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Bihar caps annual fee hike in private schools at 7%

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The schools planning increase in fee by more than 7% will require approaching the committee six months prior to the commencement of the new session.

WT24 Desk

In a big relief to parents of schoolchildren, the Bihar Assembly on Monday passed the Bihar Private Schools (Fee Regulation) Bill, 2019, which mandates not more that 7% annual increase on fees and imposes a heavy penalty on the institutions that violate the law, The Hindustan Times reports.

Many states have already come up with legislations for regulating fees in private schools. These include UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

As per the new law, if the annual increase is more than 7%, its relevance will have to be presented before the fee regulation committee, which will take a final decision. The schools will be required to provide all details regarding not just the fee, but all other expenditure like on on books, dress, development charge, admission and readmission fee, on the school’s website.

Tabling the Bill, education minister Krishna Nandan Verma said the government had been receiving complaints about arbitrary increase in fee and other charges for a long time and the Patna High Court had also directed the government in 2016 to frame a legislation in this regard.

Under the Bill, there is a provision of a fee regulation committee in all the nine divisions of the state. They will be headed by divisional commissioner, and comprise two guardians and two representatives of the private schools nominated by him, regional deputy director of education and district education officer of the divisional headquarters.

The schools planning increase in fee by more than 7% will require approaching the committee six months prior to the commencement of the new session. The committee in return will apprise the school of its decision at least three months prior to the start of session, failing which the proposal will be deemed to have been passed. The government will, however, have the authority to revise the 7% cap from time to time.

The bill makes it compulsory for the schools to make class-wise display of dress, books and other products on their websites and noticeboard, which the guardians will be free to purchase from anywhere. It will not be binding on the parents to make purchases from the school outlets only. Schools found forcing parents to make purchases from their outlets will be liable for punishment.

The bill empowers parents to lodge a complaint with the office of the divisional commissioners within 30 days in case of fee hike above 7%. The schools will be required to keep their accounts updated and audited for income-expenditure details.

The fine print

Up to 7%: Prescribed annual fee hike

If over 7%: Approach fee panel 6 months prior

Rs 1 lakh: Fine for first offence

Rs 2 lakh: Fine for 2nd offence and thereafter

30 days: Time limit for parents to lodge complaint

60 days:: Time limit for decision by committee

Is Priyanka Chopra pregnant? Mom Madhu Chopra answers viral speculation

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Priyanka Chopra’s mother Madhu opens up about pregnancy rumours swirling around the actor, her wedding to Nick Jonas and her latest production, Firebrand.

WT24 Desk

Months after Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas tied the knot, speculation jumped the gun as it announced the Quantico actor pregnant last week based on a new set of pictures. Priyanka – known for her fit bod – recently appeared in checkered co-ods at designer Michael Kors’ show during the New York Fashion Week with a tell-tale bulge, The Hindustan Times reports.

A few photos and internet was sure that Priyanka and Nick were expecting. The actor’s mother, Madhu Chopra, has now dismissed the speculation for what it was – a few photos with a particular camera angle. “It was a bad angle,” she said in an interview to Mid-Day, “The outfit was nice. She looked like that only in some pictures, the rest were fine. Blame it on the camera angle!”

Priyanka, she said, was not amused. “When I spoke to Priyanka on the phone, she told me that she was tired and hence, had a slumped posture. I told her what people were saying, and she simply said, ‘Mamma, give me a break!’”

When Priyanka Chopra’s mother was worried about her

When asked if it was tough being a mother to Priyanka at a time when she started out in a male-dominated industry, Madhu told PTI, “There were times when I had doubts, if this is the right way she’s going. She was moving so fast. She was on a rocket propelled move.” Madhu said Priyanka “wonderfully” evolved as an actor and as a mother she is with her daughter every step of the way.

“I thought she’s missing out on some aspects of her life because she’s so dedicated to her career, profession and her craft. As I saw her evolve, I started enlisting. Only in the initial days I was worried. Later, I was with her in her trajectory.”

