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Why Are Conflict Areas Left Out When We Talk About Education In India?

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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.

Even before the pandemic broke out, there was a looming crisis in the education sector, and now it’s in shambles. In December 2019, when the anti-CAA protests broke out, colleges and schools were affected severely. Some famous universities like North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) in Shillong had to postpone exams like any other university in nearby Assam.

The impact on the final year students has been devastating. The third-semester postgraduate students had one paper left which was postponed to February 2020. One might ask why the exam wasn’t held in January 2020? The reason is Meghalaya has long winter breaks in schools and colleges because of the harsh weather along with the extended celebrations of Christmas and New Year.

Winters are a season of fun and merrymaking, whereas, students get a short summer break of around 15 days. The pandemic is further delaying the process of graduating from college for final year students. Let’s not even get started on the extreme job crisis that further adds to their predicament.

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Crisis In Education

The students in Jammu and Kashmir had witnessed even harsher times concerning education when there was an internet lockdown after the abrogation of Article 370. Delhi riots hampered board exams for many students in February 2020. Many had to retake their exams, while some other papers were cancelled because of the ongoing pandemic.

While all of this has appeared a hundred times in our newsfeeds, yet it needs to reiterated because public memory is unfortunately short on the real matters! The current educational crisis is getting lost into oblivion because we all are collectively falling into the trap of yellow journalism.

The kaksha crisis of the major metropolitan cities and even the Hindi heartland still find a place in the media which do not shy away from reporting on-ground realities. Yet, stories from far-flung North East India somehow fail to stoke an emotion among fellow Indians. Even YouTube views do not cross beyond 10,000.

Here’s one story that was reported by the Print last month about a village that’s inhabited by the Sema tribe in the Zunheboto district of Nagaland that has been struggling with internet connectivity to access online exams. There’s another upcoming Facebook Page called Paomi Post which is based out of Imphal in Manipur and has been doing an incredible job in bringing out emotional stories from the insurgency-hit Manipur.

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Malnutrition And Inaccessibility To Water: A Double Whammy

Many families in rural India are convinced to send their children to school because of the guaranteed mid-day meals schemes that ensure essential nutrition for at least 200 days per year. In some areas, this scheme also provided eggs, but it creates a problem because of strong caste politics. Remember the time when a journalist in UP was booked because he had exposed a school of serving salt and roti in their mid-day meals? The Yogi government did receive a lot of flak, but it was soon forgotten.

On the other hand, for adolescent girls in rural India, not having any access to the toilet is another major issue as to why there is a huge dropout rate among girls. Many of them defecate in open spaces as there is lack of access to toilets and going out in the field in the wee hours of the day along with their mothers is the only time they get to socialise with other girls and women from the community.

This further poses a serious threat to their health where there is an evident absence of WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) practices. Talking about menstrual hygiene is still a taboo. Young menstruating girls in rural India are further deprived of their educational rights and are forced into the institution of child marriage. The government’s recent decision to increase women’s marriage age is a welcome step, but how rigorously will this be implemented remains a question. This new policy will surely provide an impetus to help India realise her sustainable development goals.

A Perilous Journey For Teachers And Students

With this lockdown, most of us have come across videos wherein teachers have been heavily bullied online by students as young as 13 or 14-years-old. Most of them are anonymous or may take up funny names in the virtual classrooms, and handling them have been a nightmare for many teachers across the globe.

Some even go onto the extent of sharing notorious memes and pornographic material in the chat-box. In June, I was invited to be a speaker in a virtual youth forum, and the language used in the chat-box was absolutely unparliamentary. It does get tough to control this sort of behaviour when one is given the responsibility of managing some 200 plus people on a digital platform.

My mother’s experience with this entire online education system has been equally challenging. She teaches at a government school that is affiliated to the state board (SEBA of Assam). Most of the communication has been through WhatsApp through the exchange of audio files, YouTube links, and notes in pdf files. But many times, it has been observed that girls don’t all have access to smartphones.

The online tests have been conducted in Google Classrooms, and it has been challenging for teachers and students to get a whole idea as to how this entire system works. Most of the students are not able to submit their assignments or test papers on time owing to internet issues. And when they cannot submit on Google classroom, they switch over to WhatsApp where again the picture quality gets constricted.

It’s a first time experience of using online platforms for most of the teachers, and there is a massive fear of ‘what if they mess up with the system’ despite preparing hard before a class. Hence, there is an enormous dependency on their children and spouses who help them cross this hurdle.

Sulabh Public School

The Story Of Sulabh Public School

The Sulabh Public School is located just behind the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, which is one of the weirdest museums in the world dedicated only to toilets. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a summer WASH school programme organised by TERI- School of Advanced Studies (TERI-SAS) in July 2017.

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, a sociologist and social reformer of the Sulabh Sanitation Movement, has been the founder of this school that is registered with CBSE. The primary aim of this model school in Palam, Delhi is to provide education in the English medium to children of the manual scavenging community. This model school has been highly successful in providing education to marginalised communities for many years now.

They also offer vocational training, skill development, especially with regards to digital literacy. There is a dedicated sanitation club in the school which also trains girl students to make low-cost sanitary napkins, thus addressing a tabooed topic.

The school has successfully installed water ATMs which ensures access to safe drinking water in an already water-stressed Delhi. One litre of water is made available for Re 1. The news about such model schools seldom make the news, maybe a paragraph or two in the regional Hindi newspapers. Let’s not even expect anything from TV journalism.

But, even then, what struck me was that the establishment of this amazing school was ghettoised and was quite at a distance from the main road. Why are such model schools being made silently? And even if they make the right kind of noise, such hopeful pieces of information about our society gets sucked in by other forms of a nuisance around and indeed speaks a lot about the collective mentality of our so-called upper caste and upper-class groups!

(Fun fact: Next time you happen to access any toilet in the metro stations of Delhi, look for the signboard. Sulabh International maintains it. They are cleaner than many other public toilets because the maintenance of these toilets are possible under the revenue model of ‘pay and use’.)

Way Forward

As they say, modern problems require modern solutions. We are now in a world that is so wired and inter-connected that denying service as essential as an internet connection is a violation of human rights. The future cannot afford to remain dark that have been hit by insurgency and terrorism for decades now. To penetrate into people’s hearts, there has to be better internet penetration.

We live in times, wherein one way or the other we use at least one of the technologies affiliated to GAFAM, i.e., Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. Apple is still restricted to the urban elite as it is exorbitantly priced. Hence, there has to be serious capacity building for most of our school teachers who can take away skills with them that is not just restricted to classrooms.

Consequently, some schools and colleges can involve third parties that can develop alternate learning platforms similar to or better versions of Google Classrooms. Designing such platforms or learning management systems is an equally enriching experience for the designers, giving them room for improvement every time they come up with such themes.

The most significant advantage of reading, learning and writing digitally is that, it is freer and more accessible compared to conventional methods. Hence, making the best use of technology is the need of the hour. Additionally, the focus should be more on skills that can be nurtured right from a young age at our schools.

Not many will like this idea, but there has to be some introduction of moral science or ethics-based subjects for school children for inculcating a holistic value system. The Adolescent Education Programmes (AEP) in the name of sex education needs total revamp. Suppose there is inhibition among the teaching community to help access their students about sexual education. In that case, these children will, unfortunately, rely on a lot of free porn websites, paving the way for more locker room conversations (involving boys and girls) that’s deep-seated in patriarchy, violence and sexual crimes.

There is an evident educational crisis on all levels in our education system, and everyone has a stake in fixing this crisis. Let’s always put a reminder to ourselves that ‘charity begins at home’.

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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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