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Indian Education System: A Guarantee To Endless Studying And Depression

“For those who aren’t happy with their CBSE Class X and XII results, I want to tell them, one exam doesn’t define who you are. Each of you is blessed with numerous talents. Live life to the fullest. Never lose hope, always look ahead. You will do wonders!”

– Prime Minister Narendra Modi

It was just yesterday when I had a deep conversation with my uncles. They said that during their time (i.e. in the ’90s), there was something called Second Division (Distinction was above 75% marks, First Division was 60-75%, Second Division was 55-60%, and Third division was below 45%). The significance of Second Division, according to them, in today’s time, is comparable to whatever marks make you eligible to demand that hunky motorcycle or that limited edition brand new fashion accessory. “That is strange,” I said. “I have been scoring well above that threshold and nobody has ever made me feel worthy of a KFC meal, let alone a new motorcycle.”

It has been over a month since CBSE declared the board exam result of Class 10 and 12. In a brilliant move, the Board did away with the term ‘Fail’ in their mark sheets, and replaced it with ‘Essential Repeat’ to reduce mental health impact on students. Additionally, CBSE decided not to announce its Toppers’ List this year, due to the pandemic, which hampered the examination process. However Indian media was quick at unearthing the top scorers and just like every year, played hours of footage of their interviews and study schedule.

The student who has topped the Class 12 board exam this year said that she regretted getting one mark short of a perfect 500. Over the following one month, various State board results were announced and and headlines covered the names of the respective toppers, without realising that by overly focusing on the magical percentage of 99%, media is creating a sense of achievement and triumph for those who top, inadvertently making them role models, at the cost of making life a living hell for all those who didn’t score as high.

In a brilliant move, the Board did away with the term ‘Fail’ in their mark sheets, and replaced it with ‘Essential Repeat’ to reduce mental health impact on students.

In 2016, 9,478 students in India took their lives. In 2017, this number rose to 9,950, and 10,159 the following year. With the global mental health at its worst since the financial crash in 2008, education at a near standstill, and students at their most vulnerable stage, there is one question we need to ask: have we built an education system or an examination system? By overly focusing on marks and standardised tests as a means to judge one’s ability, we are ruining the biggest asset of this country, its youth.

They end up studying for eight hours a day in school, they go for coaching classes, and pull all-nighters during the exam season so that they can secure a high number, lesser than which is neither acceptable by society nor elite institutions. This leads to a lack of focus on competence, creativity or their health. A second division student is worse than failure in current times. Despite board exam marks that are increasing year after year, crime, unemployment and mental illnesses are also increasing at much higher proportions. Today, a majority of children can be seen wearing spectacles much before their teens, having a root canal as young as early as the age of five, and suffering from anxiety and depression in their early 20s.

We are in a deep crisis and it seems that our education policymakers have gone terribly wrong in planning our country’s education system. The insatiable hunger for marks is making students less productive and more ‘mechanical’. Institutions such as Harvard, Columbia and Cambridge University put us as a country of 1.3 billion to shame when it comes to winning a Nobel Prize. India has not won a single Nobel Prize in Science (except Economic Sciences in 1998) or Literature since independence. Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting the number of Nobel Prizes won as a threshold for quality education, but the fact that no Indian institution, including the likes of our IITs and IIMs, has made it to the Top 250 Global Ranking Institutes is terrifying at worst and saddening at best.

Today’s youth end up studying for eight hours a day in school, go for coaching classes, and pull all-nighters during the exam season so that they can secure a high number, lesser than which is neither acceptable by society nor elite institutions.

India has a rich legacy of people who gave up formal education and have built multi-billion dollar companies, become literary figures or left an impact on society, and this list is long. Twenty-four-year old Ritesh Agarwal dropped out of college, founded OYO, and built it into a business of $5 billion; Arunachalam Muruganatham (popularly known as Pad Man) grew up in extreme poverty, got no formal schooling and went on to invent one of the most cost-effective methods for manufacturing sanitary pads; Sachin Tendulkar, again a school dropout, a Bharat Ratna awardee and known as the ‘God of Cricket’; India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore never earned a degree and loathed formal education.

The recently launched New Education Policy (NEP) does show a ray of hope, but many editorials by accomplished academics that followed the policy suggest that the NEP is late by a decade. This goes on to show how desperately we are in need of drastic changes in our education System. Lastly, to the parents of this nation’s future, if your child did not score 99% marks, please remember that good marks and fancy degrees are good to have, but in the end, even if you pressurise and mentally strain your child into winning this rat race, they’ll still be a rat. Don’t take my word for it, just scroll up and read His Excellency’s tweet at below my article’s title.

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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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