabilities and doctrines, which Professor Hughes named ‘Bilateralism Plus’, also occurs through Japan’s engagement in extended cooperative formats, which actually strengthening the US-Japan alliance. In December 2023, Japan, South Korea and the US agreed to cooperate on countering North Korean cyber incursions. The new trilateral initiative addresses Pyongyang’s cybercrimes and cryptocurrency money laundering activities. Lastly, acknowledging an increasingly hostile cyber environment in East Asia, Japan has decided to build a cyber defence grid for the Indo-Pacific. This initiative would support the nations with weak countermeasures with funds to bolster their cyber capabilities and balance the Chinese influence in the region. This project also aligns with the broader strategy of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific — the Japanese Foreign Ministry has allocated around $75 billion towards investments in South and Southeast Asia focused on fostering regional cybersecurity and connectivity. Similarly, the cybersecurity strategy was developed in Poland before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, that moment left a mark on the political awareness regarding the cyber domain. Polish Cyberspace Defence Forces were officially created in February 2022. This specialised component of the Polish Armed Forces is responsible for addressing issues concerning the cybersecurity of the Ministry of Defence, including planning, organising, and operationalizing cyberspace activities. It will also build infrastructure and safeguard information in cyberspace. Additionally, the unit supports military operations and coordinates cyber-related pursuits with other defence institutions. Although the official number of ‘cyber warriors’ remains undisclosed, Lieutenant Col Przemysław Lipczyński of the Component’s Command says there are approximately 6,500 positions for soldiers and employees of the Ministry of National Defense. Moreover, Lt Col Lipczyński reports the units will be fully operational by 2024. Significantly, Poland emphasises the significance of the partnerships between its cyber defence components and the private sector. The military looks forward to collaborating with businesses specialising in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, quantum technologies, and the improvement of information systems’ security and communication. Such partnerships increase national research and development with regard to cybersecurity. Warsaw’s efforts to enhance the state's cyber capabilities, improve the personnel’s competencies and become a regional security leader have been recognized globally. In 2023, MIT published an annual Cyber Defence Index ranking states’ collective cybersecurity assets. Poland secured 6th place in the world, after Australia, the Netherlands, South Korea, the US and Canada. Similarly to Japan, the experienced paradigm shift was a result of intensified cyberattacks performed by groups organised by Moscow. Poland’s proximity to Ukraine and its regional significance as a major logistical hub play a crucial role in the context of a war happening beyond its borders. From February 2022, Russian Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors’, i.e. state or state-sponsored criminal groups gaining unauthorised access to computer networks, violations increased fivefold. Together with American units, Polish cyber warriors were already training and carrying out operations against these groups. In terms of international cooperation, Polish Forces partnered with NATO to establish round-the-clock points of contact for cybersecurity coordination and threat analysis. They also outlined a framework for NATO's response to major cyberattacks on Poland and initiated collaboration with the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. Additionally, bilateral cooperation with the United States was developed to synchronise military efforts in cybersecurity and capability enhancement in cyberspace. Similar agreements were made with Lithuania and other nations, including a significant partnership with Ukraine to deepen understanding of Russian cyber operations. Every regional security outlook has its own particularities, yet it should not stop partners from drawing lessons. Japanese and Polish experiences during the past years can enrich each other’s understanding of ways to increase and enhance cyber capabilities, to create a better defence against operations of malicious actors as well as act both preemptively and effectively. A deeper military cooperation is one way, another is an adjusted and augmented cooperation between the governments to increase the citizens’ awareness of cybersecurity. Existing collaborative institutions such as the Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technology in Cracow could serve these functions well. Poland appears to strengthen its ties with like-minded states from the Indo-Pacific region exemplified, e.g. by an intensive cooperation between Warsaw and Seoul in terms of arms procurement in 2023. Tokyo, entangled in an unfriendly setting with Beijing’s and Pyongyang’s sabres ready to be pulled out, can also learn a lot from Eastern Europe.

  • Navigating the Indian Ocean: The Maldives’ Diplomatic Pivot from New Delhi to Beijing

