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Union Budget 2020-21: An Opportunity To Reduce Persistent Inequality In Education

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Research indicates that school facilities and infrastructure have a direct impact on the teacher as well as student attendance.

The Constitution of India has based on the premise that all citizens are equal. However, access to quality education is becoming increasingly inequitable, evidenced by the fact that girls belonging to rich families (top 20%) get on an average nine years of education, girls from poor families (bottom 20%) get none at all. This inequality plays out across regions, gender and social groups. The evidence clearly shows that a strong, well-funded public education system is the foundation of economic development and people’s life chances.

However, India continues to suffer from chronic under-funding of public education; current levels of education spending have stagnated to around 3-4% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), nowhere near the target of 6% recommended by the Kothari Commission more than 50 years ago. The upcoming Union Budget is an opportunity for the government to take measures towards reducing the persistent inequality in education by enhancing expenditure, particularly for regions and social groups that have been traditionally underfunded.

The first focus area of the Budget should be prioritizing improvement in school infrastructure in underdeveloped and remote regions. Research indicates that school facilities and infrastructure have a direct impact on the teacher as well as student attendance. However, only 12.7% of all schools comply with the infrastructural norms laid out by the Right to Education Act. Yet, this is only an aggregate.

The compliance of schools in backward regions such as Bihar and Jharkhand is less than 4%, reflected in poorer retention of students than the country average. Poor compliance with infrastructural norms is a consequence of resource inadequacy. In more than 16 states, resource inadequacy exceeds 1% of GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product). A big push from the Centre in terms of substantial fiscal transfers to these states is imperative to support them in meeting RTE norms.

The second area that the Budget needs to focus on is improving educational outcomes of socially disadvantaged groups through scholarships, strengthening community accountability mechanisms and providing multi-lingual education. While close to 95% of students belonging to the general category transition from elementary to secondary school, the corresponding figure for Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis is 80%, 87%, and 83% respectively.

India continues to suffer from chronic under-funding of public education; current levels of education spending have stagnated to around 3-4% of GDP, nowhere near the target of 6% recommended by the Kothari Commission more than 50 years ago.  REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal

Discrimination, economic circumstances, and weak community voice are historical reasons for poorer educational outcomes for these groups. In addition to increasing scholarships, the government needs to invest in capacity building of School Management Committees, particularly those located in areas with traditionally disadvantaged groups.

While the Census lists more than 100 languages spoken in the country, very few languages not specified in the 22 official languages find representation in the school curriculum as a medium of instruction. Ample evidence points towards better learning outcomes for children learning in their mother tongue. The Union Budget can take active steps towards improving the learning of tribal children by actively funding as well as expanding existing programs of multi-lingual education.

Lastly, the Budget needs to ensure a substantial increase in public spending on the education of children aged 0-6. About 90% of brain growth occurs by the age of five before the age when children enter primary school. While children in this age group constitute around 30% of the 0-18 age group, public spending for their education hovers at only around 10%. In states such as Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, public spending for the education of children aged 0-6 is only around 5%.

Due to the massive under-spending for early childhood education, a majority of children do not receive a developmentally appropriate education, preparing them poorly for primary school. Thus, the government needs to exponentially increase public spending in the Union Budget for the education of children aged 0-6 with a focus on building the capacity of early childhood educators and ensuring the availability of developmentally appropriate teaching materials in ECE centers.

To ensure that children aged 6–13 achieve elementary education as per the RTE, additional spending needed is 5% of overall public expenditure per annum. It is crucial that the Centre supports states, particularly those lagging behind in meeting their expenditure targets, by providing a fiscal stimulus.

While achieving equality in education will be a long-drawn and prolonged battle, policy decisions in the upcoming budget will determine the direction in which we are headed—one where all children have access to an excellent education or one where only those who belong to the top 1%.

Ankit Vyas, Programme Coordinator, Inequality and Education, Oxfam India

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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.

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.

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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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