On Priyanka’s production, Firebrand

Madhu said the story of Firebrand resonated with them. “Priyanka is bold, she’s not scared. She says it as it comes so the content should reflect that. She supports these kind of films. She has the final say, on the creatives and every aspect of filmmaking. “She’s so passionate about films, I’m probably 1 per cent of what she is. She looks after every aspect of filmmaking, it’s her baby.” Directed by National Award winner Aruna Raje, the film touches upon the concept of modern day relationships, its complexities and chronicles the story of a strong woman who rises above challenges. Madhu said in the beginning the biggest challenge for them was to be taken seriously.

How Priyanka manages her production house

“They said ‘Priyanka is in America how’s she making films here.’ But Priyanka knows how to do things and is very up to date with gadgets, so remote controlling your company isn’t tough. The difficulty then was people taking you seriously. After Ventilator, people realised we mean business. Our films have been very well received. It was our mandate that regions should get a platform, all India or global.”

On Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas’ wedding

Madhu says the team is gearing up to see how the global audience responds to Firebrand. The actor has been in and out of the country ever since her wedding with popstar Nick Jonas. Priyanka had recently joked how her mother wanted to invite more people for the wedding but finally they had to agree on only 200 people. When asked about that, Madhu quipped, “Yes! She wanted a very intimate wedding. That’s her choice. For me it was like a shock! Who do you not invite?! But she took her scissors and (cut all the names).”

With successful films such as Fashion, Kaminey and Barfi to her credit, Priyanka moved to the US to play the lead role in TV show Quantico, which led to other offers from Hollywood.
The actor also runs a production house Purple Pebble Pictures with her mother, with a focus on Indian regional cinema. The mother daughter duo have produced the upcoming Marathi film,

Firebrand under their banner. The film will start streaming on Netflix from February 22. Firebrand stars veteran Marathi actors like like Usha Jadhav, Girish Kulkarni, Sachin Khedekar and Rajeshwari Sachdev.

Rohingyas’ right to return must be high on int’l agenda

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It’s time to look beyond short-term live-saving assistance: UK Minister

WT24 Desk

British Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt speaks to a select group of journalists at the residence of the High Commissioner on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2019. Photo: Courtesy

The United Kingdom has reaffirmed its commitment to help resolve the Rohingya crisis saying that the right of these displaced people’s return to their place of origin in Myanmar’s Rakhine State must remain high on international agenda, Agencies report.

“We must make sure that Rohingyas’ right to return remains high on the international agenda,” said Penny Mordaunt, British Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities.

While talking to a select group of journalists, including the UNB correspondent, the British Minister laid emphasis on unceasing joint efforts to protect both Rohingyas and the host communities here.

British High Commissioner in Dhaka Alison Blake was also present at the interaction held at the residence of the High Commissioner in the city.

Mordaunt, the first UK cabinet minister to visit Bangladesh since the December-30 elections, met Rohingyas living in Kutupalong camp at a food distribution centre, spoke to women being protected from violence, and saw how children with disabilities were getting the therapy and treatment they need, all supported by UK aid.

The plight of the Rohingyas must not be forgotten, she said during her second visit to Cox’s Bazar on Monday.

Since 25 August 2017, UK aid from British taxpayers has provided £129 million in funding to the Rohingya crisis and Mordaunt’s visit focused on exploring longer-term solutions by supporting education, developing skills and improving access to training opportunities.

During her meetings here, Mordaunt said she would push for the changes needed in Myanmar to help the Rohingyas return to their homes.

But, she said, now is the time to look beyond short-term live-saving assistance support, to give them the skills they need to create sustainable lives — both for themselves and their families.

Minister Mordaunt said they will continue working to make sure that the conditions for people to go back are there in Rakhine and keep building national resilience to respond to weather events in Bangladesh.

She said they want to see Rohingyas’ desire to return home is fulfilled but the return requires favorable environment in Rakhine and elsewhere to ensure that they can live in peace and security; and the human rights issues are upheld.

Responding to a UNB question, the British Minister said the UK has been and will remain so absolutely at the forefront of those efforts.

