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(Un)Common Sense: Education Wows and Woes

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Saarthak Juneja

Almost all Indians with a sensible head on their respective shoulders cheered the Parliament passing the ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2009’, which makes providing free and compulsory education to children of the age group 6-14, a legislation. Keeping in mind that only about 12 percent of Indian children who attend elementary school make it to the graduation level, it is sad that it took six years for our parliamentarians to pass the bill. And though the global average is 27 percent, we’ve made a beginning at last.

Last month itself, the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development announced its 100-day agenda which included the bill as well.

In the announcement Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal introduced some essential reforms, largely focusing on reducing the pressure on young minds. Some of the measures suggested were: replacing class X exams with internal assessment, giving an examination option to those planning to leave school; and introducing a grading system for CBSE schools for classes IX and X. The ministry also suggested public private partnership in school education, with private sector being allowed to run govt. schools.

Revamping curriculum for teacher training and establishment of an All-India Madrassa Board and making efforts to modernizing of madrassas were mentioned too.

While most of the states — anti-UPA of course— criticized the reforms on flimsy pretexts like the AIADMK and Left-ruled states showing apprehensions about losing state autonomy in education sector, which is on the Concurrent List and the Education minister of Bihar seeking a consensus. While these oppositions might be somewhat valid, they have, clearly, nothing to do with the actual problem of rescuing the students from the trauma of a faulty education system which educated only in name, while actually producing mere literates, many of whom pass examinations(and very well too) by rote memorization, rather than real understanding of their subjects.

Doing away with the class X examination is no concrete, long-term benefiting solution. It’s the bad old Indian panacea. It’s escapism. ‘Since we can’t make the Xth boards appear less fearsome, let’s banish the monster itself’ seems to be the rationale behind the recommendation. Rather, our focus should be on systemic failings. The country needs an education system that produces young adults who are capable of innovation and analytical thinking and most importantly, independent thinking i.e. doing their own thinking.

Firstly, the curriculum and curriculum-setting system needs doing up. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) should be remodeled and the syllabus be regularly reviewed and updated according to the needs of the times and no governments. Some educationists suggest dissociating curriculum from textbooks. Textbooks needn’t be equated to syllabus, which the students tend to follow religiously. Here, the onus lies on the teachers, who can find new, innovative ways for the same.

Practicality of our curricula is another major concern. This is a ghost that haunts India’s higher education as well. ANASSCOM report estimates shortage of lakhs of programmers by 2010, and this in a country that boasts of being the IT hub. Employers often complain about the lack of employability of graduates and even post-graduates, who usually have to be trained for a few weeks before they can actually start being productive. In this case, India can seek better example in countries like Australia where graduates are generally industry-ready; and usually the universities tie-up with recruiting companies to the same end.

The new HRD minister Kapil Sibal seems more bent on removing reservations in the basic school education system rather than imposing reservations in higher education to appease sections of the vote bank, under the garb of equality. Spearheading the RTE Bill into a law is also appreciable, but teacher training system should also be taken care of. Hopefully, the report and recommendations of the committee that is to be set for the purpose will not end up like other committees —time-consuming and futile. In India, still 30 percent of the students drop out at upper primary levels and it is the teachers working at grass-roots who can make a difference.

Saarthak Juneja is a coloumnist at Youth Ki Awaaz and writes the coloumn (Un)Common Sense. Saarthak’s column, “(Un)Common Sense,” takes readers beneath news stories and into obscure and well-known corners of the news which usually go unnoticed. The column will expand Saarthak’s storytelling scope to the nation from Delhi, where he is pursuing journalism.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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