    By Channon Heenan The waters of the Indian ocean have long been a stage for political manoeuvring, and today it is no different. The Maldives, India’s tiny island neighbour, have shaken up regional geopolitics. Once anchored in a firm pro-India policy stance, the Maldives is now looking to orbit Beijing instead of New Delhi, setting the stage for a seismic shift in the broader dynamics of the Indian Ocean. This article delves into the historic ties between the Maldives and India, explores the factors behind the nation’s warming relations with China, evaluating China’s role in this realignment and examines the geopolitical and economic importance of the Maldives and the Indian Ocean area for China. A CLOSE HISTORY? India was among the first nations to recognise the Maldives’ independence in 1965, establishing a diplomatic mission there in 1972, at Malé. They solved their maritime boundary dispute in a friendly and diplomatic manner in 1976, and ever since have shared close ethnic, linguistic, cultural, commercial, and religious ties. Indeed, India has been a leading development partner of the Maldives, establishing many leading institutions such as the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital and the Faculty of Engineering Technology. Furthermore, India has aided Maldives wherever required. India was the first country to rush aid and relief to the Maldives in the wake of the tsunami that struck on December 26th 2004. India also provided financial assistance both in the wake of the tsunami and after tidal surges struck the Maldives in 2007. Politically, India and the Maldives have nurtured close bilateral ties, and almost all Indian prime minister shave visited the island nation since the inception of diplomatic relations. Former Maldivian Presidents such as Maumoon Abdul Gayoom visited India during their presidencies. Despite the close ties between the two nations and the spirit of close financial and infrastructural co-operation, relations have soured recently, with China benefitting. WANING TIES WITH INDIA India-Maldives ties suffered greatly under the Yameen Abdul Gayoon Administration while Chinese influence grew in the island nation. In 2012, an agreement signed with the Indian company GMR was abruptly cancelled and given to a Chinese company instead in 2014, marking a shift in ties. The Yameen government undertook various anti-India measures including asking India to remove the two helicopters it had gifted to the Maldives in 2010 and 2011 and refusing to renew the visas of their pilots. In 2018, the Maldives refused India access to its biennial military training exercises, another low point in previously excellent military ties. The most recent development in this relationship is the recent election of the strongly pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu, who ran on an ‘India out’ platform. He has given the 75 Indian military personnel and two helicopters currently stationed in the Maldives a deadline of 15 March to leave. The pro-Chinese president signed 20 agreements with Beijing in January on his state visit there, including ones on climate, agriculture, and infrastructure, further cementing the reorientation of the Maldives towards China. WHY CHINA? China has taken the economic and political advantage in the Maldives, investing in mega infrastructure projects, enhancing trade ties, promoting tourism, and making India a part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Under the Yameen government, China’s ties with the Maldives grew in leaps and bounds. China invested massive amounts of money in the island nation, such as US$ 830m in a bid to upgrade the Maldivian airport, a 25-storey apartment complex and hospital and relocating a major port. Chinese projects account for up to 70% of Maldivian debt - an estimated $1.3 billion. This debt scheme comports with the wider Chinese strategy to create debt in other countries to gain political leverage over them – a strategy often seen with the BRI. Economically China is making bigger steps in the Maldives than India, and in the wake of a recent uptick in anti-India rhetoric in the Maldives, China is seen as the more attractive partner. WHAT'S IN IT FOR CHINA The Maldives plays a massively important geopolitical role for China, in its bid for an increased presence in the Indian ocean. Until 2010, China did not even have an embassy in the Maldives. However, in the last several years it has not only established diplomatic relations with the island country, but even went so far as to ‘deter’ an Indian intervention after President Yameen imposed a state of emergency in March 2018, scrambling its warships in a calculated move not only to prevent India from expanding its influence but to also cement its influence in the Maldives. WHY HAS IT DONE THIS? The Indian Ocean region famously plays a role in the geostrategic rivalry between the Unites States and China in the West Pacific, and between China and India, thus small island nations like the Maldives bear massive importance. The transportation routes through this area are essential in the Chinese drive to protect its oil routes and its trade. As such, it attempts to minimise its vulnerabilities through the BRI projects which expand both its influence in the region and its energy routes. The Maldives is at the centre of one of these projects, underlining its importance for Chinese trade interests. Aside from trade, however, China also has other interests in the Maldives, namely militarily. Since 2008, Beijing has exercised a military presence in the Indian ocean region, allowing it to respond quickly to crises and provides the opportunity to exercise a higher level of influence across the region. Furthermore, Chinese military interests in the Indian ocean have contributed to the creation of a ‘string of pearls’ of military bases across the entire area, ranging from the Horn of Africa to the Chinese mainland in a bid to encircle potential rivals such as India. The Maldives, if brought fully into Beijing’s orbit, could provide China with an opportunity to expand its political and military influence in the Indian Ocean, an opportunity that could be seen as threatening both for India and for wider players in the region such as the UK and US.

