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Opinion: ‘To Parents, With Urgency: It’s Time To Reopen Schools’

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

Dear parents,

16 months and counting. You’ve seen us at home, disinterested in our studies and unable to focus on class. You have noticed a decrease in our physical and creative activities.

You have seen us sink into anxiety. At the same time, you have had your own struggles. You have lost your jobs and even your loved ones. It’s been a tough year for all of us, but we request you to listen to us.

I am Rutuja Bhoite, a second-year college student in the United States. It took me a lot of hard work to reach where I am today, but my college years have looked fundamentally different from what I had imagined.

I always had a fear of education becoming digitized, and guess what? I am living it today. I remember a classroom filled with colorful posters and benches where I would chat with my friends.

But today, it’s simply a computer screen. At least for those of us who are privileged to afford a device.

Online school education for school students in India
Education through online learning platforms is a new experience for Indian students. Representational image.

I am Saumya Shinde, a Grade 12 Student. I was initially excited to experiment with online learning, but over time I have realized that it just isn’t as effective.

It hurts me to see our teachers giving their best in classes and still not being able to interact with us. We are missing out on so many important experiences and exposure as students.

Education Has Become Monotonous

Monotony, hunched backs, and sore eyes have defined these past months for us.

We are 2 of the 268 million children of India whose education has been interrupted by the pandemic – two of the lucky ones.

Our friend, Rupesh, a Grade 11 student told us, “I was upset and worried as to how I will be able to attend my online classes as I didn’t have a device.” 60% of Indian students have fallen out of the system altogether due to a lack of access to an electronic device.

“When can we get back to our classrooms so we can learn since not having an internet connection will now determine whether I will learn or not.” Education should not be a privilege but a basic right.

“It’s been a difficult job for the teachers in this world of online learning but rushing through the syllabus isn’t the way out.”

Human Interaction Is Missing

Sohail, a recent Grade 10 graduate, shares his concern. Education hinges on authentic teacher-student connections, which are simply not possible to achieve online. Not when more than half of our teachers said that they were “not prepared to facilitate remote learning.”

For Advait, a 4-year-old, a classroom means sitting in front of the mobile screen. “I want to go to school because online learning isn’t fun. Even if the teacher gives us an activity, I have to do it alone and I can’t make friends. I don’t have anyone to play or study with.”

Human interactions which shape our education just as much as our textbooks are absent from his classroom.

We know that you are worried about our health, but experts have provided detailed guidelines on how to reduce the risk of getting infected in schools. We start with assessing the local situation.

Students under the age of 10 are least likely to contract and transmit the disease.

kid in class
The last thing children need is for schools to jump back into the old education system all of a sudden. Representational image. Photo credit: Pxfuel.

The ones truly at risk here are the adults in the school who need to get prioritized vaccination. Open communication and prompt actions will be our guiding firesticks in the dark caverns of uncertainty.

Once we are all on the same page about reopening schools, we can all adhere to the protocols laid down.

How Not To Reopen Schools?

We also wish to highlight how not to reopen schools. The last thing we wish for is to jump right back into the old education system. Ask us what we want, ask us what is working, ask us how we can help.

We need socio-emotional learning in our schools, especially for those of us still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. We need holistic assessments that help in evaluating true growth.

We, every single one of us, need access to a device and internet connection, so our learning does not get hampered again.

This is the time for all of us to come together as a community to secure our future. We have to raise our voices to demand an education that unleashes our full potential.

Demand methods of learning that aren’t just rote learning. Demand that we do everything possible to work together to reopen our schools. Countries all over the world have prioritized education, then why can’t we?

To parents,

With love, faith, and utmost urgency.

From,

Teach For India students.

Featured image, taken from Pxfuel, is for representational purposes only.
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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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