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How Do We Keep Education Alive And Protect The Children During A Pandemic?

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A child’s right to a safe, inclusive, and good-quality education does not end when schools are closed. The impact of school closures extends beyond disruption to children’s learning and carries other major risks to the most marginalised children, all of which are exacerbated with lockdown regulations as well.

In the education response to school closure, it is essential that learning is kept alive while effectively addressing the potential outcomes and impacts.

During the pandemic, alternative ways have been found all around the world to ensure the continuation of education. Young people can continue developing and learning from home so that they feel prepared to go back to schools when the situation normalizes. However, there are several gaps in inclusivity and access involved in these measures.- Adapted from Save The Children’s Report Save Our Education

1.Deliver Inclusive Distance Learning While Schools Are Closed

The digital divide refers to the gap between individuals and families with different income levels and therefore different levels of access to the internet. Wealthier families are generally better able to maintain their children’s learning while at home. They also have the resources of knowledge and time to support the child’s online learning. For lower-income families, these resources, if present, are few and far in between.

Access to technology is often seen in a binary way, but these are all factors that affect a child’s experience of education. Disparities get heightened for children in such an environment and can have negative emotional and psychological effects on a child. This is not the only type of divide. Studies show that in low and middle-income countries, access to mobile internet is lower by 23% for women and girls. For children with disabilities, these methods may not be effective at all.

Governments, donors, partners and community members have to come together with educators to develop gender-sensitive, inclusive and viable solutions so that education can continue with as little disruption as possible while schools are closed.  Education must continue in a contextually relevant manner to meet the needs of different children so that all children can avail the right to education.

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2. Support Parents And Caregivers To Enable Children’s Wellbeing And Learning At Home

Parents and caregivers play an important role when children use technology as a means for learning. Studies show that even in poorer households and families with limited literacy, parental and sibling engagement and support add significantly to the learning outcomes of the child.

During these times of stress and uncertainty, parents and caregivers need to be supported to provide children with a safe and loving home environment. With stressors to families as a whole, giving caregivers the information to create support during such times goes a long way in enabling the child’s wellbeing and ability to learn. These can include very simple measures and tips on how to create a routine and cope with stress. These benefit the child as well as the family’s wellbeing.

3. Support Teachers And The Education Workforce 

As governments scale up health and social protection services during the pandemic, public budgets are under an increasing strain as the financial situation worsens. In many countries, this has led to education support personnel, contract teachers, and substitute teachers losing their jobs and having their livelihoods risked. Keeping teachers connected during this crisis and supporting them to provide distance learning and student outreach could have significant long-term gains for teacher wellbeing and professional motivation.

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Teachers are not immune to the impact of COVID-19 and school closures. They risk becoming isolated from their colleagues and students and face uncertainties in their roles as facilitators to children. In line with the Sustainable Development Goal 1.3, social protection floors like basic unemployment benefits, child benefits, etc. must be implemented, especially in times of crisis. Such efforts can significantly mitigate the risks that COVID-19 has created for teachers and education support staff and enables them to support their dependents and facilitate their students in a healthy and stress-free environment.

4. Ensure Children Are Protected While Learning At Home

For many vulnerable children, the school provides a haven from violence and other threats, as well as access to services like social welfare, mental health and psychosocial support. With the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, hundreds of millions of children around the world are likely facing increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing, including violence, gender-based violence, exploitation, social exclusion and separation from caregivers.

Interruption of formal education is one of the most significant stressors in post-conflict settings, especially since schooling is perceived by children and their families as a route out of poverty to a more prosperous life.  Under lockdowns, risk factors or violence, abuse and neglect are on the rise for children and COVID-19 prevention measures may have therefore cut children off from positive and supportive relationships they may rely upon, whether at school, in the extended family or in the community. Adequate steps to safeguard children in times of uncertainty have to be in place so that children are protected, and vulnerabilities are not further exploited in the period of lockdown.

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5. Continue The School Feeding Programme

For the most vulnerable children, meals and snacks provided at school are usually a lifeline that keeps them free from hunger while ensuring they have access to education. The World Food Programme estimates that 352 million children globally (47% of them including girls) are missing out on school meals because of COVID-19 school closures.

India has the biggest school feeding programme in the world with the Mid-Day Meal, but the school closures indicate that 90 million girls and boys are no longer receiving them. School feeding programmes are frequently a vital component in how poor families meet their needs, they are frequently a vital determinant why families decide to continue sending their children to school. Children receive the energy to fulfil their potential at school and develop healthier food practices that then extend to their families and communities.

During the pandemic, the central government has committed to reaching the vulnerable school-aged children with alternative school feeding, but how this will be delivered – by cash transfers or delivering uncooked grains or meals – is still something that has not been decided yet. Combining food security and education policy enables children and their families to feel protected when times of uncertainty like the COVID-19 pandemic hits.

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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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