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Education Reforms Need To Include Every Single Student In India, And Not Just A Few

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With much fanfare a group of economists, most notably Raghuram Rajan and Abhijit Banerjee, published their “Economic Strategy for India.” Part of this strategy is also a reform by Karthik Muralidharan. We want to focus on two aspects in particular: teacher training and the Right to Education Act.

Teacher Training

The plan has a couple of aspects we appreciate (such as making teacher training more practice oriented), but they lack a proper strategy for implementation. It repeats the same mistakes from the past, such as the reliance on ICT for teacher training while ignoring the need to invest heavily in District Institutes of Education and Training. It reads for instance, “Specifically, we recommend developing a portal for in-service teacher training that can host thousands of videos (including translations in all major Indian languages), and training modules for various topics that are relevant for in-service teacher training.” The Central government has started a training platform for pre-service training of teachers on SWAYAM. The feedback by teachers has been negative. It seems that none of the vocal advocates for this kind of teacher training has taken a closer look at what is actually taught on these platforms.

Source: Ch-32 Teacher Education/YouTube.

This is unscientific nonsense presented on a national platform for teacher education.

Using ICT for teacher training is not a panacea. One still needs to have DIETs that are staffed properly and high quality content. Creating yet another IT-platform with ‘thousands’ of videos illustrates a lack of realization that the priority must be on providing content of high quality. Further, using Distance Courses while arguing for more practice oriented training is a strange combination. We do not need yet another platform and more videos.

RTE Act, Deregulation And Privatization

It is argued that learning outcomes have deteriorated. What is not mentioned is that the composition of school children shifted dramatically. What is also missing is the fact that the Right to Education Act, which is criticized, has not been implemented. Less than 10% of the schools fulfill the minimum norms. They criticize a law which was not implemented. We are wondering how they can know what would have happened if it was. What we know is that the quality of education is low in an India that did not implement the Act. How can you know the counterfactual (that is, an India where it was implemented)?

Second, they make the same mistake like NITI Aayog. They claim there is a dichotomy between the provision of inputs and the focus on learning levels. This is not true. Indeed, we see no reason why having toilets for girls, ramps for children with disabilities and a building would be a bad thing. We do not think it is smart to rely on meta-reviews that ‘prove’ that inputs just don’t matter. It matters whether there is a toilet where menstruating girls can go, a ramp for disabled children and a building. We should even think about extending the norms to electricity and ventilators.

Our Counter-Strategy For Real Change

The attack on the Right to Education Act is misleading. The Act is not the problem here. The issue is often to find in governance, in how States are managing to put the federal framework into practice, the priority and vision they have for public education, and how they attempt to change such a complex system. What is required is a vision and a strategy to muddle through. This includes improving the capacity and staffing of the middle tier of the bureaucracy, making teacher training a priority, focusing on DIETs, using technology to make SMCs more powerful, ensuring timely payments of teacher salaries, infusing trust into the system, steer all actors towards learning, fulfilling the RTE input norms in a time-bound manner, and so much more.

The oversimplification by the economists is misleading. To claim things will be just fine if only there were no input requirements is absurd. Inputs are not enough. A whole ecosystem, including teacher training institutes and the frontline bureaucracy needs to be transformed. But the idea that deregulation and privatization will lead magically to improved learning levels is not based on evidence, but ideology. It ignores many contextual factors and a highly complex implementation puzzle. Easy solutions which are ideologically loaded and largely imported will not solve the crisis in learning that India faces. Instead, the focus should be on homegrown solutions and ideas.

Such homegrown ideas do exist. For instance, the Bihar Education Policy Center has developed a concrete plan how mobile phones of SMC members can be used for large scale social audits and how funds can reach schools on time.

The need to invest in DIETs and its faculty has been known for long.

The Accountability Initiative has repeatedly the need to invest into the frontline bureaucracy.

We have a couple of other demands to make learning reality in our schools:

Rather than imported ideas, oversimplified pseudo-solutions and the same old failing demand to make education a tradeable commodity, we should create a strong and inclusive public education system. Indeed, as Jean Dréze pointed out: “We need to go beyond self-interest or we’re doomed.”

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Global Partnership for Education/Flickr.
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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.

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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.”

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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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