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Will The NEP 2020 Help ‘Mould’ Parents To Their Childrens’ Needs?

The New Education Policy (NEP) by the government of India, with its 5+3+3+4 model, has garnered appraisals for some of its revolutionary and liberal ideas. But, will those ideas break the ‘ice’ of India’s parents’ mindset which has so far relied on several regressive formulae? On several occasions, Indian parents happened to be roadblocks to the nation’s youths’ and children’s own pursuit of careers and this issue has been overlooked for a long time. Let us examine if the newly drafted policy offers some hope or not.

The Convent And The English ‘Craze’

Many well-to-do families prefer to admit their children into Convent or English-medium schools, hoping that English is the best and smartest language to pursue a bright career in the future. Of course, looking at India’s vast diversity and global demand, English is undisputedly an indispensable language. However, I feel that the strict discipline in many Convents and other English medium schools act as the imposition of English on the students, depriving any development in their own languages and cultures.

Moreover, the importance of local languages cannot be denied because that is what a student may use to communicate with the people in their localities, for example, when a student wants to make them aware of the environment and global warming. The NEP addresses this issue and suggests “Teachers will be encouraged to use a bilingual approach, including bilingual teaching-learning materials, with those students whose home language may be different from the medium of instruction.”

This bilingual flexibility will not make English a ‘superior’ language, rather a useful language that will let other regional languages breathe and flourish simultaneously (though there’s an issue with making two languages to be Indian in the overall three-language formula). An artist, a sportsperson, or a poet in a regional language may not need as much English as a software engineer requires, and the bilingual flexibility may reduce the convent craze and spare the parents who almost cannot afford their kids admitted but does not deprive them of the necessary education.

Medium of instructions in school
Representative image from the film Angrezi Medium. The importance of local languages cannot be denied because that is what a student may use to communicate with the people in their localities

The ‘Marks-ist’ Mind

Physical and mental abuse of children by their parents are not very uncommon in India and in many cases, poor performance in the examination is considered a failure. Because of this apparent ‘failure’, often the students have to live with mental stress from their teachers and the family members. The reason behind this is because the marks on the scorecard apparently matter a lot, both before and after the board exams.

Not only marks but failing to score well in one subject in one exam prohibits the students from being promoted to the next level. The NEP promises that the assessment “will not just be linked simplistically, e.g., to ‘marks’ of students” and grading will happen only for 3rd, 5th, and 8th standards apart from the board exams. Also, for the board exams, there will be best-of-two attempts, i.e. a candidate may have a second chance if they fail to appear at the exam due to illness or some accident.

This reform might just change the marks-based perception for evaluating a candidate and hopefully diminish the number of incidences of violence happening to children. Child abuse (physical, verbal, and mental) is a serious concern.

The UNICEF recently found that children are exposed to at least 30 different forms of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse in their homes, and many of these are used in the name of disciplining the kids. In the NEP’s new reforms however, no parental guidelines were provided to deal with the children who are weak in learning or inattentive in the classroom.

Apathy Towards Addressing Mental Health Issues

Continuing with the previous context, many of the guardians and family members fail to understand the mental health issues of the children in their families. Hence the family members become often abusive towards or neglect children, which in turn affects their education badly.

The draft mentions: “…the nutrition and health (including mental health) of children will be addressed, through healthy meals and the introduction of well-trained social workers, counsellors, and community involvement into the schooling system.” and this plan hopefully will provide support to the students who do not find their families supportive enough.

The STEM ‘Craze’

Now as soon as one scores well in the secondary (10th) board exam, many parents try to push their children to opt for the science stream, or the children themselves find their friends mostly opting for science. This can cause two kinds of damage: Firstly, it seems that science students develop a superiority complex against the students opting for other streams. Secondly, even though one scores well in science subjects, they may not love to make a career in it, but eventually, opt for science under societal pressure.

Indian parents and teachers also need to realize that the internet is a boon in today’s time and by utilizing several free or cheap online resources, students can become more self-dependent rather than coaching-dependent. Representative image.

The NEP addresses this issue and encourages students to go for multidisciplinary subjects where one doesn’t need to keep all science topics. Thus a maths-lover will feel free to drop chemistry and physics and may look for opting economics and political sciences in expanding their horizons. This might still be challenging for the parents to accept unless the institutes and the job sectors welcome such ‘weird’ combos.

The Private Tuition ‘Craze’

Since most of the courses taught in the school are theory-based and high demand for science subjects prevails for the medical and engineering entrance exams, many coaching centres mushroomed across the nation. Eventually, students spent more time there in addition to the time devoted to homework and preparation for board exams. This is like putting more books inside a student’s bag.

Now, as the NEP promises many “bagless days” involving vocational training, quizzes, sports, etc (quite like the Gymnasium system in the West), the load of theory-based exercises is expected to be reduced. Regarding the entrance exams, it has been promised that it (the system) will “be reformed to eliminate the need for undertaking coaching classes,” though it is not yet clear how such reform will be made.

Nevertheless, the policy says, “any student who has been going to and making a basic effort in a school class will be able to pass and do well in the corresponding subject Board Exam without much additional effort.” Hence the load and expenditure from the parents’ side (Indian parents spend huge for education) might be reduced, at least before the entrance exams.

Though gender-sensitization has been mentioned several times in the new draft, no particular sensitization curriculum or any sex-education program has been mentioned. Representative image. 

Gender Discrimination And Sex-Education

India is a highly patriarchal country and gender-based discrimination can be observed across the nation, largely in semi-urban and rural areas. It needs to be tackled by the institutions themselves before awareness arises in each Indian family. The NEP talks about raising a Gender-Inclusion Fund in order to assist “female and transgender children in gaining access to education (such as the provisions of sanitation and toilets, bicycles, conditional cash transfers, etc.).”

Though gender-sensitization has been mentioned several times in the new draft, no particular sensitization curriculum or any sex-education program has been mentioned. This is a crucial and difficult issue for parents who observe their children moving into their adolescence.

Does the New Education Policy have the potential to break the glass ceiling that has confined our children for several decades? Representative image.

The NEP is a large document with plenty of promises offering flexibility to students so that education sounds more fun than a daunting task. Teachers can be trained within the institute, parents may not. Parents may not easily give up the fear of losing the rat-race for their children’s careers.

I just attempted to mention a few important points from the New Education Policy that may have the potential to break the glass ceiling that has confined our children for several decades.

The flexibility of opting both science and non-science subjects (similar to majors plus minors formula in the USA) opens more doors of knowledge and skills for students. Stress on skill development and vocational training is also the key behind building up skilled resources in manufacturing and workforce in East Asian countries like China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam (The People’s Republic of China has a Vocation Education Law for its citizens.).

I myself didn’t enjoy much flexibility during my own education, and perhaps the same spirit has motivated me to write this article, despite my profession allowing me to write research papers in physics only.

About the author: Dr Himadri Barman is a researcher in theoretical condensed matter physics, affiliated with Zhejiang University, China and an aspiring socio-political analyst.

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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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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
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