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Engaging The Quiet Ones: How Schools Need To Encourage Shy Children

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By Samar:

At its core, there is no difference between the personality traits that guide adult behaviour and the behaviour of children. Symptoms and manifestations, that is, how behaviour plays out, may be informed by age, but behind it, the prime driving forces remain the same. Therefore, if a 40-year-old turns down a party invitation while a 6-year-old is seemingly unable to respond to a simple question, they both may be dealing with stimuli in age-specific ways but the trigger could be exactly the same: shyness.

In schools, just as anywhere else, this sometimes-detrimental trait is abundant. Its cousin variations such as underconfidence, anxiety, inability to communicate well, prolonged silence and the like exist inside and outside the classroom. With time, most adults learn how to accept or deal with their innate shyness; they form their rituals and routines around it and gradually manage to cope and adjust. School-children (especially the younger ones) have no such agency. Their shyness is of a bare, helplessly unadulterated kind.

This has a bad effect on the entire schooling experience. As one carries their social fears wherever they go, for extremely underconfident kids, no facet of school life is exempt from being sullied. These are the ones who never ask questions in class, who mumble incoherently when asked one, who finds corners during break time with those similar to them in these ways. They are afraid to be put on the spot and consequently are often ignored. They are not ‘popular’ in that typical, exclusionary way, perhaps unique to primary and secondary education.

This has no bearing on their intelligence, creativity or skill. Kids who are socially unsure of themselves may still excel in studies or lose their inhibitions in music class or tear through track and field events. However, it does have a negative effect sometimes: a viva scuttled by sudden anxiety, an ignored high-school life spent on the social margins, a lack of real ties with teachers or worse of all, a student’s resignation to the fact that his/her introversion will end up mostly dictating life.

At the level of schooling, this phenomenon must be dealt with through careful interventions. It is time for policy, not just individuals, to recognise that student issues are also of a psychosocial kind. Efforts in this direction could include an introduction to certain confidence-building exercises, inclusive methods to break the ice between different personality types of children and an earlier and mandatory introduction to basic psychology. The educational framework should attempt to undercut the hegemony of nerves that some students suffer from so that more talent can surface.

The most important role, as always, will be that of the teachers. They are in the best place to be encouraging and steer early traits in a positive direction. By recognising the shy ones and providing individual attention with requisite patience, they can really turn things around for those children. For this, the treatment of timidity and reticence has to be stigma-free. Empathy and understanding have to be fostered in the children who do not have such issues. Teachers should provide friendly, non-academic support to those who find their stride on the school field but are mute in class, and, conversely, to those who quietly do well in theoretical studies but otherwise only speak when spoken to.

Underconfidence steals from the well of potential. This needs to be rectified, beginning with primary education. Kids in school cannot be hindered by unsolicited personality traits which are irrelevant to their talent but are damaging anyway. The caricature of the quiet, shy and ignored school kid will fade when a school atmosphere suggests there is no shame in it and actively engages with such kids.

Whether they are teachers or legislators, this is clearly a job for adults, who are no different with respect to shyness; the luxury of age just allows for a better cover.

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Image source: Vinoth Chandar/ FlickR
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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.

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.

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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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