She said they will continue focusing on the efforts to try and get required conditions in Myanmar apart from addressing accountability issue. “It’s extremely important.”

Asked how the UK can help implement Bangladesh’s proposal to create a safe zone in Rakhine State, the Minister said they, like Bangladesh, clearly want to see the Rohingya crisis is resolved.

“I think whether it’s any kind of zone, camp or anything, that is back on the other side of the border, we need to ensure that the conditions are right before anyone can  go back,” Minister Mordaunt said adding that it is not just human rights issue but it is also a very practical issue.

Because, she explained, the last thing they want is for Rohingya people to start returning but they will feel insecure if there is more violence. “We’ll do everything we can to try and ensure that those (required) conditions (for return) are met.”

Responding to another question, the British Minister said access is incredibly important to Rakhine State and that is something they been calling for. “It’s important as we want to see what’s happening there (on the ground). We’re very concerned about the continuing violence.”

The British Minister laid emphasis on building confidence among Rohingyas saying it is really important.

On environmental impact, she said there are some areas of concerns and clearly there has been an environmental impact on the camps. “We want to support as much as possible to reduce the impact.”

The British Minister said one of the purposes of her visit to Bangladesh to discuss on how to take forward the development partnership forward between the two countries. “Some really exciting things are happening.”

She said the UK is willing to strengthen its partnership with Bangladesh in various areas, including in the area of education and skill development.

The UK is providing vital humanitarian aid to many of the one million Rohingyas and vulnerable local communities in Cox’s Bazar.

Mordaunt said the major man-made humanitarian crisis has been ethnic cleansing on an industrial scale and urged the government of Myanmar to create the necessary conditions that would allow those Rohingya currently living in Bangladesh to return.

UK aid and donations from the generous British public are providing life-sustaining humanitarian assistance to many of the almost one million Rohingyas and vulnerable host communities in Cox’s Bazar.

She said the government and the people of Bangladesh have shown great generosity and humanity in hosting the Rohingya. “But we recognise that Bangladesh can’t shoulder this responsibility alone and I’m proud of the UK’s leading.”

The plight of the Rohingyas to return home must not fall off the international agenda and they must be given justice.

Mordaunt also visited the icddr,b, a world-renowned medical research centre which also houses a hospital specialising in cholera and other waterborne diseases.

UK aid supports the hospital’s research and the development of simple life-saving innovations such as breathing apparatus for small babies that was created using an empty shampoo bottle.

Experts at the hospital have also advised humanitarian workers in Yemen on how to treat deadly outbreaks of cholera, according to a media release.

Mordaunt’s visit builds on the 2017 Rohingya crisis when the British public donated “incredibly generously” towards the crisis through the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Appeal, raising £30 million, including £5 million matched pound-for-pound by the UK government.

Pedro: React, or we are in trouble

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Pedro admits Chelsea are “in trouble” if they are unable to bounce back quickly from their defeat to Manchester United.

WT24 Desk


Pedro has called on Chelsea to end the week positively against Malmo and Manchester City

Pedro admits Chelsea are “in trouble” if they are unable to bounce back quickly from their defeat to Manchester United, Sky Sports reports.

Chelsea were knocked out of the FA Cup on Monday night after a 2-0 lossat Stamford Bridge, during which head coach Maurizio Sarri was booed by sections of the home support.

Sarri’s side face Malmo in the second leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie on Thursday, before Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, live on Sky Sports Football, and Pedro admits the club is desperately in need of a positive result.

“There is an important game in the Europa League for us, and after the final against City,” Pedro told Chelsea’s official website.

“The most important thing now is to stay calm, train really hard and recover our best football and our best feeling, because if not we are in trouble.

“It was a very bad day for us, for all the team (against United). It’s a difficult situation. In the first half we played very well, we created chances to score one goal, but they had two situations and scored two goals.

“The most important thing was to do a good job creating chances with the ball in the second half, but we couldn’t do it and for this reason it was so difficult for us to come back.”

Ability to do pushups may predict cardiovascular risk

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WT24 Desk

Being able to do more pushups may correlate with a lower cardiovascular risk in men, a new study shows.

