Writing about education in South Asian region means writing about one-fourth of the world's population. South Asia comprises seven contiguous countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The region is geographically knit together and is homogenous in terms of sociocultural, political, historical, economic, and educational factors. The people of this area are heirs to a heritage of common culture and civilization steeped in history. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, it is one of the most backward regions of the world, both educationally and economically. It is the poorest region economically in the world, with an average per capita income of about US$350. Most of the countries in the region rank fairly poorly in terms of the human development index, a crude summary statistic of development compiled by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). All the countries of the region, except Sri Lanka, are classified as low human development countries.
This is a historically rich region, with one of the most ancient civilizations of the world. The ancient scriptures associated with the region placed education and knowledge on a high pedestal, regarding it as the most important treasure one could have. Even in the early twenty-first century, many in the region value education very highly. Some of these countries were once very rich, industrially advanced, and materially prosperous. "The fame of their wealth earned for this region the appellation of the 'gorgeous East,' and inspired the quest which led to the discovery of the New World and created the preconditions for the Industrial Revolution in Europe" (Huq, p. 5). The countries of the region, except for Nepal and Bhutan, experienced various short and long phases of colonial rule and became independent in the middle of the twentieth century. The devastating colonial impact can be noted on the development of education in the region. The long colonial rule uprooted the beautiful tree in the undivided India and transformed an advanced intermediate society of India into an illiterate society, besides converting it into a raw material appendage on the economic front.
At the start of the twenty-first century, with the exception of Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the most backward regions of the world in terms of educational development. The region has been described as "the poorest region," "the most illiterate region," "the least gender-sensitive region," and "the region with the highest human deprivation" (Haq and Haq 1997, pp. 2–3). It has emerged as an "anti-education society in the midst of a pro-education Asian culture" (Haq and Haq 1998, p. 42). In sheer numbers, the South Asian subcontinent poses the most serious challenges in education: nearly half the adult illiterates of the world live in the subcontinent, the rate of participation in schooling is low, and the quality of education is poor.
Education Development after Independence
The importance of education is increasingly realized by every nation in the region. The human investment revolution in economic thought initiated by Theodore Schultz in an address to the American Economic Association had its own impact on public policy regarding educational development. The critical role of education in social, economic, and political development–as a means of development as well as a measure of development–is widely recognized. As a result, there has been an education explosion during the second half the twentieth century in most developing countries. Countries in the South Asian region also experienced an explosion in the number of people attending school. Between 1950 and 1997, enrollments in schools in South Asia increased sixfold, from 44 million to 262 million. The total teaching staff increased from 1.4 million to 7.2 million during this period. Enrollment ratios increased from 20 percent (net) in 1960 to 52 percent (gross) in 2000. (Gross enrollment ratios refer to the total enrollments as a proportion of the relevant age group population, while net enrollment ratio refers to enrollment
in the relevant age group as a proportion of the population of the relevant age group.) The rate of adult illiteracy declined from 72 percent in 1960 to 46 percent in 2000 (see Table 1). These are no mean achievements, given the poor economic conditions of the newly independent countries of the region and their high rates of population growth.
Along with quantitative progress, however, the education system in the several countries of the region is characterized by conspicuous failures on many fronts. While the rate of illiteracy has decreased, the number of adult illiterates increased from 299 million in 1970 to 429 million in 2000, and the current adult illiteracy rate is quite high. Adult literacy campaigns–an important strategy adopted by the South Asian countries to improve literacy rates–have not met with great success. Sixty percent of the adults in Nepal and Bangladesh, and about 55 percent in Pakistan and Bhutan, are illiterate (see Table 2). Further, a large majority of the literate population have had little more than primary education, and very few have gone on to higher education institutions. For example, only 7 percent of adults age twenty-five and older in India have graduated from postsecondary institutions; the corresponding
figure is 2.5 percent in Pakistan; 1.1 percent in Sri Lanka; and 0.6 percent in Nepal. About 50 million children in the primary-school age group were estimated to be out of school in 1995.
