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The Pandemic Is A Wake Up Call For India To Build A More Resilient Education System

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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.

The lockdowns imposed in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus has forced several educational institutes to remain shut since March 2020. They even remain at the bottom of the list for reopening, considering the impossibility of social distancing in schools and colleges. Thus, millions of students have returned home, where after a lengthy break in the hope of recovery, sessions have resumed mostly through online platforms. Several factors will be affecting the education patterns in India.

online classes-girl-student-class-phone
Representational image. Image credit: Getty Images

Major online platforms such as Zoom have been extensively used as a method to teach during the past few months. Though major materials of the coursework can be integrated into online platforms, complete involvement might never be possible. Mathematical and practical lectures cannot be conducted with the same efficiency as classroom interactions. Again, the classroom experience is a much important factor.

Another issue is that not all institutes in India have a robust online system due to several reasons. Institutions in rural India are completely shut, as they are still scarcely covered by internet penetration, creating a digital divide in the rural-urban context. Several incidences of students unable to attend classes have been trending online. In some instance, teachers are bullied and bear the brunt of the technological gap.

Thus, in a poverty-ridden country, the possibility of learning through advanced techniques is still a difficulty for several households. Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) indicates that only 18% of the entire population has access to a smartphone, which is largely insufficient, considering the huge student population in India.

The next major impact is on students in institutes of higher education who are primarily related to research-based learning. Though the internet can be a vast source of information, practical exposure and primary data collection have its comparative benefit. Due to interstate movement restricted, telephonic surveys or online interviews can be the ‘new normal’. They, however, can be challenging as telephonic interviews might always not be appreciated by the interviewee.

Connectivity may be an issue in research related to rural regions of the country. Lab-based researches say for biochemistry or physics, are completely stalled due to lockdowns. The impact increases even more if the projects are time-bound. Again, mentorship is most beneficial in face-to-face correspondence for experiential learning.

Another possibility is a psychological impact arising directly due to the pandemic. The 21st century has never experienced an event of this magnitude; hence, it is very unlikely to be sure about the course of the virus. Some researches even indicate that by late-February 2021, there may be 2.5 lakh daily cases if the situations do not improve. The most important question is, how will students’ mental health be impacted due to this?

The student population can be divided into two groups; schools and colleges. The most adverse impact is on the student group who have possibly attempted a board exam, say for class 10 or 12. Most students have not been able to finish all their papers due to the restrictions imposed in the middle of the exam season.

Thus, examination boards are forced to use an averaging procedure based on completed papers. This may lead to an improper evaluation, but it’s the only possible option. Though appreciated by several students, there still exists a group that is against it. If the papers completed comprise of subjects that are difficult for the student, the averaging method may lead to decreasing grades.

Students, especially those appearing for their final year exams, are likely to have huge mental stress. As a majority of entrance examinations remain cancelled, several students are unsure regarding their higher education. A similar situation is seen in graduating students looking for placement opportunities after college.

The job market is most likely to get disrupted, leading to a possible spill-over effect. Thus, as enrolment in colleges remain low, with new semesters being cancelled and job opportunities reducing, the impact may be temporary but lead to long term disruptions in the education system.

One positive impact has been in terms of skill enhancements of students who are not related to any research-oriented work. Though this comprises a very small group, they have been able to exploit a few resources efficiently. Numerous online programs and certificate courses have been launched in the past few months that have led to diversified learning. A few courses from top universities of the world are even designed for beginner level students who are not related to the subject at all. Thus, a student of Economics can learn about the epidemiology of the Coronavirus.

Thus, we can say that not only the economy but also the education sector has been adversely affected due to the pandemic. Given the present situation, schools and colleges are most vulnerable as mass gathering cannot be avoided. Thus, what is required is a more resilient education system, which practices ‘informed decision making, creative problem solving, and most importantly, adaptability’.

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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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