A new study suggests that the more pushups a man is able to complete, the lower his cardiovascular risk and vice versa. These findings may establish a new measure of risk assessment that is simple and does not require costly specialized equipment, according to MNT.

World Health Organization (WHO) data indicate that every year there are 17.9 million deaths due to cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), accounting for approximately 31 percent of global deaths.

Many of the factors that increase the risk of CVD are modifiable, chiefly an unhealthful diet, a lack of physical activity, smoking, or frequent consumption of alcohol.

The link between exercise — particularly physical fitness — and CVD, therefore, is not a new one.

Yet current methods of correctly assessing physical fitness in relation to cardiovascular risk, such as the cardiac exercise stress test (or submaximal treadmill exercise test), are costly and can take a fair amount of time to conduct.

Now, the findings of a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, may allow physicians to estimate risk more easily, based simply on a person’s capacity to complete multiple pushups.

The results, which appear in JAMA Network Open and are accessible online, indicate that physically active men who are able to do more than 40 pushups may have a lower CVD risk than peers who can complete fewer pushups.

“Our findings provide evidence that pushup capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting,” says first author Justin Yang, M.D.

“Surprisingly, pushup capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of submaximal treadmill tests,” he adds.

The more pushups you can do, the better

In the current study — which is probably the first of its kind — the research team collected and analyzed the health information of 1,104 active male firefighters with a mean age of 39.6 and mean BMI of 28.7. These data covered a period of 10 years, between 2000 and 2010.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers measured both the pushup capacity and the submaximal treadmill exercise tolerance of each participant.

The investigators gathered the remaining relevant data through the participants’ yearly physical exams and by asking them to fill in a series of medical questionnaires.

Throughout the 10-year period, the researchers registered 37 CVD-related events in the cohort of volunteers. Notably, all but one of these outcomes happened in men who had been able to do 40 or fewer pushups at the beginning of the study.

The investigators’ analysis revealed that participants who had been able to complete over 40 pushups to begin with had a 96 percent lower cardiovascular risk than men who had completed 10 or fewer pushups.

Moreover, the team notes, pushup capacity had a stronger link with lower CVD risk even than aerobic capacity, which is measured through the submaximal treadmill exercise test.

However, the researchers warn that because their cohort of participants was made up of individuals in a specific group — active men in their 30s and 40s — the findings may not apply to women, or to men who are older, younger, or less physically active than those in the cohort.

Still, the current findings remain important in establishing the link between cardiovascular health and exercise, the investigators maintain.”This study emphasizes the importance of physical fitness on health and why clinicians should assess fitness during clinical encounters.” Senior author Prof. Stefanos Kales, M.D


Roadside revival: 10 of the best motels in the US

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These revamped US motels combine modern style with retro touches and new features, such as DJ sets and yoga classes

Tyler Wetherall


Photograph: Nick Simonite

Not much remains of the Henning Motel in Newberry Springs, California. Out on old Route 66, only the once-flashing neon sign still stands, rusted beyond repair. The arrival of the Interstate Highway in the 1970s rerouted custom elsewhere, and like thousands of motels across America, its fate was sealed. These emblems of the American road seemed in steady decline, that is, until recent years, when hoteliers began to recognise the potential in their architecture and storied past, and set about repurposing them.

The new generation of motels have co-opted the vintage aesthetics and mom-and-pop atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s originals but given them a glossy finish with artisanal interiors, fancy linens, and locally brewed kombucha, or the like, catering to the values of the millennial traveller.

All this comes at a price. In the 1960s a motel room was $8, roughly the equivalent of $65 today, but few renovated motels are less than $100 a night. These aren’t the motels of old with their bulletproof glass, ratty net curtains and bed bugs (which do still exist): these are motels concentrated in areas likely to draw tourists, and offering more than simply a bed for the night.