As of 2001, the gross enrollment ratio in primary education in the region as a whole was impressive (about 95%). But this is only the gross enrollment ratio. The net enrollment ratio in Pakistan, for example, was only 49 percent in 2001. Universal primary education is still a distant dream for many countries in the region, except for Sri Lanka and Maldives (see Table 3). Similarly, though the number of teachers has increased at all levels, the pace of growth has not kept up with the increase in enrollments. According to the latest statistics available, the number of pupils per teacher in primary schools is as high as fifty-nine in Bangladesh, forty-nine in Pakistan, and forty-eight in India–and the situation has worsened in many countries over the years. The situation is similar in terms of internal efficiency in primary education, as measured by rates of survival of children in school (the converse of dropout rates) and promotion rates.
Dropout and repetition rates are also high. In fact, the completion rates in primary education in South Asia are the lowest in the world. Quality of education, reflected in levels of achievement of children in primary schools, has been found to be unsatisfactory in several countries of the region. The regional, social, and economic inequalities that are a glaring feature of the societies of South Asia are reflected in the education systems, with the poor and socially backward areas suffering a severe degree of exclusion from education. In addition to religious and cultural prejudices, gender prejudices are also strong, keeping girls out of schools.
Enrollment ratios in secondary and higher education are also low in South Asia compared to many other regions of the world. Many countries in South Asia (e.g., India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) have emphasized vocational training in their secondary education plans, but have not succeeded. As Mahbub ul Haq and Khadija Haq have estimated, barely 1.5 percent of the enrollments in secondary education in South Asia were enrolled in vocational programs in the early 1990s, compared to six times that level in East Asia and fifteen times that level in Latin America. Secondary education has failed to provide any job-relevant skills, and as a result has served only as a transitory phase toward higher education and is not viable terminal level of education in these nations. In addition, gender disparities in secondary education are the largest in the world.
It is felt by some that higher education has expanded too fast in South Asian countries. Acute unemployment rates among the educated and high rates of emigration to the West are cited as testifying to this phenomenon. But higher education is, in fact, very much restricted in South Asia. Higher education is practically nonexistent in Maldives and Bhutan, and barely 3 percent of the relevant population is enrolled in higher education in Pakistan–with 4 percent enrollment in Bangladesh, 5 percent in Sri Lanka and Nepal, and 7 percent in India (see Table4). This is in sharp contrast to most economically advanced countries, where the enrollment ratio is generally above 20 percent. Additionally, all South Asian countries compare very poorly with countries in East Asia, Latin America, and many other areas of the world with respect to scientific and technical manpower.
While the region as a whole is educationally backward, there are one or two important exceptions. In terms of numbers, India has one of the largest education systems in the world–its student population exceeds the total population of some of the countries of the world. This, however, does not place India ahead of others in educational development. While India could build the third largest reservoir of scientific and technical manpower in the world, this was found to inadequate to meet the challenges of growth in the rapidly globalizing and competitive world.
Sri Lanka and the tiny Maldives are far ahead of other countries in the region in literacy and basic education. More than 90 percent of the population in these two countries is literate. Basic education is nearly universal and enrollment ratios in secondary education are high, although Maldives does not have any higher education institution.
The problems of dropouts and grade repetition are also not so important in Sri Lanka as in other countries. With its emphasis on school education, Sri Lanka could improve the level of human development, as measured by the human development index, but it still continues to be economically backward. However, internal civil war and political unrest have had a serious adverse impact on educational development in Sri Lanka.
One of the important factors responsible for the unsatisfactory development of education in the region is the low level of public investment in education. The present levels of public investment in education in South Asia have been found to be of the lowest order, even less than those in sub-Saharan Africa. For instance, Bangladesh invested 2.2 percent of its gross national product (GNP) in education between 1995 and 1997 (the corresponding investment during this period was 2.7 percent in Pakistan; and3.2 percent in Nepal and India). It is only in the relatively rich country of Maldives that the proportion is reasonably high (6.4 percent). As a proportion of the total government expenditure, education receives a small portion in countries like Bhutan and Pakistan (see Table 5). Particularly during the 1990s, after economic reform policies were introduced, public expenditures on education decreased–not only in relative proportions but also in absolute total and per student amounts–in real prices and sometimes even in nominal prices. In addition, political instability and the compulsion to allocate substantial resources for defense and internal security have also constrained India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh in raising their levels of spending on education.
