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2.7 Million Teachers Are Unequipped For Online Education. Experts Share Solutions

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This post is a part of Back To School, a global movement supported by Malala Fund to ensure that access to education for girls in India does not suffer post COVID-19. Click here to find out more.

With rapidly rising COVID-19 cases and the nation entering its 4th stage of ‘unlocking’, learning and schooling are being encouraged through digital forms of education. The new National Education Policy (NEP) too encourages leveraging technology and innovation in teaching. In such a scenario, the questions of access and equity have become key concerns with millions of children, particularly girls being at risk of dropping out of schools due to the digital divide.

At the same time, according to research from UNESCO, an estimated 2.7 million teachers in India have been impacted by the pandemic-related school closures and require serious training in adapting to new styles of teaching. With teachers struggling to adapt to the new method of teaching, the quality of education is taking a hit as well.

This Teacher’s Day, YKA hosted a Twitter Chat with 4 education experts and 4 teachers to initiate a conversation on the issues teachers themselves are facing, and what and where are the gaps that need to be filled to build stronger, technologically driven institutions for better education.

 

1. Access, Training, and Care – the three critical needs of teachers

Speaking on the ways digital inequities can be bridged in government schools, Shaheen Mistri, CEO of Teach For India, highlighted the gaps in accessing digital devices, among students. She further said that through a blended-learning approach, this gap can be filled and children can continue to experience the joy of learning even during these difficult times.


In light of the NEP, she emphasized the urgent need to train teachers in online teaching and to enable them with the skills required to provide safe spaces online, a role traditionally played by physical schools.

She also suggested a 3-step model to ensure that needs of both teachers and students are addressed during this challenging time that results in an education system that is better equipped and attuned to the needs of its most important stakeholders, the students.

 
Teachers from the panel shared their personal experiences of being unable to reach their students and losing their jobs as well – a narrative that hasn’t been receiving the media attention it deserves. But solving this issue is a critical step towards building better institutions and getting children back to school.


2. Meaningful online interventions can be created with the right training and support

Physical spaces such as libraries have played a crucial role in sparking and maintaining the interest of children in schools. Swaha Sahoo, Head, Parag Initiative, Tata Trusts, joined the conversation to discuss the challenges and solutions to providing this space online.


Before teachers can provide education online, they themselves need access to digital devices. Swaha highlighted how access to such devices is yet to become a reality for many teachers in India’s most backward areas and as a result, teaching has come to a standstill. But with efforts underway to provide teachers and students with access, she provided a concrete roadmap that teachers can take to make online engagements with students more meaningful.


In addition to making interactions more meaningful, teachers and students require additional psycho-social support. The anxiety and fear brought on by the pandemic coupled with job insecurity, has had a major impact on the mental health of teachers. Teachers from the panel shared some of these concerns.


3. Training in creating safe spaces online is the need of the hour to ensure girls don’t drop out

Discussing the need to adopt a gendered lens when re-integrating children into the education system, Yuman Hussain, Executive Director, Azad India Foundation (AIF), added her perspective on pandemic’s impact on the efforts of civil society organizations.

Citing a National Sample Survey report, she highlighted how only 16% of girls in rural areas have access to the internet. With limited access to the internet, girls in rural areas are experiencing a greater learning loss and a higher risk of dropping out of school.


Girls in Bihar are facing an even greater challenge to education as they battle both the pandemic and floods. With little support from the government, teachers are rising to the occasion on their own volition.

Safety concerns for girls participating on online platforms has also led to many parents preventing their daughters from pursuing digital education. Teachers from the panel discussed how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting girls.


4. Effective policy-formulation keeping ground-realities and the needs of both teachers and students are critical to ensure continued education

Further enriching the conversation with her experiences from on-ground reporting, Nalini Ravichandran, an independent journalist, commented on government efforts and on-ground realities.


She summed up how urban India experienced a tech boom while the poor were left out, with a quote from a government school teacher in Bastar whom she interviewed:


With teachers being unable to contact and map the progress of their students, anganwadi workers, and even frontline workers and psychologists have been stepping in to provide well-being support to children in rural areas.

As the pandemic is resulting in many teachers either losing their jobs or facing massive pay-cuts, she called upon the government to recognize teachers as essential workers and devise effective policies to train and equip them with digital resources.


She added that in addition to equipping teachers with digital resources, there is also a need to bridge the access gap for students, particularly girls. As teachers from the panel shared, both students and teachers need to be equipped with and trained in using technology to facilitate continued education in the age of digital education.


This critical conversation was organised in partnership with Malala Fund. During this conversation, experts, educators, and young people came to the fore and engaged with one another to spark a conversation around the challenges of digital education teachers are facing during the pandemic and how teachers play a critical role in bringing children #BackToSchool and form a major part of the support system for children, especially girls, in being able to pursue their education.

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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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