The Drifter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Named after the Beat Generation writers whose antics added to the mythology of life on the road, the Drifter still has its original flashing motel sign outside, though a 2017 renovation saw it reimagined for Nola’s more hedonistic tourists. The rooms are small and simple, with concrete walls and white linen; all the action is outside. Styled as a retro tropical resort, with palm trees, bright murals and Mexican tile work, it has a pool bar churning out frozen drinks and food trucks serve Haitian and Cuban food. There’s a pool party here most weekends, with DJs and flamingo inflatables aplenty – also, a no-kids policy.
Doubles from $103thedrifterhotel.com

Austin Motel, Austin, Texas

Liz Lambert is often cited as the pioneer of the roadside motel revival, renovating her first property in Texas two decades ago. She has a knack for turning a hotel into a hotspot and the Austin Motel is no different. Reopening it in 2017, Lambert stayed true to the motel’s retro roots with lurid red-lipped wallpaper, tufted-vinyl platform beds, old school push-button phones, and silk-screened music posters. It’s tongue-in-cheek, kitsch-yet-classy (high-quality bedding and organic bath products). At its heart is a kidney-shaped pool with red-and-white striped pool bar. Tex-Mex style diner Joann’s Fine Foods opened inside the motel in 2018 and offers breakfast tacos and all-day dining (not included in room price). In continuous operation since 1938, the hotel was once nicknamed the Phallus Palace for its phallic sign, still flashing passersby to this day.
Doubles from $135, austinmotel.com

Amigo Motor Lodge, Salida, Colorado

Husband and wife Philip Sterling and Kaitlyn Canfield flirted over the idea of opening a motel on their first date, in 2014. Two years later, they’d packed up their lives in Texas … and Amigo Motor Lodge in Colorado was open. Within walking distance of the arty town of Salida, the motel is surrounded by the mountain trails, ski sites, hot springs and white-water rapids that draw outdoor enthusiasts to the state. The rooms are simple, and brightened by hand-woven Oaxacan textiles and lots of plants, while the atmosphere is casual and comfortable, more Airbnb than hotel – but with the couple on hand to help. There are also three renovated Airstreams that can be booked, a hot tub, a teepee and a fire pit.
Doubles from $115stayamigo.com

Lincolnville Motel, Lincolnville, Maine

When chef Alice Amory first saw the faded six-room Seaview Motel and Cottages for sale she decided this was the life challenge she needed. Having recently returned from New York, she bought the property in 2015 and spent the spring pulling up the thick yellow carpet, tearing down fake wood panelling and slapping white paint on everything. Now, the original cabins have pretty flower-filled window boxes and bright blue doors. The design is uncluttered: rooms are decorated with photographs, an illuminated globe, and a record player instead of a television. Records and books are available to borrow from the common room, where there’s tea and coffee. The four-acre property looks out over Penobscot Bay, with a pool, barbecue grills and lawn games. Amory tells potential guests this isn’t a polished resort – and, for many, that’s its appeal.
 Doubles from $105, lincolnvillemotel.com

Pioneertown Motel, Pioneertown, California

The western village of Pioneertown was built as a film set in 1946 by film star and tycoon Roy Rogers, with the motel accommodating the actors. Not much had changed when brothers Matt and Mike French bought the property in 2014, but they then repurposed the 1870s-style structures into a boutique motel. The 20 rooms are kitted out by local artists with heavy textiles, cowhide rugs, and cacti. The motel hosts DJ sets and yoga classes for the creative community that has sprung up around this surreal outpost. For food, head across the road to the town saloon, Pappy & Harriet’s. Shop for vintage denim and hand-blown glass crafts on Mane Street – and then watch a staged wild-west shootout. The real attraction, however, is the neighbouring mystical desert landscapes of Joshua Tree national park.
Doubles from $185pioneertown-motel.com

Tourists, North Adams, Massachusetts

In a thriving cultural destination in want of good accommodation for years, this motor lodge was ripe for renovation – and reopened in 2018. The Berkshires is home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Clark Art Institute, not to mention outstanding hiking. Set in 55 acres of woodland, the motel is crossed with walkways guiding guests to the river, pool, yoga pavilion, outdoor art installations – and a 19th-century former farmhouse, which, in late February, will open a restaurant, The Airport Rooms. All-day food and cocktails are available in the lounge-like Lodge, and unlike many motels, it offers room service, too. There is also a line-up of live events and an emphasis on communal spaces. The rooms are airy and bright, with lots of blond wood and natural beauty products in the bathrooms.
Doubles from $199, touristswelcome.com

