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Is Conducting Exams Really A Priority During A Pandemic And Deteriorating Economy?

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Throughout our lives, we have been told that it’s the skills we acquire that are crucial to build our career. However, the people in charge only seem to remind us of the contrary. At a time when much of the world is at a standstill, desperately anticipating the next thing that is to come during the lockdown, conducting an exam seems to have become a priority in the name of our careers.

It seems that by placing so much weightage on our ‘final exams’ in the midst of such a crisis, all other skills and achievements we may have acquired during our college years only seems to diminish in their value. Despite the overwhelming evidence that does not favour the conduction of an exam, authorities passed the decision to conduct JEE, NEET and final year university exams. This is insensitive at best, and perverse at worst.

According to The New York Times, India has the fastest-growing number of COVID-19 cases in the world, reporting 75,000 new cases per day as of August 28, 2020. Due to desperate efforts to stimulate an ailing economy, the relaxation of the lockdown has only been inching the country towards the number one spot. The virus, which was mostly contained in the urban areas of the country, has now seeped into every corner of the country due to interstate travel. At a time when survival is of paramount concern to people, conducting exams only makes students lambs to a slaughter.

Social Distancing Norms At Exam Centres

One may argue that the authorities have set social distancing norms and various safety nets to ensure the physical well-being of the students. However, the images of crowds of students appearing for COMEDK exams in the state of Karnataka show that guidelines are only castles built in the air. One also needs to consider the students who may have registered for either of the three exams and are infected by the virus.

It seems that by placing so much weightage on our ‘final exams’ in the midst of such a crisis, all other skills and achievements we may have acquired during our college years only seems to diminish in their value.

 

The US stands as a testament to this. It was found that around 95,000 children were infected a week prior to the start of the new semester. This puts these students at a significant disadvantage and may actually end up jeopardising their careers, the very same careers that the authorities are claiming to save.

Travel And Accommodation Arrangements During Exams

Adding to this hurdle, travelling is a nightmare that one can only begin to comprehend. With much of the railways not functioning, reaching the exam centre in itself is going to be a Herculean task. Further, the floods in Bihar and Assam have affected more than 55 lakh people, as reported by the Times of India. For most of the people affected by the natural calamity, rebuilding and normalcy are only second nature to them. Expecting the affected students to appear for the exams is draconian at the least.

Perhaps, the ironically unnoticed elephant in the room is international students. India boasts its international students who come from far and wide in order to attain competitive education standards provided by the country. While some managed to make it home during the pandemic, many are still in the country due to various reasons. Expecting the ones who are home to come back for exams, given the current situation on travel restrictions, is not possible.

Further, the ones who still left behind in the country are faring the current situation with so many difficulties that we can only begin to imagine. The examination will only add to their stress and adversely affect their well-being. Accommodation too is an issue for international as well as Indian students. Many owners had asked students to vacate during the pandemic, and now after the announcement of the exams, convincing sceptical owners to provide a place to live is no easy task.

Image of a child holding a phone and writing in a notebook while studying.
According to a study, less than 15% of rural households and almost 42%of the urban households have access to internet connectivity. Representative image.

All these problems, of course, as one may argue, can be solved if the exams are held online. However, the picture of the digital divide in the country only resembles an abyss that runs deep. According to the Scroll, only 11% of Indian households have a computer, which includes desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, palmtops or tablets. Further, according to the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report based on the National Sample Survey (2017-2018), less than 15% of rural households and almost 42%of the urban households have access to internet connectivity. If exams or studies are conducted online, this will only increase inequality among the students.

Mental Health Of Students

Perhaps, the most important issue that has been lost in the pages is that of mental health. With increasing social restrictions and financial burden, humans have only felt a sense of estrangement during the pandemic. Further, with decreasing purchasing power and increasing unemployment, the mental health of people has been adversely affected.

A study was conducted to explore the impact of COVID-19 on student education and well-being. Approximately 25% of its sample reported experiencing anxiety symptoms, which were positively correlated with increased concerns about academic delays, economic effects of the pandemic and impact on daily life.

Furthermore, among the many student surveys administered worldwide, one survey by Young Minds reported that 83% of young respondents agreed that the pandemic has worsened pre-existing mental health conditions mainly due to closure of schools, loss of routine and restricted social connections.

In conclusion, one can only think of the novel The Hunger Games, wherein the fictional country of Panem, the Capitol (the oppressor) forces the districts in the nation (the oppressed) to run a lottery, where a boy and girl (known as the tributes) are picked from each of the 12 districts. The unlucky pair of 12 are put into an arena by the Capitol where they are forced to kill each other until the lone victor remains. The tributes, in this case, are the students and the Capitol is to be left to one’s imagination.

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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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