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Disparities In Our Education System Have Deepened Over Time, The Pandemic Helped Bring Them To The Fore

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

Education has always been a privilege in India and a global pandemic has brought it to the fore. We belong to a country where education is a Fundamental Right is a distant dream for many. Inclusion of Right to Education under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution seemed like a progressive step towards improving the scenario of low literacy rate in the country which was plagued with high dropout rates in schools, the disparity in literate population and high rates of illiteracy. 

Since independence, India has come a long way in improving the institutional structures of education in the country, but that wasn’t supposed to cover up for the many lags in the educational system. Be it during times of emergencies or the corona pandemic. The education scenario hasn’t changed much in response to coping with contingencies. The most astonishing fact about this era is that we have everything we want at our fingertips. 

Online classes are being held through applications like Google Classrooms, Zoom and WhatsApp.

While the most logical answer as an alternative to schools and colleges being shut down for months is in the form of online classes (being held through applications like Google classrooms, Zoom or WhatsApp), the ground reality of such classes isn’t a bright one. 

It’s the era of high technology and speed, but for a still-developing country like India, using the internet for imparting education isn’t the best possible solution. We are a country where a large part of the population doesn’t have access to a proper meal twice a day and making the internet an alternative for classrooms would mean deepening the class divide in schools too. 

We know that the Right to Education Act secures the rights to free education for every child until the age of 14 years. As an added impetus, to lure children from downtrodden sections to school and to boost their nutrition, the provision of mid-day meals was introduced in government-run schools. 

If we talk about the ground reality, the majority of families from backward classes and downtrodden sections send their children to school only because there is a promised one time meal for them there; education in such scenarios always takes a backseat for these people. During the pandemic, with schools being shut, there remains no incentive for these children to continue with their classes. 

Mid-day meals serve as an incentive for children from underprivileged classes. For them, access to the internet is a distant reality.

The emphasis on internet and technology for studies makes education part of an elite experience and reality, something that they can only dream about. While educational boards and institutions are busy emphasising the continuation of classes with no plans for postponing the session for the time, students from these marginalised sections are left to lag in the syllabus with no other alternative to aid them.

The many demerits of the change have affected every section of the country’s population in some way. The transition hasn’t been a cakewalk even for the people that have access to the internet, smartphones or computers. Certain families might have a single smartphone that is used by all the members of the house and leaving that phone to the school going child for classes would mean suspension of all other activities for a considerable period of the day. 

Additionally, online video classes consume a lot of data which would mean new added costs for frequent data recharges. We are living in lockdown which means that the parents are home too. School from home and work from home coincide together, which means that if there aren’t enough devices in the house, one of them has to compromise; in most cases it’s the child. A limited number of devices also leads to added issues if there is more than one child in the family, leading to a messy squabble if the class timings of the siblings clash with one another. 

The new normal of bringing the classroom home hasn’t been the best solution for a considerable chunk of the country’s population. Not just students, but even educators are at a peril since the inception of lockdown. It has to be noted that a considerable number of teachers and professors might be old school, have little or limited knowledge of using technology to conduct online classes. 

Being devoid of proper knowledge of electronics and technological skills have posed a threat to not just the students who might feel left out from getting quality education but also to the jobs and positions of these teachers in their respective institutions. 

Given the capitalist and profit-motivated world we live in, where surviving the competition and proving to possess utility is the motto of survival, these teachers might find themselves on edge for no fault of theirs. It’s imperative to note that schools might be closed, but the teachers are still at work. 

Recently, a lot of online mobilisations have been observed where parents are voicing “no school, no fees”. It’s rather sad to see that people don’t take into consideration the effort teachers put into making sure that the classes go on despite the lack of resources and work pressure only because the children are not physically present within a four-wall entity of a classroom.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, there have been regular reports of students in colleges and universities complaining about the load of assignments and projects with fixed short notice deadlines. It’s essential in times like these to understand that no matter what, education must not take a backseat. But it’s also vital for the educators to understand that just because we are fighting a global pandemic doesn’t mean we are all holidaying with our families. 

A lot of mental strain, depression, pressure and abuse are on the rise in a lot of families. There is no harm if we could all slow down for a while. The educational construct of institutions in India might seem rigidly academic for a lot of people. Still, both the teachers and students need to understand that these times aren’t easy for anyone.

In a nutshell, none of us were prepared for the current situation. Teachers and students alike are learning to cope with the new normal. The process is a faulty one for there was no handbook for education during a global pandemic. The trial and error methods for education in India in the current period is a matter of real concern. While we can’t postpone things by a year, we can’t guarantee that students will be graduating under the given circumstances. 

India has always had two different worlds in it. Currently, a part of the country is worried they are being stripped of their fundamental right to education, while another part is joyous that the classroom has been brought to their homes. 

It’s sad how even after 70 years of independence we still have disparities getting more profound with the passage of time and the pandemic just helped us see it.

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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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