Coachman Hotel, Lake Tahoe, California

Originally built to cater to the tourism boom from the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, this motel had fallen into disrepair before its multimillion dollar overhaul in 2016. Now the 42-room hotel at the base of Heavenly Mountain is an upscale ski lodge with a hint of the retro motel it once was. There’s a Tesla charging station and the rooms have Apple TVs and heated toilet seats. In the communal lobby, line up for complimentary Stumptown coffee and breakfast waffles. In the evening there’s a small bar with wine and beer. Outdoors there’s a pool, hot tubs and fire pits. Most importantly, the ski gondola is just steps away. 
• Doubles from $137coachmantahoe.com

Anvil Hotel, Jackson, Wyoming

Discover the gateway to the rugged terrain of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks or some of the state’s best skiing in Jackson Hole. The jump-off point is the outdoorsy town of Jackson, where the 49-room Anvil Hotel, a former 1950s motor lodge, reopened in 2017, packed to its wooden rafters with mountain charm. The Shaker-design rooms have cast-iron beds and thick, custom-designed woollen blankets, and guests are encouraged into communal areas: the lobby, which doubles as a hip take on a General Store, has a wood-burning stove and coffee from the local town roastery; and the onsite restaurant, Glorietta, serves wood-fired Italian dishes and cocktails by NYC’s Death & Co. The hotel will also help with a build-your-own adventure from a roster of snowmobiling, snowshoeing and dogsledding.
Doubles from $110, anvilhotel.com

The Astro, Santa Rosa, California

Once a roadside dump with a by-the-hour reputation, this motel was boosted by the resurgence of Santa Rosa’s SoFa Arts District, including local chef Liza Hinman’s restaurant The Spinster Sisters, a Sonoma County favourite. Hinman recognised the potential of the Astro, built in 1963, and refurbished the property to open in January 2018. Hinman employed local artists for the interiors, with the LED rocket ship sign outside setting the tone, and each of the 34 rooms pop with retro colour. Local drinks and snacks are available in the rooms and the lounge offers complimentary coffee, fruit and fresh pastries every morning. Every item you can see, from the antique rugs to the art, is for sale, too.
Doubles from $178theastro.com

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa, Napa Valley, California

This motor lodge is a holiday camp worthy of a Tenenbaum family retreat. The original 1940s Sunburst Motel was renovated in 2017, with a Wes Anderson-esque twee charm that appeals to younger travellers. The rooms are inspired Airstream caravans and have camper banquettes and corkboards pinned with maps and photos. Family-friendly activities include bocce, board games and hula hooping. On Maker Mondays, local artisans give craft lessons. Even the signage is cute: pool rules include, “Do not attempt duet event without partner.” Three mineral pools are fed by geothermal hot springs and there are DIY mud baths in the mud bar. There’s in-room organic coffee and free snacks in the lobby but plans are afoot for an restaurant later this year. It’s near many trails and wineries, and it’s possible to pick up a pair of binoculars and a bicycle, and set off into the Napa Valley.
• Doubles from $198calistogamotorlodgeandspa.com

Chinese province bans app-based homework to save pupils’ eyesight

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Zhejiang issues draft regulation to combat soaring rates of nearsightedness

WT24 Desk

Students line up to get their eyes tested at a primary school in Huzhou City, Zhejiang province. Photograph: AP

A Chinese province plans to ban teachers from assigning homework to be completed on mobile phone apps as part of efforts to preserve students’ eyesight, AP reports.

Zhejiang, in the east of the country, issued a draft regulation last week and sought public comment. It is one of several provinces considering such measures.

Along with barring app-based homework assignments, the regulation would limit the use of electronic devices to 30% of total teaching time and encourage the issuing of paper homework to be completed by hand.

