This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by India Development Review (IDR). Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

To Educate Children, Let’s Start With Parents

More from India Development Review (IDR)

By Seemant Dadwal:

Neha is a first-generation learner. Her mother, Hema, a maid, wants her only daughter to grow up to become a government servant. This, according to her, will give her family security, stable water and electricity connections, and also an attached toilet, apart from a better living environment.

The odds though are stacked against Neha given the inter-generational nature of poverty, and the poor developmental outcomes that families like hers face. Unsurprisingly, despite Hema’s high aspirations, Neha isn’t performing well in school. She faces issues that most first generational learners face—poor academic achievement, an inferiority complex, lack of initiative, maladjustment, and an underdeveloped personality[1]. An array of issues usually causes their poor performance in school: lack of motivation, lack of support at home, their work outside the home for income generation, being some examples.

“Whatever I do, she just isn’t able to cope. One day I got so angry that I tore her copy and threw it in the dustbin. Then I realised that it wasn’t Neha I was angry at. It was I who had failed her. I don’t know what else to do apart from sending my child to school”, contemplates Hema.

A majority of classrooms in more than eight lakh primary schools in India face this situation on a day to day basis. To do justice to the needs of these children: teachers and the school system need parents to be able partners. But parents like Hema, often find the environment at school completely alien. This presents a significant barrier in their communication with the school.

The attitude of schools and teachers (who are usually educated, and from a higher caste and class) sometimes makes it even more difficult for them to approach school. Therefore, in most cases, the partnerships between schools and families are deeply fractured.

Parents, disheartened by their own inadequacy and financial stress, are ill-equipped to support their children adequately and therefore end up making poor decisions. It is the parental commitment to schooling that keeps children in schools, even at the cost of additional debts and hardships[2]. But more often than not, surrounded by insurmountable odds, parents give up.

This is one of the key reasons why children from low-income disadvantaged backgrounds underachieve, drop out, or do poorly academically.

Children need support and guidance at a very early stage from their homes and communities | Photo courtesy: Charlotte Anderson

Related article: Our solutions for education aren’t working. Here’s why.

The Children’s Home Environment Works Against Them

A child’s brain is built (not born) via a complex interplay of thousands of neural connections that are shaped by experience and environment. These connections shape the way children grow, learn, and flourish. Most children in disadvantaged communities are deprived of conditions that fuel these connections, i.e. appropriate nutrition, protection from violence and abuse, responsive caregiving, and the availability of learning opportunities.

Non-availability of positive conditions can cause a lifetime of health and productivity issues including a reduction in adult earnings by up to 25 %. Simply put, the cumulative burden of poverty, neglect, and violence is astronomically larger than what most children, like Neha, can overcome.

They need support and guidance at a very early stage from their homes and communities. Our focus, therefore, has to be to provide a supportive environment and develop the capabilities of parents, like Hema, who can help children face these challenges before they enter school.

There Is No Support System For Low-Income Parents

In most cases, low-income families are faced with a rather debilitating crisis of care. They’re usually trapped between the need of providing care for their children and the necessity of earning an income to support them.

Lack of quality daycare or pre-schools facilities, coupled with unsafe neighbourhoods that are not ideal for raising children, further exacerbate the issues of early childcare.

In contrast, middle- and higher-income parents, although confronted with their own unique challenges of raising children, are still much better equipped to set up quality proxies (pre-schools, child care facilities) to compensate for their lack of time, if at all.  Additionally, they usually have easy access to, and support from teachers—during and beyond school hours—through informal networks as well as formal structures such as parent-teacher associations.

Low-income parents have been either unwilling or unable to participate in these rigid traditional parent involvement modes. They are, therefore in comparison, doubly disadvantaged—they lack the support structures that are available to higher-income households while also carrying an additional burden of leading lives characterised by financial and emotional stress.

Related article: The role of parents in improving learning outcomes

It is therefore crucial that they have access to programmes focused on improving parent abilities to tackle adversity, reduce neglect, provide early learning experiences, and responsive relationships with their children.

Science has undeniably established the importance and urgency of investment in early childhood care and education as a way to improve outcomes later in life. It is also important to note that without this investment, interventions that seek to improve learning outcomes later in a child’s life are likely to hit a wall.

Building Parent Capabilities Is Non-Negotiable

We know that the abilities of adults to tackle these challenges can be built over time. But from my experience at Meraki,  it cannot be done via the traditional mode of giving information or advice to people who need active skill building.

To cater to the challenges and needs of low-income India, we need multiple early stage interventions focused on parents of very young children (especially 0-6 years of age).

Examples of such interventions can be those that focus on reducing neglect, improving parent-child relationships, improving parenting practices and mental health of parent caregivers, and capacity building to help build stable and caring environments at home.

From our experience, such skill-building requires patience, longer-term orientation as well as an intervention that uses principles of andragogy to engage with adults who haven’t been in a formal learning environment before.

Building long-term capacity of parents to support their children will nudge the entire education system toward better outcomes. But the educational paradigm, in this case, needs to accommodate a slightly different view: to educate children, let’s start with parents.


[1] Ghosh, S. (2014). The silent exclusion of first generation learners from educational scenario – A profile from Puncha Block of Purulia District, West Bengal. International Journal of Developmental Research, 804-811

[2] Jha, J., & Dhir, J. (2002). Elementary Education for the Poorest and other Deprived Groups.New Delhi: Centre for Policy Research

This article was originally published on India Development Review. You can read it here.

About the author:

Seemant Dadwal: Seemant is an educator and founder of Meraki. He started Meraki with his Teach for India colleague, Ghazal Gulati. An IIM Bangalore graduate, Seemant started Meraki with a deep appreciation for his parent’s struggles, who took bold decisions to ensure a better future for him, and as a culmination of his learnings from half-a-decade of work in the education sector. Meraki imagines a more equitable world where all parents, irrespective of their socio-economic or educational backgrounds, are able to provide quality early childhood education and care to their children. Over the past 2 years, they have partnered with South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) and the Delhi government, to reach out to more than 1000 low-income families.

You must be to comment.

More from India Development Review (IDR)

Similar Posts

By Siddharth Mohan Roy

By Kulwinder Kaur

By Himanshu Yadav

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below