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Our Education System Was Unprepared To Deal With A Crisis, Now Students Are Struggling

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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.

COVID-19 has explicitly demonstrated the imbalance between the rural and urban, rich and poor, male and female, even in the digital infrastructure. Lockdown imposed due to COVID compelled education institutions to adapt to the virtual mode. The situation is still not stable and we cannot predict when the institutions will reopen. UNESCO observed that more than 60% of the world’s student population is affected by nationwide lockdowns. Some of the students managed to receive online education without any hurdles but many of the students were deprived of it due to various reasons.

Here Are Some Problems That Stakeholders In Education Are Facing Due To The Pandemic

  • Digital Access as an Equalizer

There was a pre-existing digital divide in India and COVID-19 worsened the situation. Half of India’s population, i.e. 66%, is living in rural parts of the country, with a scarcity of internet infrastructure. Only 14.9% of the rural population has internet access compared to 42% of the urban household.

Only 16% of rural users access Internet for digital payments: report
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India has 315 million students, the second-largest student body in the world. It inflicts a great sense of responsibility in the state to maintain education for all during the lockdown when the schools are shut. COVID-19 has exposed the digital divide between the government and private varsities. Virtual learning wasn’t much of a challenge for the students of private schools. Unlike the students of the government schools, who didn’t have access to the digital equipment. Moreover, the students attending the government institutes are more likely to face internet connectivity issues or electricity issues. These problems have created a difference in the education received by the students of the country. This will have an impact when things will go back to normal and most of the students wouldn’t have covered anything at all. India needs to bridge the digital divide more than ever to ensure students’ education since the classes are held virtually.

99% of the rural internet users access the internet on their mobile phones, which means students in rural areas don’t have digital infrastructure and tools to access online classes. This Digital divide has led to incidences of student suicides.

Even in urban households, only 23.4% own a computer and 42% of them have an internet connection. There even exists a digital divide in the urban domain.

“We didn’t have a smartphone before the lockdown because it wasn’t necessary and we could not even afford it. But since our kids are having online classes I had to buy a smartphone on EMI. Bache k bhavishya ka sawal hai kya kare (Our kids’ future is depended on it, what else we can do),” said the garbage collector of our locality.

  • Digital Literacy

According to a National Family Health Survey, 60% of the women in 12 states and union territories have never used the internet. This imposed a problem when the education was shifted on virtual platforms and 60% of the women didn’t even know how to use the internet.

Manisha, who belongs to the semi-literate bracket voiced, “I have a smartphone, but I didn’t know how to access classes on it for my daughter. I had to take help of some of my neighbours”.

National Digital Literacy Mission aims to ‘empower at least one person from every household with crucial digital literacy skills by 2020’. Their focus is to bring a change by emphasising the technology and extending the vision of digital India.

  • Study Material

It was difficult for the institutions to adopt the virtual mode instantly. Teachers prepared the PowerPoint presentations for the students and many times teachers didn’t even share their ppts with the students. Assembling notes online wasn’t an easy task. To quote Shaurya Mehta, class 10th student of St. Josephs Academy, “It isn’t easy to get notes online and then our exams were not even open book. We had to give offline exams and we didn’t have proper notes, which was a major obstacle.”

Digital Education: Education Ministry likely to introduce norms to bridge students' digital divide - The Economic Times
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Manvender, a student of EJ at IIMC lamented, “In my opinion, this online education really is a hard nut to crack. We have to sit for hours in front of the computer screen and I personally faced a lot of difficulties paying attention due to bad network coverage. After all these classes we hardly get time to do self-study as it’s really tiring and unhealthy. We have to collect and arrange all the notes from various sources for the preparation of online tests which is another headache. I tried seeking notes from some of the online sources but they charge for the subscription which is not feasible for everyone.”

Devansh, an engineering student at UPES said, “Although we had access to all the software and we could perform the experiments, one to one knowledge could not be attained via virtual platforms.”

  1. Practical Knowledge

Practical knowledge took a toll during the pandemic because it is hard for the students to perform practical virtually.

We as students of journalism needs to be familiar with many software, and most of them are paid. Many of the students at IIMC don’t have laptops that could support the cracked version of that software. Therefore most of the students lag in the knowledge of this software.

Mansi Sharma, a student of medicine at International Higher School of Medicine commented, “Well, in case of lack of cooperation there’s the matter that we have different lecture and practice teachers and so, sometimes we don’t get the customized presentations.

Before the pandemic hit, we weren’t too heavily dependent on technology being medical students. The focus had always been on practical knowledge and skills. After the pandemic hit, we are in this grey area where we are being actively tested for our knowledge without any proper structure of assessment. Most importantly, not all teachers are tech-savvy enough to be able to manage classes or material distribution.

The most common line I’ve been familiarised with within my practice classes is: ‘If you all were here, I would be able to show you the patients’, ‘If we were all meeting in person, I would be able to demonstrate these reflexes better’.

It’s not for a lack of trying, so to say, as much as it is because of the situation we are in, where we end up spending the same amount of time looking for resources and video references, as we do in our classes every single day,” they added further.

Shreya Mehta, a student of Computer Applications at Delhi University stated, “Being from a technical field, it was challenging to perform the entire lab-work from home with merely virtual guidance from teachers. Although we got e-books and reading material the practical knowledge took a toll”.

  • Placements

COVID-19 has affected the economy more than the Great Depression of 1930, social and economic life are at a standstill. A report of March 2020 in Economic Times predicts the cost of the COVID-19 lockdown at US$120 billion or 4 per cent of the GDP.

What to do if not through in campus placements | Job Mentor
Representative image only.

Markets are down and the institutions that claim 100% placements could not get even a single company for their placement fortnight.

Pramod Kumar, Placement Head of IIMC said in a meeting that they reached out to more than 100 companies and not even a single company responded. He even urged the students to look for job opportunities.

The students are bewildered by his remarks and could not see a ray of hope amidst the COVID crisis.

India was adopting digital means of education but at a gradual pace. COVID-19 accelerated the process altogether, which we were not ready for. COVID-19 also raised salient questions about the necessity, importance and usefulness of virtual learning platforms. Even the most advanced technology cannot eliminate this divide between the teachers and students. The majority of the students have affected adversely and therefore the state should come up with such education policies that would benefit all the students.

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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.

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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.”

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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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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