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Is Our Education System Producing Crippling Anxiety In Students During The Pandemic?

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

Huddled in a solitary corner amidst the early morning bustle of the classroom, sweat pouring down her face, she tries to hurriedly jot down the homework while keeping an eye out for the teacher who might enter anytime now. This is an all too common sight not just in India, but in schools across the world.

This became a part of any student’s daily grind that involved everything from getting their ears pulled for writing plagiarised homework to achieving that indescribable round of applause from fellow classmates. However, with COVID-19 sweeping humankind off its feet, students too have become an inevitable casualty.

The latest decision to ‘rationalise’ the syllabus by up to 30% for a year in order to ‘ease the burden’ off students is only the latest in a series of moves by the government that has left school-goers in a tizzy. As per a report by the CBSE, chapters on democracy and diversity, and nationalism and federalism, among others have been dropped from the syllabus of Class 9th to 12th.

Amid the public outrage over selective dropping of chapters, one can only wonder its ramifications on students in the long run. But as Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia says,“The topics of social science which are dropped are so relevant in contemporary context that it is important that children learn about it through ‘authentic source rather than through Whatsapp University.”

With classrooms going online in the wake of the pandemic, and gadgets such as laptops and smartphones becoming lifesavers, an inherent digital divide comes to the fore. Even as students from private schools log into virtual classrooms, the son of say, a driver or domestic help, struggles to follow suit.

Representational image.

Hence, the inability to avail proper teaching material may lead to academic disadvantage or even force students to drop out. According to the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report, less the 15% of rural India households have access to internet compared to 42% in urban households. COVID-19 has nothing but exacerbated the difference between the haves and the have-nots.

Following a long-drawn court battle, the remaining board exams for Class 10th and 12th CBSE and ICSE students have been cancelled and an alternative internal assessment for grading has been put in place.

However, several questions continue to bother students with regard to the grading procedure. The education board told the apex court that the CBSE’s assessment scheme will consider marks achieved by the students in the last three papers of board exams, and students may take admission on the basis of this result.

Expressing their displeasure over the move, Pooja Singh, a student from Delhi, was quoted by TOI saying, “My Hindi exam was left and I have confidence about my score in the pre-boards. But many of my friends could not take the pre-board exams due to some reason or the other. How will they be eligible for admission to Delhi University, which in all probability, will announce its cut-offs in August?”

While meeting the sky-high cut-offs is indeed a far-fetched dream for students, life inside Delhi University isn’t particularly a happy one either. The university administration’s decision to go ahead with online Open Book Examinations (OBE) for final year students has received widespread condemnation from students, a majority of whom hail from families with modest means.

Complaints ranging from failure in registration to difficulties in uploading answer sheets during a mock test held earlier this week lay bare an inefficient system that failed to meet expectations. Under pressure, the exams have now been postponed till 15th August, but students demand cancellation of what they call a move designed to produce crippling anxiety in students.

As if the problems weren’t enough, fresh graduates out of college are also having a tough time finding jobs at what they would have considered to be an ideal workplace in pre-COVID times. The prolonged lockdown across the country has caused businesses to shut, thus reducing revenue and forcing layoffs.

Given the tailspin our economy is undergoing, the pandemic proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Several firms have instituted pay cuts and sent their employees packing, while some of the noted, Ola, Zomato and Oyo Rooms to name a few. In such a scenario, one has to live in a fool’s paradise to go job-hunting.

Another debate that hasn’t exactly been part of the public discourse during the pandemic is the one involving mental health, especially among students. Loss of social contact, concentration and thoughts about a bleak future have emerged as a roadblock for hundreds of aspirants. “Students who remain confined to their hostel rooms or PG accommodation report depressive mood, sleeplessness or a tendency to engage in self-injurious behaviour such as face-slapping or skin-picking, more frequently than those who stay at home,” SP Jena, professor of Applied Psychology, who is in-charge of the Delhi University’s online counselling service, told TOI.

The discussion about mental health has been a taboo for far too long. The pandemic, accompanied by its woes, has only exacerbated the rot that continues to fester. It’s time for the authorities to sit up and take notice, for the battle to curb the health crisis has led to several unintended and irreversible damages.

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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, 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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