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Time For A Student Movement To Stand Up To This ‘Business Of Education’?

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By Devesh Narayanan:

The education sector seems to have taken the biggest blow during the recent budget restructuring, with massive cuts in fund allocation around the world. Most governments have shifted focus to primary education, leaving higher education open to the private sector. This alarming trend of the privatization of higher education has become a serious concern, given the series of negative ramifications on students, teachers, and societies.

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Yet the increasingly ubiquitous nature of privatized universities has resulted in an unprecedented drop in the quality of education, and students around the world are coming together to petition for change.

Numerous questions are being raised as to how so many governments are so callously disregarding the future of their people with such myopic policies. But, the only answers that we’ve received are pitiful excuses and illogical rebuttals. Narayan Ramaswamy, a partner and head of educational practice at the consultancy firm KPMG recently said, “We are not a rich country and instead of complete state funding, elite institutes should be allowed to raise funds themselves.”

Well yes, perhaps we aren’t the richest country in the world. But I believe that there is no greater investment than education, and a country rides on its educated task-force to push for greater economic growth. Privatization comes with higher fees, over-crowded schools, under-skilled teachers, and irrelevant training, but no one really seems to care. I believe that the prevalence of this “bystander culture” has become one of the greatest threats to our education system.

Investing in education is the greatest contribution towards building a better human capital, and I find it intriguing that these budget cuts come in the light of the grandiose development plans by PM Modi and the other world leaders. Today, India struggles to spread its wings of modernity against the ever-widening gap of social inequalities in the country. Talent and money are distributed arbitrarily, but it has become increasingly difficult for a student to find the education he or she deserves. Neither a rich student from a sub-standard university, nor a poor student with basic schooling is going to make much of a contribution to the society. Our dream of an active, vibrant, and progressive India isn’t going to be realized if so many students are left behind.

Therefore, I believe that the privatization of educational institutions will lead to the rise of very significant issues. The inevitable hikes in fees will deny many students from lower income-bands the opportunity to pursue higher education. However, for those who do manage to pay the extravagant fees, the profit-driven motives of the institutions will often lead to a compromised quality of education.

A good example of this would be the London School of Economics (LSE), where students recently occupied a central administration room at the university in protest of what they call the ‘marketization of higher education.’ Students were quoted as saying, “When a university becomes a business, the whole of student life is transformed. When a university is more concerned with its image, its marketability and the ‘added value’ of its degrees, the student is no longer a student — they become a commodity and education becomes a service.”

The situation at LSE wasn’t a first, and it certainly won’t be the last. Universities around the globe have become a space for dissent, with students raising their voices against the corporatization of education. With the spread of the occupation movement to Sheffield, Warwick, Birmingham, and Oxford, and large-scale rebellions in Quebec and Amsterdam, students are campaigning actively to show that the current system simply cannot continue. In an example closer to home, a large number of students recently took their protest to the streets, to demonstrate against the Central Universities Act and the Credit-Based Choice system, both of these have been deemed as “toothless” and “a khichdi of no relevance.”

The Central Universities Act seeks to regulate central universities through a common set of rules and procedures, with a provision for transferring the  faculty and a centralised recruitment process. The move has been termed as a “draconian assault” on quality education, and an attempt to enforce uniformity. The Credit-Based Choice System is best described as a cafeteria-style education, where students are overburdened with a concoction of foundation, core and elective papers that merely touch upon the subjects being taught.

The students also protested against the largely unsuccessful Lyngdoh Committee recommendations, which have failed to curb the use of “money and muscle-power” in student elections. Instead, the policy has served as a means to curb the freedom to organize student movements, and has been termed as a “direct attack on campus democracy”. It is no doubt a radical undertaking by the government to make such drastic changes, but these changes threaten to destabilize an already weak system. Our country’s future should never be the guinea-pig of governmental experimentation.

Undoubtedly, the privatization of education has left many students dissatisfied, and the education they are receiving today does not justify their investment. As educational institutions shift towards satisfying their sponsors and benefactors instead of their students, I believe that they will make a string of bad decisions that will jeopardize their very purpose. Maybe our country isn’t rich enough to afford complete state-funding, but that should never be used as an excuse for a sub-standard quality of education.

It is heartening to see the students stand up for themselves, to demand what is rightfully theirs. A healthy culture of campus dissent is becoming increasingly popular, and I am confident that as more students are mobilized, this resonant voice will be too hard to ignore. As a Delhi University student counsellor aptly puts it, “Decisions about education should always be made in consultation with those who are most affected by them. We will not hesitate to stand up against injustice.”

I believe that it is time for the institutions and governments to pay heed to these protests. With effective discussions, I am confident that a compromise can be reached. In fact, there are a number of global student agitations that have led to the negotiating table amicably, including the recent Quebec. However, more often than not, we see name-calling, finger pointing, and ugly arguments that sometimes result in expulsions and arrests. It is vital for us to realize that everyone is working towards a common ideal: to improve the quality of education in the country.

And we should work together to realize our ambitions. Perhaps, the institutions could be a little more accommodating and allocate a small portion of funds (say 10%) towards meeting the needs of their students. Perhaps, the student unions could be more considerate in taking care to not disrupt college proceedings during their protests. Perhaps, the government could consider additional budget restructuring to ease the burden on the students and the institutions. I am optimistic that careful planning and open discussions could pave the way for the education that we truly deserve.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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