Soaring rates of nearsightedness have been blamed partly on screen usage. While China’s overall rate of myopia is 31%, among high school students it is 77% and 80% among college students.

The regulation aims to lower the proportion to 70% among senior high school students, with rates among primary school students targeted at 38% and junior high school students at 60%.

The regulation would prevent primary and middle school students from bringing electronic devices into classrooms without permission, restrict amounts of homework assigned and increase the time for breaks, sports and extracurricular activities.

It says no written homework should be assigned to first and second graders.

National education authorities have issued a proposal to prevent teachers from using the popular WeChat or QQ messaging apps for assigning homework and banned them from asking parents to mark their children’s work.

The education ministry also called for only paper homework assignments for primary and middle school students “in principle”.

Mobile devices are unlikely to be abandoned entirely as a means of supplementing classwork. Language apps, especially those for learning English pronunciation, are popular with students, many of whom are more likely to own smartphones than home computers.

Limiting screen time is of particular concern in Asia, where rates of myopia are higher than in Europe and north America. Singapore is believed have the highest proportion of nearsighted people, with a myopia level of about 80%.

Employers squeezed as job vacancies grow to record levels

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UK firms struggle to find staff as unemployment falls to lows not seen since the mid-1970s

WT24 Desk

Record numbers of unfilled job vacancies across Britain appear to have strengthened the bargaining power of workers to demand higher wages, amid mounting fears over skills shortages at UK companies, The Guardian reports.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of vacancies in the British jobs market rose by 16,000 to an estimated 870,000 in the three months to January, the highest level since comparable records began in 2001.

While the ONS said pressures were being felt across all sectors, with an estimated 2.9 job vacancies per 100 employee jobs, it said services companies were suffering the greatest shortfalls. Hotels and food services firms, IT and communications businesses and health and social care providers were among the most severely affected.Advertisement

Economists said the shortfalls were among factors helping total average weekly wages rise by 3.4% in the year to December 2018. Regular earnings growth, excluding bonuses, also rose by 3.4%.

Samuel Tombs, the chief UK economist at the consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “With surplus labour extremely scarce and job vacancies rising to a new record high, workers are having more success in obtaining above-inflation pay increases.”

Companies across the country are facing increasing difficulty hiring workers amid the lowest levels of unemployment since the mid-1970s, while the numbers of EU workers in Britain has declined since the Brexit vote.

While firms have responded by raising wages above inflation, employers’ groups have warned that tougher post-Brexit immigration rules could limit their access to workers – acting as a drag on the economy and driving up consumer prices.

Fears among employers that Britain will suffer from a lack of migrant workers in the future were not borne out by the latest data. There was a fall of 76,000 in the year to December among workers born in the EU but this was more than compensated for by a 159,000 rise in the number of non-EU-born workers.

The number of UK-born people in work rose by 352,000 to 27 million over the year as Britain’s overall employment rate reached a record high of 75.8%.

Jon Boys, the labour market economist for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “With fewer EU nationals working in the UK as the same time last year, it’s vital that the government recognises the need for a flexible post-Brexit migration system to avoid worsening skill and labour shortages.”

Despite the acceleration in vacancies, pay growth still remains far below the previous peak of 6.6% recorded in February 2007 before the financial crisis. Vacancies at that time were close to their pre-crash peak of about 650,000 unfilled jobs.

Economists believe higher levels of precarious employment since the crash, as well as a reduction in trades union bargaining power, could be among reasons for weak wages growth after a “lost decade” for workers’ pay rises. Average weekly total pay is also still about £31 below the pre-downturn peak after inflation.

The ONS said that as many as 844,000 people were employed on zero-hours contracts in their main job, down by 57,000 from a year earlier, although this figure is still above the pre-crisis level.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: “Employers are still not giving people the pay rises they deserve, leaving them worse-off than a decade ago. Millions don’t have the security of a solid job, because the government won’t crack down on insecure work. And the prime minister’s reckless Brexit strategy is causing employers to take flight.”

