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What’s Keeping India’s Children Out Of School? Experts Answer

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NFI logoEditor’s Note: With #GoalPeBol, Youth Ki Awaaz has joined hands with the National Foundation for India to start a conversation around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals that the Indian government has undertaken to accomplish by 2030. Let’s collectively advocate for successful and timely fulfilment of the SDGs to ensure a brighter future for our nation.

By Saptak Choudhury and Sourya Majumder:

India has certainly made significant strides in literacy in its 70 years of independence: from 18% literacy in 1947, we stand at 72% now. Yet, merely achieving literacy is not enough – when 47 million young people drop out of school by class 10, something is still clearly lacking in the state of education. As a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), India has committed to ensuring inclusive and quality primary and secondary education to all children, by 2030. With a startling 4.34% drop out rate at the primary level, we need to talk about what’s keeping India’s children out of schools.

On International Literacy Day (September 8), Youth Ki Awaaz took the discussion to Twitter, and asked some key questions to a panel of education experts including Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, The YP Foundation, Magic Bus India Foundation and Stones2Milestones, which threw up several crucial insights into the problem of education in India:

The Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation

Q: What are the challenges in ensuring education for children from underprivileged or minority communities?

KSCF: The Right To Education does not necessarily ensure rights within education (for instance, safe transportation to and safety in schools). Universal access to a protected environment at home, schools and within communities are imperative to ensure holistic education for a child.

Q: What factors and facilities constitute a ‘quality school’ for all children?

KSCF: Besides infrastructure, [qualified] teachers and ensuring rights in and through education (for example, awareness about child sexual abuse) are necessary components.

Q: What steps can the govt take to address the challenges to universal primary and secondary education?

KSCF: Underprivileged children are most vulnerable to abuse. Bringing together child protection mechanisms and education is the next step. Crimes against children (child labour, child marriage, child trafficking) are the main reason that causes school dropouts. Awareness of child rights in school, training of teachers are effective first responses to address violence against children.

Magic Bus India Foundation

Q: What kind of activities have been most effective in drawing children to education, in your experience?

MB: Having a mentor, a positive role-model within the community is a huge asset. This is why we focus on building a network of such mentors. Training teachers across all schools to listen to children and getting them to participate in classroom discussions is a universal need of the hour.

Q: Is incentive-based education the way forward to promote equitable education in India?

MB: We have to define incentives effectively and identify system-driven, evidence-based approaches for them to succeed. Incentives (for instance, mid-day meals) fill in the gaps within the existing system and encourage community participation. In our experience, incentives have worked as behavioral nudge for participation. We see access to a mentor as an incentive as well.

Q: In your experience, what are the challenges young people face while transitioning from schools to jobs?


  • Engagement – providing a safe and engaging space for adolescents to voice their opinions or ask questions and seek out role-models.
  • Accessibility to higher education simply because of financial constraints or distance.
  • The traditional school system doesn’t prepare children for employability and real-life work issues. Availability of opportunities in a community often deter them from pursuing jobs because migration requires resources and support systems.
  • More than 30% of Indians aged between 15 and 29 years are neither employed nor are they educated and trained. In our experience, life skills like resilience and self-efficacy are as important as any other skill to make a successful transition.

In our experience, focussing on building employability and life-skills is the need of the hour. The choice to aspire should be open to all.


YP Foundation

Q: What steps can schools, parents and teachers take to bridge the gender gap in Indian education?

YPF: Female-friendly and better infrastructure (hygienic toilets, running water, menstrual products, transport, security, etc.), sensitised teachers and staff are a must. Interactions between parents and schools on the importance of education, especially for girls, also need to be strengthened. Comprehensive sexuality education in all schools and institutions is also a priority.

Q: What are the 2 or 3 key things young people can do to promote equitable and equal education in India?

YPF: For those of us who have graduated from school, now is the time to start giving our time and other resources to organisations working on education and for raising awareness on equitable access to education.


Q: What steps can be taken to introduce reading in a second language like English to young children?

S2M: Systematic intervention, that develops the will and the reading skills of the child, is much required. Training teachers and providing engaging materials is also necessary. This is the main strategy behind our Wings of Words program.

Once children start enjoying classes, the skills will be learnt automatically. Equip children to learn by themselves.This is exactly what we do. Systematic ‘bite-sized’ lessons that simplify the process of learning English are also helpful.

Q: What are the creative ways you use to emphasise the importance of reading in education?

S2M: In education, the importance of reading is obvious – the kids need to read to learn concepts. In school, reading should be taught as a skill, in a manner that’s fun for kids. They will be drawn to libraries and teachers will take more interest.

Developing reading skills needs systematic interventions, and can’t be left to chance. A child who reads is a learner for life. Stories in their syllabus itself can be made more interesting if they are handled in the right way. This is where teacher training comes in. Schools have several constraints. Attempting to enforce the law is more difficult. The trick is to be empathetic and collaborate for change.

The chat, which was organised as a part of #GoalPeBol, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz and National Foundation for India (NFI), drew participation from several Twitter users. Organisations such as Nanhi Kali Foundation and Care India also chimed in, adding valuable perspective. The conversation achieved over 4 million Twitter impressions, and most importantly, opened up new avenues of discussion around the issue of universal, equitable education in the Indian context.

What do you think can be done to improve the state of education in India? Write on Youth Ki Awaaz and together, let’s take this conversation ahead. Publish your post today.


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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.

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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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