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Things That The New Government Should Keep In Mind Before Budget Allocations For Education

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By Mousumi Mukherjee:

Imagine this scenario! In the tropical summer heat of Northern India, a classroom full of sixty to seventy children, no electricity, no fan, not even a proper desk, chair or other infrastructural facilities. Imagine another scenario! Heavy rain during monsoons, the entire school is flooded with knee-deep water, no electricity, children sitting on bamboo planks placed across windows of a ramshackle classroom and the teacher standing on a high desk trying to teach these children. How are you going to help these children learn and how can you improve their learning outcome? I have personally visited many schools and classrooms like this. If I had the power, I would invest as much money as possible to improve the infrastructure of these schools. How can their learning outcome be improved without an increase in educational input?

education

I just read Ashish Dhawan’s article in the Mint about targeting learning outcome and not input in the budget.

I am dismayed to read the superficial analysis of the ASER reports about the poor learning outcome of these children. Much has been already researched and written by scholars about exclusion within the Indian system and upper-class advantage of “family sponsorship” for education. (See: Nambissan 2010, Govinda 2011) Will the learning outcome of students in private and better resourced (mostly English medium) elite schools coming from educated middle-class or upper-class backgrounds be as bad as schools surveyed by Pratham for the ASER reports? What is the big difference between the elite private English medium schools in India and the schools surveyed for the ASER reports? The biggest difference is in their educational input. And, by educational input I do not just mean financial input and improvement in building infrastructure. Educational inputs also include well-trained teachers, well-trained school leaders and parental engagement. How can educational outcome of children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, (many of whom are first generation learners without the vital support that children from educated middle-class families get) be improved without increasing the educational input?

All good systems of education around the world spend at least 5-6% of their GDP on education. Rather than decreasing budget input for education, the new government should increase the educational budget input to 6% as promised. Also, 50% of the educational budget should be invested in teacher education, school principal/headmaster training, student learning assessments and research and development. In order to attract some of the best students into the teaching and research profession within India, working conditions must be improved. And working conditions especially in government schools cannot be improved within the Indian context without more investment in education. Better learning outcome needs more investment in education.

In his article Mr. Dhawan also advised the new government to adopt President Obama’s “Race to the Top” policy in the US. However, “Race to the Top” policy has been a very controversial and much-criticized policy for funding education, which in many ways followed the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) policy of the former Bush administration as well as the unjust history of educational funding in the US. In 2009, the “Race to the Top” programme created a fund of $4.35 billion as a part of the United States Department of Education contest, and the government used this to provide competitive grants to states based on their educational innovations and reforms. The United States has been by far one of the most unequal systems of education, where historically educational funding has been allocated based on property taxes. Hence, schools in rich neighbourhoods have historically received more investment in education. Those children who belong to disadvantaged background (mostly children from Black and Latino families) have received poor education due to lack of educational investment. Some of the public schools in the South Side and West Side of Chicago, have remained poor in many ways and public schools in these neighbourhoods suffer from severe lack of educational input. It’s not just that the building infrastructure of these schools are poor, but sometimes one teacher has to teach multiple subjects and also provide pastoral care to some of these children coming from poor, homeless and abusive backgrounds.

Some of these public school teachers were my classmates in Chicago. Throughout my years of study and research in the US, especially in the area of education, I came to know about similar situation all across the country. Educators and educational scholars within the US and around the world have increasingly criticized these policies based on research evidence to show that these policies of funding education have in many ways increased educational inequity within the US, which is also increasing inequality within the larger American society and generating social unrest.

Therefore, Mr. Dhawan’s policy advice to the new government to follow President Obama’s highly unpopular policy of “Race to the Top” is highly problematic in many ways. Firstly, such policy advice goes against the constitutional commitments for equity (equal re-distribution of resources) made by the Indian state. Secondly, educational input i.e. in terms of public investment in education within India has been already quite low compared to most good systems around the world and even emerging economies like neighbouring China. Finally, “Race to the Top” is a policy, which has in many ways failed even within the US context.

Tons of research evidence already exists in the US, based on which educational scholars argue how both NCLB and “Race to the Top” have failed as policies to address the pressing educational problems for the most marginalized students in the US. They have further contributed in increasing educational inequity within the US context. Probably Mr. Dhawan should at least read this news article published in the Washington Post.

Hope that the new Indian government would research well and consult education experts before making budget allocations, rather than being lead by superficial advice to follow the highly controversial American policy, which might jeopardize their own government in the future!

References:

Govinda, R. (2011). Who goes to school? exploring exclusion in Indian education. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Nambissan, G.B. , (2010). “The Indian Middle classes and Educational Advantage: family strategies and practices” in Michael W. Apple, Stephen J. Ball & Luis Armando Gandin [Eds].The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education. London & New York: Routledge.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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