Alok Sharma, the employment minister, said: “While the global economy is facing many challenges, particularly in sectors like manufacturing, these figures show the underlying resilience of our jobs market – once again delivering record employment levels.”Topics

HSBC warns of weak global economic outlook

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Bank’s revenue down 8% as CEO blames Chinese slowdown, trade tensions and Brexit

WT24 Desk

HSBC blamed the Chinese slowdown, trade tensions and Brexit for a sharp fall in expected revenue. Photograph: Reuters

HSBC warned about a weaker global economic outlook, as the slowdown in China, trade tensions and fears around Brexit sent its revenues sharply lower towards the end of the year, The Guardian reports.

Europe’s biggest bank reported a 16% rise in 2018 profits to $19.9bn, disappointing the City, where analysts had been expecting nearer $22bn. Revenues in the fourth quarter, which saw turmoil in global financial markets, fell 8% from the previous quarter. In Asia, profits grew 16% to $17.8bn – nearly 90% of the total.

HSBC said it had increased its impairment provision by $165m to cover credit losses related to the economic uncertainty around Brexit. Its chief financial officer, Ewen Stevenson, said this reflected the increased risk of a hard Brexit, and that government contracting, high street retailers and some restaurant chains were particularly vulnerable.

Presenting his first annual results, HSBC chief executive John Flint, the former head of retail banking who took over from Stuart Gulliver as CEO a year ago, said the fourth quarter had been “undeniably weak” and that there were more risks to global economic growth than this time last year.

He added: “Many of our UK customers are understandably cautious about the immediate future, given the prolonged uncertainty surrounding the UK’s exit from the European Union.”

Flint has largely stuck to his predecessor’s Asia-focused strategy, and said HSBC would continue to invest in Asia, albeit at a slower pace. He acknowledged that growth in loans to Asian customers slowed sharply to 5.5% in the final three months of 2018, from double-digit rates seen in 2017.

He said an increase in US tariffs on $200bn of Chinese imports, to 25% from 10%, could cause significant disruption to supply chains. “Clearly a ratcheting up of tariffs to 25% wouldn’t be good for the region.”

The bank plans to lift the salaries of its executive directors by 3.3% this year, which it says it in line with the average pay rise for its UK employees. This is the first base salary increase for its directors since 2011. Flint was paid £4.6m in his first year as CEO while his predecessor Gulliver received £2.4m, according to HSBC’s annual report.

California leads 16-state lawsuit over Trump’s emergency declaration

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  • Coalition accuses president of ‘robbing taxpayer funds’
  • Legal challenge that could slow progress of border wall

WT24 Desk

Activists rally against Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. Photograph: UPI/Barcroft Images

A coalition of 16 US states led by California has launched legal action against Donald Trump’s administration over his decision to declare a national emergency in order to fund a wall along the Mexico border, Reuters reports.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday in the US district court for the northern district of California after Trump invoked emergency powers on Friday when Congress declined his request for $5.7bn to help create his signature policy promise.

His move aims to let him spend money appropriated by Congress for other purposes.

“Today, on Presidents Day, we take President Trump to court to block his misuse of presidential power,” California attorney general Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “We’re suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states. For most of us, the Office of the Presidency is not a place for theatre,” added Becerra, a Democrat.

Three Texas landowners and an environmental group filed the first lawsuit against Trump’s move on Friday, saying it violated the constitution and would infringe on their property rights.

The legal challenges could slow Trump’s efforts to build the wall, which he says is needed to check illegal immigration and drug trafficking, and the case is likely to end up in the conservative-leaning US supreme court.

In a budget deal passed by Congress to avert a second government shutdown, nearly $1.4bn was allocated to border fencing. Trump’s emergency order would give him $6.7bn beyond what lawmakers authorised.

In television interviews on Sunday and Monday, Becerra said the lawsuit would use Trump’s own words against him as evidence there was no national emergency to declare. Earlier, Trump had said he knew that he did not need to declare an emergency to build the wall, a comment that could now undercut the government’s legal argument.

“Presidents don’t go in and claim declarations of emergency for the purposes of raiding accounts because they weren’t able to get Congress to fund items,” Becerra said on MSNBC.