Though sound finances are not a sufficient condition for educational development, they are a critically necessary condition for development. For instance, high historical investments made in education helped Sri Lanka march ahead of others in literacy and school education. Education systems in
most countries of the region are starved of scarce financial resources. A low level of economic development is generally believed to be the reason for a low level of public investment, but that is not necessarily true. With political and social will, some relatively poor societies could spend more on education than some relatively rich economies, even in South Asia.
Recent Policies and Approaches
Most countries of South Asia have recognized the vital role of education and the need to accord high priority to education in development efforts, and they have begun paying serious attention to education–particularly to basic education–as a part of the global program of Education for All (EFA). Several strategies have been adopted, some of which are not necessarily sound, and many of which are controversial. Along with strengthening formal schools with increased levels of physical and human infrastructure facilities (in India, for example, where a national program of improvement in school infrastructure on a massive scale was launched in 1986), all the countries in the region also place undue emphasis on nonformal education for universalizing basic education. Though started with good intentions, nonformal education is favored by the educational planners in the region primarily due to its low cost. It is also cheap in quality, however, with poor physical infrastructure facilities, inadequately trained teachers, and inadequate teaching and learning material. As a result, it did not take off well. Further,
no links exist between nonformal and formal education, and the graduates of nonformal education often tend to relapse back into educational poverty.
Effective compulsory basic education is still nonexistent in many countries of the region. Efforts to promulgate compulsory education laws have only recently been initiated in Sri Lanka, and India. However, even if enacted, such laws will not necessarily provide free education. Families incur huge expenditures in acquiring even basic education for their children, both in terms of payments to school and the cost of other necessary expenditures, such as for books, uniforms, and transportation. The high cost of schooling incurred by families is an important factor constraining the participation of the poor in schooling.
Decentralization has been regarded as "the key to improvement in education in South Asia" (Haq and Haq 1998, p. 82). Decentralization has become an important issue not only in large countries such as India and Pakistan, but also in relatively small countries like Nepal. Many responsibilities of schooling are being decentralized to the local level. The mechanisms envisaged would not only increase the role of local bodies, but would also ensure an increased level of participation by local communities. As a corollary to all this, however, it is feared that the role of the central government and of provincial governments may get minimized.
Private education is another important issue of concern, particularly in postprimary education. Though private education is not a new phenomenon in South Asia, public policies only recently began favoring the rapid growth of private schools. Along with private education, public policies are also being formulated for improved mechanisms of cost recovery in education. This will be accomplished through the introduction or increase of fees in schools, as well as through various efforts of mobilization of nongovernmental resources. These measures are advocated not only because resources are scarce, but also because it is believed that they can improve the efficiency of the school system. However, according to some, the effects of such measures on equity may be very serious–not only on the education system but also on the society at large.
Given the scarcity of domestic resources, almost all the countries in the region have resorted to international aid for education, particularly since the World Conference on Education for All was held in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990. While this has relaxed the constraints on resources to some extent, it has also led to an increased level of donor dependency, with every new educational program being dependent upon international aid. In addition, public policies are affected, as aid from some international organizations comes with severe policy conditions attached. On the whole, international aid for basic education has been increasing in South Asian countries, though positive and sustainable effects of this aid on educational development have yet to be noted.
One of the unintended effects of Education for All and an increased emphasis on basic education has been the neglect of secondary and higher education. While concentrating their efforts on EFA, countries in South Asia tend to ignore secondary and higher education altogether, based on the presumption that EFA goals could be realized only at the cost of growth of secondary and higher education. Therefore, public resources and policy initiatives have primarily been confined to basic education and adult literacy. This may lead to serious imbalances in the development of education, causing irreparable damage to secondary and higher education. Some countries, such as Sri Lanka and India, have already realized, with the rapid expansion of primary education, the need to expand secondary education. Further, these nations realize that higher education is not only important for economic growth and development, but also that quality higher education is important if these societies are to succeed in an increasingly globalized world.
