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I Ditched Conventional Education For One That Supports My Creativity (And It’s Worth It)

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By Jahnavi Jayanth:

We’re going to play a game. I will say two words and you think of the happiest, most positive things you can associate with them.

School. College.

Those out-of-town road-trips that let you get the exhilarating feeling that you and your pals were away from adult supervision? That sleepover that you managed to convince your parents to let you go to? Next step, think of all the negative associations you can with these words. Classes that had you staring at the ticking clock every nano second, but only if that class hasn’t sapped every last drop of your energy because of the dull-fest that it was? Homework, tuitions and exams that were unnecessary and left you devastated instead of enriched?

Not one of the positive associations that I mentioned or that you thought of perhaps, had anything to do at all with learning. However, all of the negative associations I mentioned and perhaps most of those you thought of were about the education you went to school or college for. This is exactly what you, me and Sharma uncle’s son, all of us have been thinking and experiencing.

There’s something gravely wrong here, isn’t there? We all know there is – but haven’t figured a way out of it. We are in the twenty-first century, arguably in the most innovative era mankind has yet seen – and we are yet to innovate an education fit for this century. An education that isn’t static knowledge that frustrates you, preparing you for no real life skill, an education that you enjoy, dream of and that teaches you how to be a lifelong learner and an adaptive global citizen.

The world is entirely lacking this.

Or is it?

I want to introduce you to my schooling experience. I did what we all did – went to school, mostly hating it until Class 8. When I went to school, I would spend long hours of the day sitting in a class teeming with tens of other people, listening to a teacher drone on about a subject that I mostly didn’t care about. I would spend the rest of my day worrying about and toiling for grades that weren’t actually measuring whether I was learning something. I’d lost the joy of learning, I couldn’t learn what I wanted to and how I wanted to – and all of a sudden, getting that job with the stellar package that make all the aunties go “Haww”, was looming as my priority. A job that I mostly wouldn’t be able to do well either, because I was learning nothing practical about life. The one skill I was getting – if at all, was how to be a par-excellence test-taker.

So, with nervous breakdowns and a whole lot of fright, I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of a schooling institution anymore and decided to take high-school diploma exams on my own as a private candidate (not affiliated with any schooling institution, so obtaining the diploma directly from an education board). While I was at it – and had the extra time saved from what I considered the soul-sucking of regular schools – I trained and performed dance intensively and volunteered in social sector organisations. And there, I rediscovered my joy of learning – I learnt things that I really wanted to, things that I needed to learn to be able to do what I wanted to in life, in ways more incredible than I could imagine and from diverse sets of people. And there it was, my education.

Then came the looming question of college – was I to go back to the education system I’d just gotten free from? Thankfully, the people that contributed to my education – people that I volunteered with, introduced me to a certain special place.

I am a seventeen-year-old currently in my first year of college. I am now living in San Francisco, and will be living in Seoul, Hyderabad, Berlin, Buenos Aires, London and Taipei over the next four years of my course. I am travelling with a cohort of 159 other students from 50 different countries, most of whom are on financial aid – people that have worked on projects in NASA, their own start-ups, written musicals and opened and run restaurants (off the top of my head). We learn in classes that are fewer than 20 strong, that have been designed based on the Science of Active Learning. We engage with organisations, both civil society (for and non-profit) and the government – in each of these cities that we live in, to learn practical skills from the experience and apply what we’ve learnt in class to aid them in contributing to the city’s community. We have no exams, but are instead graded on the different instances of how we display our thinking has evolved – because here, we don’t learn what to think, we learn how.

What is this magical place, you ask? Not Hogwarts, but a close second. The Minerva Schools at KGI (acceptance rate, last at 1.9%), is a San Francisco-based undergraduate program founded by Ben Nelson, Silicon Valley veteran entrepreneur and Stephen Kosslyn, former Dean at Harvard University.

Lectures are an efficient way of teaching, but they have been utterly disproved as efficient ways of learning. At Minerva, we do not have lectures. Before every 90-minute class, we receive learning material (videos, articles, books, movies and exercises) that we thoroughly prepare ourselves with, for in-class discussions (amongst peers, facilitated by the professor) and activities that help us reach the learning outcome for each class, that invariably is a way to think. These classes happen on a computer platform that’s been designed by Minerva in an effort to use technology to further optimise what the Science of Active Learning has to offer us. For example, our classes are all recorded, for us to go to back to when we want to and for our professor to not simply assess what we said on a subject, but how well we said it.

These are complemented by the people we meet and the activities we engage with outside in each city. These include talks, events, workshops, group-activities and projects. In the first year, we focus simply on learning thinking techniques and in the consecutive three years – we explore and delve into one (or more) of the five schools: Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, Business, Natural Sciences and Computational Sciences, while creating our own path of study, defining its breadth and depth (aided by academic mentors and professors).

I keep saying education – does that word mean the same thing for you and me, and any third person? Yes and no. What my education looks like and needs to look like would be very different from yours. However what needs to be the same, for both you and me – regardless of where we come from, is that we should be able to access the opportunities that’ll allow us to tailor the best education we can for ourselves. However, access to education, like our every action is constrained and contained by centuries of the history of our background – where we belong. This affects what we have today and unfortunately, who we are. Even who we get to be.

If we’re talking 21st century education, we aren’t talking education that we get to choose based on those century old ropes tying us down – we are talking education that you get to choose and attain regardless of where you come from – an education that doesn’t care of who society says you are, but an education that cares about who you truly are, according to yourself.

I’m just another middle-class kid, whose parents laboriously saved money all her life to give her a college education. But that isn’t what Minerva saw. They saw that I was a kid with dreams and passions, and a thirst for learning and doing something. To see it, all they needed from me was a working knowledge of English and access to a computer and the internet. Their free online application, devoid of stringent, immovable mainstream requests – like the SAT or top percentile grades took me four to five hours of talking about what I’m proud of in my life, and taking activities that tested my creativity, passion and curiosity amongst other things. Their need-based financial aid package has my parents paying only the amount they can afford to without changing the status-quo of their lives, the rest covered by the institution and and me earning for my daily sustenance on a job at Minerva, that’s been matched with me so it fits my interests.

I know what you’re thinking – this sounds too good to be true. Let me remind you of something though – it only sounds too good, because we’ve seen so much of the bad so far – and what’s sounding ‘so good’ is actually what we deserve – what is our fundamental right of education.

So now, whether it’s while I’m meeting with an organisation tackling the homelessness issue in San Francisco to discuss solutions, or whether it’s while I’m sitting at the Fisherman’s Wharf taking classes, whether it’s while we talk with the President of SpaceX about mentorship and motivation, or whether it’s when we comment on each other’s start-ups and mismatched socks. Our city is perpetually our campus, and in its nooks and crannies, on computer screens and in the experiences of its people and ourselves, we find ourselves re-discovering the passion and joy of learning, every day.

We’re getting an education, one you and me, we all 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.

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.

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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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