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What Are The Challenges Of The Virtual Education System In India?

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This post is a part of Back To School, a global movement to ensure that access to education for girls in India does not suffer post COVID-19. Click here to find out more.

The announcement of lockdown has changed the course of education and the process to achieve its objectives. The transition in the process and methodology of teaching has left many students behind.  What then are the challenges of the virtual education system and who is getting affected the most from this transition and what can be the short and long term challenges and consequences of mandatory classroom shutdowns and how these consequences should be tackled?

Importance Of Classroom Education

Educational institutions are using different methods to teach students. But this can never fulfil 100% of requirements, as schools don’t only teach children, they do much more than that. They also provide nutrition, safety, social and psychosocial support to children, inculcate the habit of socializing, and generate social ethics.

As students spend a long time at school, this reduces the risks of child labour, physical and sexual abuse, especially in case of girls. There is no complete solution to this but schools should become more aware and scrutinize the activities while teaching or interacting with children and counsel parents/guardians from time to time.

Marginalized Girls Are The Worst Affected

Girls under such circumstances seem to take more household duties and face an increased risk of getting victimized by the increasing social exploitation or even worse, sexual abuse, violence at homes, and rape. Post-crisis, it will lead to even lesser numbers of girls reaching schools. Detrimental patriarchal norms may give girls less advantage of distance/online education.

Government and education ministry should create some policies for schools and other educational institutes to keep a watch and ensure flexible schedules, time to time sensitization, and monitor access to girl students and report if any harmful actions come to light. 

Preparation For High Stake Examinations

All the colleges and coaching institutes have been closed and many students belonging to rural areas have returned to their homes. They are not getting the benefits of online classes because of the non availability of high-speed internet that is the foremost requirement to take advantage of online classes going on.

This will reduce the preparation time for students and increase the pressure on them, this will only dispirit rural families to invest time and money to send their children to cities for coaching and other educational purposes. The only support students can get is more resources of teaching such as pre-recorded videos and test series, and offline apps by the institutes.

Unequal Access To Online Education

Lack of access to technology, internet or presence of disability, etc. is a big hindrance for students who want to get the advantage of online education. This problem is further compounded when the choice is between spending money to educate a girl or boy. In response to this, distance learning programs should be included which consists of typed/recorded offline content. Institutes should support the disadvantaged learners by providing them with customized digital assistive tools according to the requirement which will make the future process easy. 

Government Schools

Government schools are more at burden because they are not able to shift their procedures online due to no access to e-learning solutions as a result complete shutdown of classes took place. Students do rely on government schools not only for education but for daily nutritive diet as well. Mid-day meals of crores of students have been discontinued which is resulting in poor nutrition and decreased health status. Girls are already overlooked when it comes to nutrition, not getting a meal a day can put their health at risk. In this condition school, authorities should plan and prepare meals for the enrolled students in the most affected areas. At the same time, basic study material and resources should be delivered to maintain the continuity.

What About Vulnerable Children?

Image used for representation purpose only/ Photo by Prabhat Kumar Verma/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Once the schools will be reopened, there are high chances that children from the poorest families will never join back. The shutdown has caused economic hardships to many families, job losses in massive amounts, small business closures have left many families without a constant income. Migrants are going back to their hometowns, the reason being the absence of money to pay rents and buy food, online education is something they can’t even think of. 

Children who were studying in the schools of these cities have migrated along with their families and possibly won’t even join back ever in any school of the city because more than half the number of families will not return until years.

It is a big challenge to bring back children to school because economic instability has generated pressure on children to work and contribute their earnings for their financially distressed families. This will increase the heights of child labour, violence on children especially those who are most vulnerable and marginalized.

The government will need to attract these students to join back by opening more schools with a better education in rural areas providing more benefits than before.

To conclude, compromises come with changes especially when the change is rapid and unplanned. Severe consequences can be seen with a large population of children in the absence of classroom education. But, what has been done is for the good for all and each solution doesn’t come with complete alternatives. Though, efforts can and should be made to benefit each child because children are our future and these pure hearts should not suffer.

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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.

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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, 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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