The present education system in South Asia is marked by low access; poor quality and low standards; gender, social, and economic inequities; and low levels of public investment. The region is caught "in a vicious circle of low enrollment, low levels of literacy, low levels of educated labor force, lower rates of economic growth, and lower levels of living" (Tilak 2001, p. 233). The low level of educational development in South Asia has constrained "the immediate potential for human resource led development," and it has also "stunted the future prospects for rapid human development in the region" (Haq and Haq 1998, p. 34). Some countries have realized the importance of education and taken several new policy initiatives, but not all of these initiatives are necessarily conducive for the development of sustainable education systems of high quality. The most important factors responsible for the poor education status of South Asian countries are the lack of political commitment to education and the lack social will to exert pressures on the political elite. Political activism is completely lacking, though social will is slowly being built, providing a ray of hope for the betterment of education in South Asia.
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Haq, Mahbub ul, and Haq, Khadija. 1998. Human Development in South Asia: The Education Challenge. Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press.
Schultz, Theodore W. 1961. "Investment in Human Capital." American Economic Review 51 (1):1–17.
Tilak, Jandhyala B. G. 1994. Education for Development in Asia. New Delhi, India: Sage Publications.
Tilak, Jandhyala B. G. 2000. Education for All in South and West Asia: A Decade After Jomtien: An Assessment. New Delhi, India: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization/South and West Asia Regional Technical Advisory Group.
Tilak, Jandhyala B. G. 2001. "Education and Development: Lessons from Asian Experience." Indian Social Science Review 3 (2):219–66.
United Nations Development Program. 2001. Human Development Report. New York: Oxford University Press.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (unesco). 1969;1999. statistical yearbook. paris: united nations educational, scientific and cultural organization.
Jandhyala B. G. Tilak
"South Asia." Encyclopedia of Education. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/south-asia-0
"South Asia." Encyclopedia of Education. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/south-asia-0
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The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
South Asia is the region approximately encompassed in the Indian subcontinent. It includes the modern nations of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Though these countries are very diverse in religion, language, customs, food, dress, political systems, and other details, they share broad historical and cultural similarities.
Trends in population aging
Until recently most South Asian populations were marked by high fertility and mortality, and therefore a younger age structure. In the 1950s fertility across South Asia was uniformly high (see Table 1). By 2000 Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh had markedly lower fertility. By 2050 all countries are projected to reach replacement level fertility. The decrease in mortality is reflected in increasing life expectancy at birth, with Sri Lanka in the lead. In the 1950s the South Asian countries under consideration had shorter life spans for women than for men (contrary to global mortality norms), for a variety of reasons ranging from discrimination against girl children to high maternal mortality rates. By 2000 female life expectancy at birth equaled or exceeded that of males in the countries being studied, except Nepal, reflecting amelioration of the female mortality disadvantage.
Concerns regarding the aging population are therefore coming to the forefront in South Asia, though they have been less documented and explored there than in other parts of the world where population aging has advanced further.
South Asian aging in regional perspective. Asia currently accounts for approximately 6 percent of the global elderly population (those age sixty-five and above). However, the proportion of old varies across its regions. In 2000 in East Asia, almost 8 percent of the population was age sixty-five and over. South Asia, Southeast Asia, and West Asia each had approximately 5 percent. In 2050 the figures are expected to be one in five in East Asia, one in seven in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and one in eight in West Asia (United Nations, 1998).
From 2000 on, India is expected to have the greatest absolute number of elderly persons, and in South Asia the highest proportion of seniors is projected to be in Sri Lanka (see Table 2).
Measures of population aging. The median age (the age that divides the population into equal halves) also illustrates the changing age structure of a population. The median age in the countries being considered will rise into the thirties by 2050 (see Table 3).
