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6 Students Share What They Really Want From Their Education

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By Morgaine Das Varma:

Whilst India may be teeming with bright young things with excellent brains and potential, there is no doubt that the education system itself is in dire need of an upgrade. Often lacking in both accessibility and quality, there is a heavy focus upon grades and a desperate rush towards admittance to prestigious colleges. This kind of a system can leave some students – particularly the less advantaged by caste, or disability – shafted to the side and bereft of the chance to use their skills and potential.

Earlier this year, the government of India’s Ministry for Human Resource Development, which is in the process of drafting a new education policy, invited suggestions from the public. While the Government has taken into account recommendations of teachers, parents, and academic experts, a key voice was missing – the children themselves.

To bring in the voices of children, the largest stakeholders in education, a special ground-level panel named Shikshagiri was hosted over four days in July 2016. It comprised 16 children from a range of educational backgrounds, some of whom had experienced considerable barriers in their schooling due to the present system. Curated by development organisation Praxis India, in consultation with organisations such as CBM India, the panel focused on investigating and analysing the areas where present education was deemed to be lacking, and how to improve upon it. Read below the vision of six children from the panel.

Anju, Class 8, 16 Years Old: Wants A Safer School For Girls

Living in Ahmedabad, Anju has three brothers, none of whom finished their education (they all work full-time now). Whilst Anju wants to be a doctor, she lives in constant fear of bulldozers destroying the slum where she and her family presently live. At the panel, she raised the question of how schools could ensure the safety of their female students. In an environment where staggering rates of abuse is committed against school-age girls, female students are discouraged from going to school. Anju suggested security guards in schools, as well as a bus service to help girls commute safely.

Nandkishore, Class 9: Wants The Caste Bullying To Stop

Originally from Ajmer, Rajasthan, Nandkishore studies in a government secondary school. Whilst he said he likes his school – it has good infrastructure and teachers – he raised the question of how caste-based discrimination could be handled better in schools. He suggested that teachers who witness pupils bullying their peers on the basis of their caste, should both approach the parents of the perpetrators and make sure the perpetrators know that discrimination violates the principles of the Constitution. Lower caste children often experience discrimination both in general life and in education, whether directly in the form of bullying and harassment, or indirectly in the form of being less able to take advantage of opportunities due to poverty.

Juli, a girl with visual impairment seeks inclusiveness in education.
Juli, a girl with visual impairment seeks inclusiveness in education.

Juli, Class 6: Wants Greater Accessibility For Pupils With Disabilities

Studying in a government school near Washabari Tea Garden in Siliguri in West Bengal, Juli was originally required to work to support her family after the death of her father. Due to this, she ended up having to put her education on hold. Juli has a visual impairment, and whilst she successfully returned to school later, she still remains concerned about the lack of educational facilities available for children with disabilities. India has a population of persons with disabilities, and whilst there have been great steps towards accessibility in terms of products and general awareness, the supply has still not met the demand in terms of education. At the panel, Juli expressed the need for accessible infrastructure in schools, as well as increasing the number of special needs teachers, so that children with disabilities can attend school, along with their non-disabled peers.

Anisha, Class 9, 14 Years Old: Wants Clean Toilets

Another aspiring doctor, Anisha studies in Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya. Whilst she enjoys going to school a lot, she finds much room for improvement in the school’s approach to hygiene, saying that the toilets are dirty and she doesn’t want to use them. Clean toilet facilities are a vital part of creating a welcoming, studious environment for children, especially female pupils, who may need to use feminine hygiene facilities whilst menstruating. Dirty and inaccessible toilets make the school day that much tougher to get through. Anisha stated that the washrooms should be cleaned daily, and sweepers should be employed for the rest of the school.

Sonam, Class 7: Wants Teachers To Stop The Discrimination

Sonam is from Bhuwapuri Gazipur. She experiences a lot of discrimination, as her mother is a rag picker, and therefore doesn’t look forward to going to school, despite wanting to study medicine when she leaves. She states that teachers have a duty to stop discrimination in classrooms, and have a duty of care to the most marginalised students. She raised the question of child-labour, stating that if children receive an education, they won’t have to work, but will be able to get good jobs later. She also emphasised on the importance of speaking to other children about their aspirations and encouraging them to stay in education.

Ankush: Bring Back The Midday Meal

Ankush’s family suffered an upheaval after they were evicted from the slum they lived in due to the Commonwealth Games. Thus the distance between his school and his living space increased, causing him to fail his exams. However, he is undaunted and is seeking admission to another school. He inquired about how homeless children could get an education, especially since children without official documents often could not be enrolled in classes. He also encouraged schools to provide mid-day meals to children, as it would aid their education if they didn’t have much else to eat. There are huge barriers to homeless children receiving an education; the parents’ suggested documents, which required an address, should not be mandatory for enrollment.

As the Indian Government takes steps to improve the present education system, policymakers must make sure they keep in mind the valuable contributions from India’s younger citizens, regardless of background. Judging from the eloquence and determination of just a small sample of school pupils, there is much to be gained from making sure we keep listening.

All information is sourced from the official Shikshagiri report, accessible in English here.

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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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