  • 2024 The Year of Elections: Change and Uncertainty

    By Reuben Bye 2024 is the biggest year for voting, ever - and it will be a year of uncertainty. 76 countries with a combined population of 4.2 billion (that’s about half of all people on the planet) are holding elections. Of these, roughly 2 billion are adults eligible to vote. The vast array of elections is a diverse list, ranging from the USA to Mali to Indonesia to the European Parliament. With so many to watch, it’s worthwhile to note some key details and trends. Just because a state holds elections does not make it a democracy. Democracy is a much higher bar that requires rights (such as the right to free speech, political participation, etc.) and protections, especially the guarantees that elections are free and fair. When classifying the democratic status of countries, three groups are usually drawn. Voting in autocracies? The first is the true autocracies, the dictatorships and one party states. In these, people have few - if any - political rights, but elections may still happen. This year Russia is holding a presidential election, but (since we know that there can only be one outcome) why bother? The process of elections is not always about choice and change, it can also be a tool wielded by autocrats to legitimise their rule (at home and abroad) and justify their decisions. For Putin, a fifth term would mean even greater control over the Russian state and could pave the way to further mobilisation after heavy casualties in Ukraine. Even more draconian, North Korea won’t be letting citizens choose who gets to rubber-stamp policy this year. Voting is mandatory, and there is one candidate. But for the Kim dynasty, making the people vote is worth it to build an illusion of a party state to have people to blame and to track the movements of the voters. Second are the hybrid or transitional regimes which fuse democratic and autocratic systems. In these, citizens may even be allowed to participate but repression remains a fact of everyday life. Here, elections can affect policy and change governments, but the institutions to uphold results are flimsy at best. As weak or emerging democracies, they are vulnerable to coups and crackdowns, and opposition candidates face an uneven playing field. For countries like Tunisia, Georgia or Mauritania, elections have the power to nurture a truly democratic future and to enable a populist party or opportunistic president to degrade its institutions. The largest of these to go to the polls this year is Mexico which has witnessed a weakening of anti-corruption and judicial institutions under leftwing populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in pursuit of his progressive agenda. His party’s candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, is widely believed to want to continue his changes to judicial appointments. Voting in Democracies The third and final category are the democracies where rights and protections are upheld. In these cases, elections regularly result in governments with a new set of policy priorities and perspectives on geopolitical issues. Elections across Europe are likely to expand the power of rightwing parties as the issue of immigration returns to the foreground of political discourse. Populism remains a threat to even the most entrenched democratic states as polarised public discourse and prioritising certain controversial policies over rule of law threaten to undermine institutions. Of particular note are the ‘flawed democracies’ where elections can be genuinely free and fair, but where institutions and civil society have been strained by populist and illiberal governance and rhetoric. In 2024 these account for some of the largest states in the world such as Indonesia, India and the USA, and these results will certainly be felt globally. Twenty five years after the overthrow of authoritarian President Sukarno, Indonesia now holds free elections. It has prospered under the steady governance of outgoing President Joko Widodo for the last ten years, even though he has been criticised for sidelining democracy in the pursuit of national development. Prabowo Subianto, the current frontrunner who is positioning himself as Widodo’s successor, has raised concerns from his links to the Sukarno junta, human rights violations in East Timor and his choice of Widodo’s eldest son as his vice-presidential running mate (raising fears about a political dynasty). The world’s largest democracy, India, is expected to hold elections in late spring against the backdrop of growing concerns surrounding Prime Minister Modi and his Hindu-nationalist BJP party’s attitude towards human rights, rule of law and pluralist tolerance. India is an established electoral democracy but it has been increasingly described as an ‘illiberal democracy’ in recent years. Fragmented opposition parties have attempted to build a Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) coalition to oust the BJP, but Modi is predicted to win a third term against this diverse ideological jigsaw of a group. As the foremost military, economic and diplomatic power, the US elections in November will be carefully watched by diplomats and policymakers around the world. American foreign policy is largely the responsibility of the president, so the winner’s administration will have powers over sanctions, aid, trade, military, involvement in international organisations and more. And this could all be subject to the will of Donald Trump, again. His last tenure saw him courted by autocrats and embrace more isolationist and transactional diplomacy. This could have profound consequences for Ukraine, NATO and Taiwan on which he has been sceptical and inconsistent in the past. Thinking ahead With so many elections coinciding this year, including in many major powers, 2024 will require policymakers to be flexible. In the more democratic states, free and fair elections that result in a new government can result in substantial changes to policy that will require others to adapt in response. In the states where elections are neither free nor fair, where they are no more than an attempt to legitimise an autocratic regime, they may be used to justify questionable actions. This will pose a challenge for diplomats who must navigate a year of changing dynamics and more turbulence will complicate an already tense world already struggling with war, inflation and climate pressures.