Familial coresidence remains the norm for most seniors in South Asia. The availability of extrafamilial facilities for elderly persons is minimal, and social norms strongly favor familial coresidence and care. Variations in family and kinship structures in South Asia thus illustrate living arrangements and support for seniors.
Broadly speaking, South Asian kinship systems range from exogamous, patrilineal, and patrilocal systems in the northern half of the sub-continent, to endogamous, matrilineal, and matrilocal systems in many groups in southern India and Sri Lanka. These diverse systems all imply coresidence in joint family groups, but have different implications for elderly men and women. For example, under patrilineal/ patrilocal systems, elderly men, as the senior male in the household, can expect lifelong residential support and care, usually from married sons. However, such support is not universal, varying by socioeconomic status, landholding, presence of spouse, and number of surviving sons. Elderly women, particularly widows with no son, are more vulnerable under patrilineal/ patrilocal systems. While women have varying inheritance and property rights, in practice these are dependent upon the goodwill of male kin (Agarwal). The desire to bear several sons, in order to ensure that at least one will survive to adulthood and provide old-age care, underpins the persistent high fertility in South Asia.
Elderly women in groups that practiced matrilineal inheritance/matrilocal residence usually enjoyed considerable old-age security, because they resided with their married daughters and property was inherited in the female line. However, social and legal changes in the twentieth century dismantled these arrangements and introduced patrilineal inheritance and nuclear residence patterns. This has manifested in the hitherto unheard-of phenomenon of destitute elderly women in the state of Kerala in southwestern India, a region usually noted for the high status of women.
Before longevity increased, there was comparatively less chance that a husband and wife would survive to see all their grandchildren. Now people live longer on average, which implies a prolonged period of multigenerational family life. Declining fertility means fewer descendants to provide support. Other important changes influencing the living conditions of seniors include geographical mobility of the working-age population, increasing numbers of women working outside the household, and a greater move toward the nuclear family with emphasis on providing for children’s nurture, education, and careers. Working-age adults with young children and elderly parents thus encounter increasing difficulties. They face economic hardship when allocating resources between support of their elderly relatives and financing of their own advancement and the education of their children, and all generations face psychological stress. Where the working-age generation has migrated for employment, financial hardships may decrease, but at the cost of loneliness or isolation of the seniors.
One study in southern India (Irudaya Rajan et al.) suggests that only 46 percent of elders (and only 25 percent of female elders) who stated a preference to stay with their children during old age were actually able to do so. Indian National Sample Survey data for 1991 show that elderly persons express an increasing preference over time to stay in old age homes. The number of old age homes in India increased from 29 before 1901 to 329 after 1976; 57 percent of them were located in southern India. These facilities are far fewer than the number needed to meet the potential demand.
Widowhood. South Asian women are more at risk of widowhood than men, partly because of early and nearly universal marriage of younger women to older men. Though until recently the life expectancy at birth was lower for most South Asian women than for men, the risk of widowhood still remains substantially higher for women, and life expectancy is projected to increase more for women. This means that many more women than men will be widowed, for several years, in these populations. There are region-, religion-, and caste-based restrictions on widow remarriage, ranging from enforced leviratic unions to bans on remarriage. Widowed men usually do not face these restrictions.
There appear to be broad similarities in the socioeconomic situation of widows in Pakistan, northern India, and Bangladesh. Widows in northern India suffer from economic deprivation, social isolation, and higher morbidity and mortality rates, compared with married women in the same age groups (Chen and Dreze).
Increasing age brings the growing risk of widowhood and of female household headship, though the proportion of female-headed households in South Asia is much lower than elsewhere in Asia. Forty-seven percent of the widows in one study resided in households headed by themselves (Chen and Dreze). Evidence for Bangladesh suggests that 12 percent of widows lived alone (Chen and Dreze). Members of female-headed households are more at risk of poverty because of the absence of a male earner. Men usually hold the titles to productive assets, command higher wages than women, and are more likely to be economically active. Female-headed households tend to be smaller but have a higher proportion of dependents than households headed by males. Members of such households are less likely to be beneficiaries of government programs designed to help the poor (United Nations, 1994).
