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Sorry, You Can’t Afford An Education If You Don’t Have Big Bucks!

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By Amisha Bhardwaj:

Aristotle said, ‘The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.’ Perhaps, he hinted at the hard work the students need to do but today one can interpret this very quote in a completely different manner. Along with the “hard work’’, what is increasing the bitterness of the ‘’roots’’ of education, is the “voluntary’’ donation that is mandatory for the parents if they want their children to have a better education.

education is not for sale

As they say that charity begins at home, let us start by evaluating our own schooling system. Education in India is being provided by the public sector as well as the private sector. The public schools or the government schools are being funded and run by the government for the children whose parents are not financially strong enough to pay their tuition fees. In fact, the Indian government has announced a number of schemes for the betterment of these government run schools but sadly, while India boasts of having the third largest higher education system in the world, it lacks skilled human resources and these government run schemes only make news when a dead rat is found in the mid day meal rice or when some scam is spotted.

Anyhow, we still have got our saviours, the private schools. The private sector in education is often seen as the solution to the present education woes. The difference between the public and private schools is being reflected right from their walls to the infrastructure. According to recent estimates, 80% of all schools are government schools, making the government the major provider of education. However, because of poor quality of public education, 27% of Indian children are privately educated. With more than 50% children enrolling in private schools, the balance has already tilted towards private schools in urban areas. Even in rural parts, nearly 20% of the children also opted for private schools. With the advantage of the recent legislation, which requires Indian private schools to admit 25% of their student body from ages 6 to 14 from families making less than 100,000 rupees a year. But again, the not so brighter side of it do exist. Not many such families are aware of it and moreover the schools are even reluctant to admit the poor children, thanks to the modern yet class-based mentality! Henceforth, there is still a long way to go and the number of children to benefit from new access to private schooling will be relatively small.

The scenario in other countries is different yet the same. In countries like the U.S.A, Thailand, U.K and our immediate neighbour and our competitor in terms of population, China, the government run schools provide free education to the children till the age of 18 and function in, more or less, a similar fashion. These schools are funded through national taxation and although they take pupils free of charge but may levy charges for activities such as swimming, theater visits and field trips. The state education includes basic education, kindergarten to twelfth grade. But like they say that all that glitters is not gold, an analysis of school data by The Guardian found that in U.K, state schools were not taking a fair share of the poorest pupils in their local areas as indicated by free school meal entitlement. This suggested selection by religion was leading selection of children from more well off families. Even in China, parents pay large sums and use connections to give their children an edge at government-run schools. Moreover, the parents were even made to sign a document saying the fee to be “voluntary donation.’’ There too, the state run education system is being overrun by bribery and cronyism. As a result, the parents are sending their children abroad for education, which too is an option not affordable by many others.

As every coin has two sides, even when the private schools in India and the government run schools in these countries and perhaps many others, provide quality education by the similar or different methods, the education sector too is infected by this virus of corruption and hence reduces all the positive aspects to nil. Youth, the future of any nation, is powerless until and unless they are well loaded with the weapon of education and what use is this education if it cannot reach the masses? Some people think that this is a vicious circle and is a hindrance that is slowing down the development of the nation. The philanthropic spirit has been replaced by a commercial approach which legitimizes the selling of education at the highest price possible. It is difficult to tell which education system is good for loop holes are found everywhere and one cannot notice until and unless one is a part of it or rather “trapped’’ in it.

As everything comes at a price, we need to ponder on whether it’s worth it?

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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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