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This Democratic School Is Challenging The Regressive Notions Of Education During A 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.

By Zoveria Khalid

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in a swish. In no time the definition of a ‘normal’ changed, going to the office, meeting friends, dining out, going to for outdoors and even going to schools seems a far-fetched reality. While everything is shifting from offline to online platforms, the people who were reluctant to use online services are now compelled to shift their existence from offline to online mode.

The same has happened in the lives of students all over the world. From kids going to Kindergarten to PhD Scholars, to maintain the social distance and reduce the risk of the advancement of coronavirus pandemic to community-level spread, they are confined to their houses which have greatly reduced their outdoor activities, whereas the pressure of studying, attending classes on time and completing the homework is still the same; all thanks to online education.

The worst affected age group is the young kids who had just started going to school but their definition of school got confined to 6-inch screens of their parents’ mobile phones.

Problems With Online Education System

Though teaching through online platforms is accepted by the schools with open arms, it’s not an alternative to offline classes by any means. The efficiency and effectiveness of uninterrupted education are suffering greatly as there are many issues that are not being addressed. On the real ground, both students and teachers can tell you the tale of struggles they face on an everyday basis. Some real inconveniences are:

The parents of primary school kids are donning double hats of parenting and supervising their kids for forced online learning.

Also among all these concerns somewhere, we as stakeholders oversee the issues of those underprivileged families who are struggling even to fulfil their basic day to day needs, which ultimately leads their kids to compromise over their fundamental right to education that they never meant to make.

There are many families in India with more than 1 kid in school and having just one device that can connect them to the internet. Poor suffer the most in this time given that already lack of resources further exaggerates the situation.

Adverse Effect On Students

The technology-enabled idea of online classes has some consequences for students also. Continuous online classes in a single day make them sit in front of computer/mobile screens for long hours which in the long term may result in several physiological as well as psychological destruction.

Do We Really Need Online Education?

The most important thing is to build the foundation strong for building to withstand the difficult times. And to make students psychologically strong enough to face times like coronavirus pandemic, we need to bring some grass-root changes in their learning process. Which makes learning more important than just literacy.

The current education system that is turning kids into bounded labourers needs an alternate system where the kids are encouraged to learn, “How To Learn New Things”.Giving the students equal chance and share in deciding not only what is good for them but also what is right for them by inculcating and nurturing the sense of right and wrong.

Kids are not supposed to learn textbook knowledge but real education in terms of learning which start from identifying themselves and their interests which in current Macauley’s education system gives no value to.

  • It emphasizes on empowering the students with democratic space to learn and to grow.  
  • It facilitates them to find what entices them the most and how to learn things they want. 
  • It treats kids not with the strict curriculum but gives them the freedom to explore their hidden talents and strengths. 
  • It believes just like water all a kid needs is space to find its own way.
  • Students don’t have to invest their minds and time in things they don’t find interesting. 
  • It believes that knowledge should be valued not the marks, passion should be valued not the societal pressure.

How ‘Prayaas: The Democratic School’ Could Tackle Leaning During A Pandemic?

School kids of Prayaas visiting ISRO exhibition in Bhuj

India’s first democratic school established in 2019 with the vision of bringing grassroots changes in the orthodox thinking and processes to build a better society after a decade of research and exploration by Dr Mukti Patel, the executive director who has a democratic view on education, believes that every child is unique and is perfectly capable of learning what they want.

They don’t need to be directed in a preset way, they can find their way to become a successful person. All a child needs is an environment where it can thrive without restrictions and chases its interests.  

Not just that, children at Prayaas acquire knowledge by watching, observing, and doing reinforced by expert visits and field visits. Prayaas does not employ teachers; it has facilitators for its students who help them with their daily goals set by themselves.

This Democratic School is not just providing them with the favourable environment they need but also has been helping them in polishing their social values. 

Children at Prayaas don’t wait for the ring of the bell so that the classes end and they can finally get home but they wait for their school to start so that they can venture out on a new journey of exploration every day.

Students of Prayaas enjoying the art of pottery

 And in the same way, when the pandemic has restricted the kids from coming to schools, their home is their new lab for exploration. The students are never given the perspective that Prayaas is the only place of learning but they, themselves have inculcated a sense and curiosity to keep learning while staying at home too.

Students are learning numbers and numeracy while helping their guardians with household chores. They are aligning themselves more to nature and know-how to grow sapling and trees rather than reading books on conserving nature. 

The very objective of making the kids curious and ethical minded through education is tested well during the pandemic and numerous anecdotes of Prayaas kids and their parents vouch that it has succeeded. 

We have found that real education is not teaching 1 to 10 to A to Z in upper and lower cases, but it is important to develop a kid’s right mentality, curiosity, confidence, and morality in which the hoaxed online classes are terribly failing. This brings us to a question: can we even consider the current scenario of online teaching as ‘learning’?

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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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