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Is Online Education In India Even Viable? Surveys Say No. Here’s Why!

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In Malappuram district of Kerala, father of a Class X student could not manage to get the TV repaired or buy a smartphone for online classes for his daughter. The girl died by suicide because of her inability to attend her online classes. A father of class X student in a village in Tripura’s Sepahijala district ended his life because he failed to buy a smartphone for his daughter’s online classes. In Mansa district of Punjab, a class Xl student hung herself because her father, a farm labourer, could not afford to buy a smartphone for her online classes.

These are not isolated incidents of suicide but closely interlinked with transformation of Education system amidst the Corona pandemic where “Online Classes” have been proposed as the viable alternative. In the past few months ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, almost every aspect of human life has been severely affected. We are exposed to the worst health crisis in decades, which has caused catastrophic changes in socio-economic development of nations.

It’s no rocket science to figure out that smartphones, laptops, and high-speed internet are still a luxury due to economic and social inequalities.

The novel coronavirus-2019 cases in India is close to seven lakh cases with around 20,000 deaths and the numbers are getting worse with each passing day. We are now the third-worst hit country globally in terms of total Corona cases. In other countries where situation has still not normalised, universities have adopted “Online Classes” as the mode of imparting knowledge. However, Western countries and India are not on the same plane; any comparision or imitation is therefore unjust.

The student community in India has also not been left untouched from the wrath of this health crisis. Schools, colleges and universities were shut down with immediate effect to contain the spread of the virus and the alternative to face-to-face offline classes came as online classes. Are online classes an inclusive alternative, is a question we all need to ponder upon. The experience of past few months suggest otherwise.

According to a survey by student body AISA (All India Students’ Association), 72.2% students of DU could not access online classes because of poor connectivity. Of 1500 students surveyed by AISA, almost 75% of students of Delhi University said they will not be able to sit for online examinations. In an another survey conducted by two professors of Jawaharlal Nehru University among teachers of JNU, it has come out that more than 40% of students have not been able to attend online classes.

More than 70% of teachers believe that online education does not seem to be a better alternative to offline in-person classroom education in terms of students’ needs and attainments or create the conditions for a particularly smooth or fair exercise for the instructor.

“Teachers do not feel that the means by which they have been teaching online allows them to successfully determine whether students have grasped the topics being taught, correct their mistakes, allow for a free discussion with peers, or provide a fair basis for evaluation of students’ performance. They were also overwhelmingly of the opinion that such an online education deepens social and economic inequities between students, and that is unlikely to be beneficial to the student’s future progress in the field, improve their oral communication, or foster their exploration of novel research ideas,” the report said.

The survey was done among 131 teachers from nine schools of JNU who were involved in imparting online education. These two surveys broadly reflects the realities of online classes in two of the top-ranked universities in the country. Now, if this is the situation in central universities in the National Capital, one can imagine how other institutions must be functioning! The ongoing controversy in University of Delhi regarding online exams where students are complaining of technical glitches, multiple discrepancies and lack of high-speed internet is only a reflection of the same bigger problem associated with Online Mode of Education, that is its “exclusionary” nature.

The unwarranted obsession with online classes and imposing the same on students won’t do good to anyone, including the student community.

To treat students as a homogeneous community is a mistake, and this is the basic premise on which “online classes” function. In a country like India, where we have horizontal as well as vertical stratifications in the society, Online Education puts privileged group at an advantage position. It’s no rocket science to figure out that smartphones, laptops, and high-speed internet are still a luxury due to economic and social inequalities. Among all, women students, students with disabilities, Kashmiri students and students who hail from rural areas which lack high-speed internet are worst hit.

Public-funded universities in particular offer level playing field, atleast claim to, without making any distinction based on socio-economic status of the students. Students from marginalised and oppressed section of the society can access quality and affordable education in these universities; many first generation learners could come here and study. Online classes don’t do justice to this very idea of a public university. The decision of Delhi University Administration to conduct Online Open Book Exams has invited ire from the final-year undergraduate and postgraduate students who are crying foul over the exclusive and discriminatory nature of online exams.

In another central university in the National Capital, the Jamia Millia Islamia Administration has issued a Notice stating that University would reopen on August 1, 2020, and academic activities including teaching shall continue in the “Online mode”. As far the End-Semester Exams are concerned for university-going students, the latest revised UGC Guidelines which came on July 6 read, “The terminal semester will be conducted by the universities by the end of September, 2020 in offline (pen and paper) or online or blended (online + offline) mode.” Even UGC/MHRD is unsure of the mechanism via which exams would be conducted for final year!

While we all have been concerned with the post-pandemic world and how much different it would be from the earlier or current one, the fact remains our future depends on the choices we make today. The unwarranted obsession with online classes and imposing the same on students won’t do good to anyone, including the student community. The uneven distribution of resources among the masses and social capital an individual enjoys will determine the ability to access education. This is already happening with rapid privatisation and commercialization of Education.

Moving to online classes would lead to status-quoist education in these public universities too. Public universities in particular are supposed to entertain the idea of dissemination of knowledge via inclusive-democratic pedagogy; the “Online Classes” has turned out to be a failure at this front. It’s high time we review and find out merits and limitations of online classes, instead of blind acceptance of the same. Let no student and their guardian die because of this exclusionary practice of online classes.

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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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