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This Is The Biggest Lesson Covid19 Has Taught Us About Indian Education

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

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.

Authors: Haniya, Malika Iyer, Revathi Satish, Sharanya Maheshwary & Simran Sharma

There is a common saying among Indians which roughly translates to, “Do well in life, especially with your academics. There is another child who isn’t as entitled as you.”

Schooling is a right that every child in the world is entitled to. However, the sad reality is that effective education is a privilege available only to a few in India. While there are both government bodies and private organizations striving towards bridging the learning divide, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has only widened this gap.

Representational image.

Shambhavi is a student residing in rural India, studying in a government school that has partnered with ‘Teach For India’. At first, she thought that education was not her cup of tea. However, once she commenced her educational journey, the different atmosphere and exposure at the TFI school paired with mid-day meals as an incentive brought about a difference in her thought process.

Shambhavi began to enjoy learning. In a span of two years, she has reached many of her initial goals, including learning to read English from scratch. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put her aspirations on hold. Realizing the problem, a few teachers commenced the hunt for viable solutions.

Shambhavi was one of the lucky few that had access to a family mobile. However, even then, she was never able to finish the homework because she never had enough data to view the entire 40-minute documentary, complete online homework, or attend “Zoom calls”.

This is the ground reality of education in under-resourced settings in India. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2018, India ranks last in internet penetration despite being a tech giant and having the second largest internet population in the world.

Keeping in mind the barriers faced by lesser privileged families in accessing education during such adverse and unforeseen circumstances, state governments decided to take action. Some states like Himachal Pradesh chose to focus on academics and asked teachers to create material that they could broadcast on television and radio. ‘Doordarshan’, a channel created to serve the common people and broadcast educational material, offered time slots to different states to telecast educational programs in their respective regional dialects. Other states chose to deliver mid-day meals via Anganwadi workers. Some states went a step ahead and started delivering services.

In the private sphere, NGOs like Teach for India started raising funds to buy devices and data packs for students. Other NGOs like Avanti recognized the fact that an average data pack would not have the bandwidth to download large video and audio files. Thus, they created bite-sized educational videos and uploaded them on social media forums like Tik Tok.

While all these efforts are innovative, the question ‘is this enough to bridge the learning gap?’ is one that is yet to be answered.

In the unlikely scenario that India is able to provide every student with a device, as well as develop a stable, nationwide internet connection, a whole different array of problems may arise, ranging from a lack of technological knowledge to a lack of adequate personal space to attend classes. Another issue stems from the cultural diversity in India. Many programs released by the Central Government, like the E-Vidya Scheme, are available in either Hindi or English, which engenders a language barrier for a multitude of students across the country.

right to education
Representational image.

How Can This Gap Of Access Be Bridged?

A way to bridge the barrier would be decentralization of the E-Vidya scheme. Decentralization allows for customization of the content on DIKSHA, community radios and TV channels. It seems that many educators are not aware of the program due to lack of adequate publicity. State governments have a greater comprehension of the demography and desiderata of the citizens and would thus be able to publicize it in an efficient manner. Furthermore, supplementing it with SMS or IVR based learning through toll-free calls can help reach students with minimal access to technology.

To build resilience for occurrences like the COVID-19 pandemic in the future, India must be equipped with opportune infrastructure and training. Students and teachers of lower socioeconomic classes require access to the Internet and a minimum of one device. Students, teachers, and principals need to undertake capacity building for digital learning. Large scale student and teacher training workshops need to be held.

All schools should mandate technological skill-acquisition sessions as well as Information Technology classes. Through a partnership with Alphabet Inc, Loon Balloons could be utilized to provide connectivity to rural areas. Data packs could be allocated. Smartphones or tablets could be distributed to those in need. These could be obtained through fundraising or drives. Public-private partnerships and an increase in the government’s education budget are advised to cover the costs.

There is a need to reorient the curriculum to equip students with the competencies required as a 21st century professional – a need that escalates during a pandemic. Children must be taught about all aspects of life and not just given information. This crisis is teaching us that curricula must be grounded in students’ realities, cultivating critical, creative, and flexible thinking, resilience, and empathy in students.

Developing a symbiotic relationship with our environment has taken on a new urgency, and teachers must help students think about their relationship with the universe and everyone and everything in it.

They must be taught to adapt to diverse circumstances, like switching to e-learning in the event of a pandemic, learning to function and working effectively when pulled out of their comfort zones, and learning to work with a diverse group of people. These are indispensable aspects of personality development that will ensure students collectively perform as well-knit teams.

While complacency and inaction over the years have led to the current struggle to achieve high standards, the recent National Education Policy 2020 aims to reform some of these inefficiencies.  If not resolved, India risks spiralling deeper towards an under-educated and unskilled populace. The effectiveness of the implementation of the ambitious goals in the policy, however, remains to be explored.

For countless children like Shambhavi, education is a powerful tool that can pull their families, communities out of its social and economic problems. It is the only tool that can empower the poor and bridge social divides that plague this country, effectively and lastingly.

The authors are students of the Young Researchers for Social Impact (YRSI) Program conducted by Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC). YRSI identifies promising high schoolers and builds their capacity as critical thinkers and problem solvers to produce thought-provoking solutions to pressing issues that affect our societies today. This article was written as part of the June 2020 edition of the program. The views expressed in this study are solely those of the authors and do not represent the views of YLAC as an organisation.
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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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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.

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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