Economic status and retirement patterns
In most South Asian countries only the very small proportion of the population that belongs to the salaried class (overwhelmingly urban and male) has access to pensions and social security after retirement. In many cases widows can draw a deceased husband’s pension. Rural women in particular are often not aware of their entitlements or are not easily able to keep track of the rules and regulations that govern their receipt. The bulk of the population depends on familial support or personal savings, or simply keeps working as long as possible. The formal age of retirement for the salaried class in most South Asian countries ranges from fifty-five to sixty years. Nevertheless, work participation among those age sixty-five and above for the South Asian countries being studied (except Sri Lanka) is high, ranging from almost one-third to almost one-half, and is projected to decline very little by 2050 (see Table 4).
Pension and social security programs in South Asia. Old age pensions and other forms of social security are less developed programs in most of South Asia. As the population ages, the issue of financing social security will grow more pressing. In 1989 social security expenditures accounted, on average, for approximately 0.9 percent of gross domestic product in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; by 1992 the average had increased to 1.6 percent. For instance, the percentage was 1.8 for India and 4.7 percent for Sri Lanka (International Labour Office).
Sex ratios in the elderly population
The male-dominant sex ratios in the age group above sixty-five in some South Asian countries are counter to the global norm of female-dominant sex ratios among older age groups. Male-dominant sex ratios were observed in 2000 for those age sixty-five and above in Bangladesh and India (see Table 5). This indicates a cumulative female mortality disadvantage over the life course, though age-specific death rates are higher for men than for women in India after about age thirty-five. Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka exhibit ‘‘normal’’ female-dominant sex ratios among the elderly age group. By 2025 only Bangladesh is projected to have a male-dominant ratio. Other countries’ ratios are expected to decline steeply (plunging to 72.2 in Sri Lanka), reflecting amelioration of the female mortality disadvantage.
Emerging health concerns
Increasing longevity implies a rising burden of degenerative disease that characterizes an elderly population, but health care systems across most of South Asia are designed to cope with infectious disease control and maternal/child health issues that face a younger population. Preventive or palliative care for chronic conditions among elders is lacking. The concept of ‘‘healthy aging’’ has yet to be widely accepted. Individuals expect to ‘‘suffer various aches and pains’’ as they grow older, and may not seek treatment for even quite serious conditions. Health practitioners also tend to view chronic conditions as a natural consequence of aging rather than as diseases to be prevented or treated.
Above age thirty-five, Indian men have significantly shorter life expectancies than women, and the age-specific death rates are about twice those for women above thirty-five (review in Basu). High levels of adult male mortality may be partly attributed to tuberculosis and to aggravating lifestyle factors, such as tobacco and alcohol consumption. Increasing rates of cardiovascular disease can also be attributed to lifestyle factors. For women, increasing rates of cervical and breast cancer are noted. Indian women develop osteoporosis (and consequent hip fractures, therefore experiencing premature death) ten to fifteen years earlier than their counterparts elsewhere. Indian men also have a higher risk of hip fracture than do other men (Gupta).
South Asian countries need to document and face the challenges posed by the increasingly elderly populations. Timely collection and release of high-quality data should be prioritized to facilitate the planning process. Social security schemes need to be expanded to cover vulnerable segments of the population. Familial support systems also should be strengthened by various means. Private and nonprofit sector efforts must be developed to supplement those of the over-burdened public sector. At the same time elements of Asian culture that respect elders and view old age as a time of wisdom should not be lost. That is, making adequate provision for seniors should not be accompanied by approaches or assumptions that view old age as a looming problem or the proportion of elders in society as a burden. A social construction of the aging process as inherently problematic serves to legitimize a transfer of responsibility for elders from the state to individual older persons (Estes et al.). For each country or subgroup in South Asia, an appropriate balance needs to be developed between individual and public provision for the growing elderly population.
S. Sudha S. Irudaya Rajan
See also China; Japan; Population Aging.
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"South Asia." Encyclopedia of Aging. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/south-asia
"South Asia." Encyclopedia of Aging. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/south-asia