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Will This Pandemic Make Education An Impossibility For The Poor And Urban-Poor?

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The whole world is suffering from the effects of COVID-19. The ongoing pandemic has left people in distress and we all have become victim to it, in one or the other way. Some of us have lost our jobs, our businesses, our incomes, and others have lost their dear ones. Some of us have become a part of a huge exodus, towards our homes, where we assume to spend our time with peace and a little more security, but, there’s a huge chunk of this mass exodus who have suffered innumerable pain throughout the past three months.

They are not fleeing to find a place of peace and security; rather this exodus is an attempt to leave their misery, disappointment, and shattered dreams behind. They are not hoping to gain peace or security on their destination but to look forward to having a place with lesser insecurity and a place where their lives would hold value and people who would care about them. This includes the section of our society who we call ‘migrants’.

Migrant labourers have had it really tough this lockdown.
Image used for representation purposes only.

What Happens To The Children Of These Migrants Who Were Enrolled In City Schools?

Migrants are the ones who have spent their lives in different cities and towns in search of work, with a dream to have a better livelihood and a future, a place where they assumed they would not have to deal with the scarcity of their basic needs. A place where they might get accepted and would earn to make their living better. However, a lot of these hopes and dreams have shattered amidst the ongoing lock-down.

This pandemic has left a severe emotional and psychological trauma on their mental health. The economy is shut, businesses are closed and hence, the hope for an income or a future job availability has become next to nil. These migrants are mostly daily-wage earners. Now, with no source of income, no food on the plate, limited aid from the government, unsympathetic attitude by the authorities and no one to reach out to, they have started moving back to their native places.

But are they moving alone? NO! They are moving away with their families, their children. These children who were once enrolled in schools of different cities whether in government or low – income private schools. But now they are going back to their native villages, which is the best option for them looking at the current situation, However, what about their schooling? What beholds in front of them in terms of their education?

The effect of lockdown has been so drastic on the migrants that many of them don’t want to return to the cities, in the fear that the lockdown might continue for a much longer period or such a situation might arise again in the future. This is the psychological effect that a pandemic or any sort of disaster leaves on the psyche of people. The consequence of this would be drastic dropout rates of the children from the education system leading to extremely long term problems in terms of illiteracy and unemployment.

This is not the only problem that the education system in India has to face due to the pandemic. Several debates and discussions have been in place since the lockdown began, about, how and when the schools will start? How this time can be made productive for students and hence, the concept of online learning came into limelight. Well, it’s an innovative and appropriate approach keeping in mind the required social distancing in the times of pandemic, but how many studentscan afford this kind of learning?

 

Do India's biggest sporting stars not feel the pain of migrant workers?
This pandemic has left a severe emotional and psychological trauma on the mental health of the migrant workers.

Post Covid-19: Education Is An Impossibility For The Children Of The Urban-Poor

According to the data of 2019 by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the internet penetration of India is just 36%. Hence the question that arises is how many such students will be able to access this approach? Another problem which could arise in the drawback of a pandemic is that even when the school re-opens again (whenever it may be), how many families will be able to afford the education of their children?

This argument especially holds ground for the urban-poor population of India. The urban-poor, who lives on daily-wages, have minimal saving and big expenses along with their zero income for the past three months. How will these families be able to afford the expenses of the new academic session? It will be especially critical for the children, who need to transition from government schools (from free primary and middle school education) to low-income private schools. The average fees of low-income private schools come average between 8-12k per year, depending on the city.

For the people who have lost all that they had during lockdown to fulfil their basic needs, it will be very difficult for them to gather such an amount for their children’s education. Looking at the economic degradation due to the pandemic, people might be forced to send their children for work to earn an additional income, no matter how minimal it would be. Does this mean that we might face a surge of child labour in India?

Also, the question comes about the children who are moving back to villages with their families. The school system of villages in India is in ruins, how and what kind of education will they be able to attain in such schools?

The short term consequences of all this would be higher drop-out rates in the schools, the movement of children from private schools towards government schools. But do our government schools have the capacity to accommodate this kind of influx of students in the system? Looking at the scarce human resource and poor infrastructure of the government schools across the states, the possibility seems dim and dire.

Here’s How The Government Can Help

To mediate the situation, the government needs to take effective steps at the policy level to ease out the fee structure across schools. We need a drastic revamping of the right to education act and should consider its extension looking at the immediate need of the hour. Also, the government should work with private organizations and non-profits that work in the field of education to extend greater support to the communities who need it.

The government can also plan on initiating more vocational programs as an alternative medium to attain required skillset and education.

The problem is huge and immediate and special attention should be given in resolving these issues. If not, the present reality could have a long-lasting effect on the future workforce of the country. Effective measures are required to save the education system in the country or else it would collapse leading to a huge void of an educated and rather skilled workforce in the future.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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