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Can The NEP 2020 Solve India’s Kaksha Crisis?

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

India ranks 112th out of 153 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index 2020, and this gender gap can be easily observed in India’s kakshas (classrooms). With millions of girls out of schools for reasons ranging from financial constraints, engagement in domestic work—to early marriage, girls in the country are yet to experience the freedom that their male counterparts have when it comes to accessing their fundamental right to education.

Does the NEP truly account for the myriad of challenges faced by children, especially girls, across the nation?Image for representation only. Source: Getty

From the Mid-day Meal Scheme to Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, various government policies have been drafted to increase the participation of girls in the education system. Now, with the introduction of the New National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, the Indian education system is set to undergo a significant transformation.

Some of the suggested changes to the existing system of learning include moving away from the traditional concept of rote learning, focusing more on holistic development, integration of vocational training in the curriculum from an earlier stage, and using digital education to build future-ready children.

The NEP sure has some bold ideas. But in a country where only 1 in 100 girls complete her secondary education, does the NEP truly account for the myriad of challenges faced by children, especially girls, across the nation? The glaring digital gender divide that came to the surface amid this pandemic only exacerbates the existing situation.

This Independence Day, Youth Ki Awaaz joined hands with the Malala Fund to discuss the NEP—where it succeeds, and where it falls short in addressing India’s #KakshaCrisis: the gender barrier to quality education.

We spoke with four experts working in the field of education to discuss this burning question: can the NEP 2020 solve India’s Kaksha Crisis?

The panel was hosted by Youth Ki Awaaz’s Prashant Jha and included: Dr Jyotsna Jha, Director, Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS), Shradha Chettri, Principal Correspondent, Times of India, Kayhan Sanyal, Chief Learning Officer, The PEPNETWORK, and Neha Parti, Associate Director, Secondary Schools, Quest Alliance.

1. Dr Jyotsna Jha Highlights The Inconsistencies And Lack Of Detailing Across The Policy

Dr Jyotsna Jha, Director, Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS)

I think in the New Education Policy, the biggest problem I see is that of inconsistency and detailing. Because of this inconsistency, it is very difficult to understand what this Policy is really aiming at. I’ll give an example of financing. There is only one reference to this, i.e., that 6% of our GDP will go towards education, which our policies have been stating for many years. But the NEP 2020 fails to mention where these funds are going to come from. There is no evidence of the central and state governments working together towards achieving this level of funding.

If you look at the expenditure on education in the past 5–6 years, it has increased nominally, but when you account for inflation, it has actually decreased. When you talk about a Federal system and collaboration, then 75-80% of the expenditure on education is borne by the states. So when they speak of increasing the budget, have the states been consulted? No, this Policy has not been presented in the Parliament. There has been no representation of the state government in the process of drafting this Policy. So the promises made by NEP seem very hollow when it comes to financing.

Now, if we talk about gender, there is a Gender Inclusion Fund, but to me, it seems very superficial. One can get a sense of this by looking at the wording: ‘States can access this Fund for the priorities determined by the Centre’. But gender issues vary across states. If you look at the Policy from 1992, there is an entire chapter on Women’s Equality, which goes deep into the issues of patriarchy and divides, but references to these issues are missing from the New Education Policy.

If the Right to Education Act had been included, there would be no need for the NEP to mention issues related to toilets and other infrastructure—as they are already covered under the RTE. So, I am not very hopeful of the Policy.

2. Shradha Chettri Raises Some Important Concerns Regarding The Policy’s Attention Towards Government Schools

Shradha Chettri, Principal Correspondent, Times of India

If you look at the CBSE Class 10 board exams in Delhi, around 1,64,000 boys appear for the exams in comparison to 1,44,000 girls. So we can clearly see a gap here, which you can also see in the number of boys and girls appearing for Class 12 board exams. Now when we move to higher education, this gets worse.

So when the NEP does not talk about government schools, there is a lack of equity and a lack of opportunities for girl students. And when you see the enrolment number for girls in private schools and government schools, you can clearly see that more girls are enrolled in government schools. If you don’t talk about improving government schools, where is the equality? Where is the equity? Where are the equal opportunities?

3. Kayhan Sanyal Highlights How The NEP Misses The Opportunity To Leverage Technology To Create Meaningful Interventions And Close Data Gaps

The NEP has set an ambitious target of increasing the GER (Gross Enrolment Ratio) from 26% to 50%. Where the NEP misses the mark is defining what ‘suitable enrolment’ means. Does enrolment mean students will be given devices, or does it mean a holistic transformation of how learning and teaching, in general, are engaged in schools and government schools especially? The only place where the NEP mentions something alluding towards some degree of accountability is that foundational literacy and numeracy is going to be achieved by class 3.

Kayhan Sanyal, Chief Learning Officer, The PEPNETWORK

In my experience, many technology and innovation projects around the world help us measure at-risk students. Models are being implemented that look at student data on online platforms, on activities, alongside attendance data, and other factors to identify at-risk students. Being able to leverage technology, to enable teachers and school leadership, to know who are these people at risk, would be a way I think technology and innovation can improve access.

Another critical approach would be the identification of students who have special needs very early on. The MHRD does have a census of sorts for schools, but there is no information on which districts need more special educators. If this information is not available, we are unable to make interventions. So technology innovation as long as it is leveraged towards closing the gaps that we have in areas in which we have no data right now, that would be the first step.

4. Neha Parti On Vocational Education And Its Impact On Girls’ Aspirations

The intention of introducing vocational education in the early days to break the perceptions around knowledge-based subjects and vocational subjects is great. But historically, there is a reason why vocational training has been getting introduced in the 11th-12th standard. Because when you look at the purpose of education, the objective is not just to prepare students for employment and equipping them with skills. There are larger aims of education, especially the holistic development of a child.

Neha Parti, Associate Director, Secondary Schools, Quest Alliance

The NEP places a lot of importance on democratic values, inclusion, and 21st Century skills. But when you bring vocational training into the early days, it becomes extremely critical to balance all the aims. So while the NEP speaks of this holistic development, somewhere, it has focused too much on bringing skill development at an early stage.

The concept of bag-less days is very urban. If we look at rural, and government schools, children are already experiencing multiple bag-less days—as many don’t have the required books, or the teachers are absent. And while the concept is very urban, the provisions under this concept are very rural like introducing children to skills of an artisan. But given the diversity in the type of schools across the country, there is a need to ensure quality and consistency of this provision. Occupations in a rural setting are very caste-based and male-dominated, so when we look at this from a gendered lens, we need to question the kind of exposure and aspirations that they are trying to build among students.

So, Can The NEP 2020 Solve India’s Kaksha Crisis?

Without proper consideration of the various factors that impede a girls’ access to education, and without a robust implementation plan, this might be difficult. But with this LIVE, Youth Ki Awaaz along with the Malala Fund, launched #KakshaCrisis, a campaign to demand greater dialogue around the provisions of the NEP 2020. The campaign also aims to demand accountability from the Centre and state governments and ensure access to quality and equitable education for all girls.

You can add your voice to the campaign here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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