  • Innocence under Siege: The Plight of Gaza’s Children

    By Mehul Chopra The Gaza Strip, a small, densely populated piece of land on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is home to over 2 million Palestinians, of which half of whom are children. Gaza has been the focal point of a prolonged and sustained conflict that has created a dire situation for its residents, making their daily lives a struggle for survival amidst chaos and destruction. The severity of the situation has been further exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7th, 2023. With Gaza possessing a sizeable young population, it is the children of Gaza who bear the heaviest burden, with their lives disrupted in terms of access to education, healthcare, and nutrition due to the destruction of infrastructure and blockades imposed by the Israeli government. There is much political and historical context about the conflicts in the region. However, none of these can justify the humanitarian abuses faced by the children of Gaza. This article aims to shift the focus away from political discussions about the region and shed light on the plight of Gaza’s youngest and most vulnerable residents who have become victims of a war they had no fault in starting. Destruction of Infrastructure Israeli airstrikes and bombing campaigns have long plagued Gaza and have been responsible for immeasurable damage over decades. However, this impact was accelerated to new magnitudes during the recent outbreak of war. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 279 educational facilities had been damaged as of November 15th, 2023. This figure represents more than 51% of the total educational facilities in the region. Due to this widespread destruction, none of Gaza's 625,000 students were able to access education, highlighting the profound impact on the educational system and the future of children in the region. Furthermore, the damage extends to healthcare facilities that have also been targeted in bombing campaigns by Israeli forces. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that 137 healthcare facilities were attacked by November 12th, 2023, and the figure continues to rise. Hospitals have faced irreparable damage, and many have had to close down. For example, the Indonesian hospital was struck multiple times, the International Eye Care Centre was destroyed completely, and clearly marked ambulances were also targeted in the bombings. Not only have children died directly as a result of these bombings, but the closures of these sites have facilitated more deaths as people are unable to get access to necessary medical attention in their times of need. The Gaza health ministry reports that the conflict has killed over 2000 children aged 12 and under, with over 615 of them being younger than 3 years old (at the time of writing), a truly shocking and heartbreaking statistic. The suffering of Gaza’s children must be alleviated, and calls for a ceasefire become more and more pertinent as the death toll continues to rise with time. Blockades Blockades imposed by the Israeli government have likewise had a multifaceted impact on the livelihood of the children of Gaza. The restriction of essential medical supplies and equipment has led to an avoidable surge in child mortality. WHO reports that 40% of essential drugs are consistently at zero stock in Gaza’s hospitals, and those requiring specialized care outside of care were often denied permission to leave Gaza to be treated. The blockade has reduced the number of available ventilators and incubators for newborn children who require this life-saving support. As a result, 120 newborn children have died (at the time of writing). Furthermore, cutting off electrical supplies has profoundly impacted the quality of healthcare services available. Hospitals in Gaza are forced to operate on 6-8 hours of electricity a day, and many children slip through the cracks in having access to the high-quality medical attention they so desperately need in times of crisis. Blockades have also impacted the access to nutrition for children by limiting food availability and quality. UNICEF reports that over 60% of households in Gaza are impacted by food insecurity, and over 10% of children under 5 are suffering from chronic malnutrition (at the time of writing). The impact extends to educational needs as the blockade inhibits access to educational materials such as updated textbooks, technology, and other resources that could greatly improve the quality of education. The blockades, in coalition with the destruction of infrastructure, have created a cycle of health crises and educational setbacks that have long-term implications for the future of children in Gaza. Conclusion In conclusion, the dire situation in Gaza underscores an urgent need for a humanitarian pause. The widespread destruction of infrastructure, the profound impact on healthcare and education, and the deepening humanitarian crisis that particularly affects the youth, call for immediate action. The international community, including governments, international organizations, and human rights advocates, must exert diplomatic pressure on the Israeli government to facilitate a ceasefire and ensure the provision of essential services. This includes the lifting of blockades to allow the unimpeded flow of medical supplies, educational materials, and food. A humanitarian pause is not only a moral imperative but also a necessary step towards stabilizing the region, providing relief to the children of Gaza, and laying the groundwork for a lasting peace that will benefit future generations of Palestinians living in the region. Resources: More than 3,600 Palestinian children killed in war: Gaza Health Ministry | AP News Gaza: Unlawful Israeli Hospital Strikes Worsen Health Crisis | Human Rights Watch ( Gaza's hospitals report growing threats from Israeli airstrikes ( ‘Why bomb schools?’ Gaza families have no safe space amid Israeli attacks | Israel-Palestine conflict | Al Jazeera Gaza war inflicts catastrophic damage on infrastructure and economy | Reuters Gaza crisis: aid agencies warn of ‘tragic, avoidable surge’ in child deaths | UN News

  • Editorial: Infrastructure for the Future

    Read the full editorial here.

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