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If A Class 9 Student Can’t Solve Basic Maths Problems, Who’s To Blame?

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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.

I shifted to Kolhapur for work somewhere around the beginning of 2021. Covid-19 cases had reduced, and the lockdown had been lifted. In the building I was staying was a caretaker’s family; husband-wife and a daughter. Their home is a tin shed in the parking lot along with cars as neighbours. They helped me shift and settle in the locality for which they denied any monetary compensation. I often saw their 14-year-old daughter studying outside their home: so I offered to teach her, which they happily welcomed.

Girl Student in Classroom

In my initial conversation with their daughter Shreya, I asked her what she wanted me to teach her. “I want to speak English like you,” she responded. The answer was there. I thought it would be a great idea to help each other since I wanted to work on my grammar and vocabulary. Soon we started meeting every day, and she began bringing books of different subjects along with English. Maths was one of them.

Within a few days, I realized that in her 9th standard, Shreya could not read English or solve the fundamental mathematical problems of addition and subtraction. This started becoming a huge burden because now I had to plan her tutorials for almost all the subjects and start from the basics of Maths and English. She knew the answer to a few questions, but she could not relate to the logic behind it. For example, if the question is rephrased, she is not able to answer.

I started trying to understand why it is so. What she shared is, “I was good in studies till 6th standard. Our teacher Patil sir used to teach us so well. Everyone used to ask for my notes, but then the school was changed from primary to secondary. Teachers there don’t teach so well. They don’t ask if I/we understood what they taught. They just come, teach and leave. Even the girls in my school aren’t good. They keep gossiping about boys, write love letters to each other, and spend more time at the snack corner after school. I have now stopped hanging out with them. I don’t like such girls. I just want to focus on my studies.

When asked about online classes, she says, “Half the time, our teacher is trying to calm down and make students attend the class, while during the other half, either the internet is poor or the teacher isn’t there. We don’t even get to ask questions. What to do?” I had no answer.

She complains of not being able to meet her friends because of the lockdown and getting bored being a single child and having no one to play with. She also talks about her responsibilities to look after her parents, earn and give money to her parents every month as she is the only one to look after them. As a grown-up, Shreya wants to do a job, any job. Where there will be an office and many people are working in that office.

Her mother was married at an early age and had some health issues with added responsibilities. She doesn’t want her daughter to go through the same. Instead, she wants her to study. She says, “It’s only for her education we are staying here, else we would go back to Bidri (their hometown in Karnataka). Everyone is already asking us when we are marrying our daughter. That’s how it is in our village. As soon as a girl attains puberty, the only topic in the village is marrying her off. But we won’t do that. Hence we don’t even visit our village nowadays. We will let her do whatever she wants to. Ultimately it’s her own destiny.”

The couple was having some issues with the other flat holders and wanted to leave this place, but they compromised because their daughter’s school and prospective college are nearby. They are not comfortable letting their daughter go far away, even to the shops or within the town. They don’t feel safe. “But if she were a boy“, she wonders, “I wouldn’t have any such tension, and I would’ve been allowed wherever I would’ve wanted to go.

The story resonates with every other girl coming from the socially and economically backward strata of society. But, unfortunately, it’s making them lose confidence and interest in education.

  • Lack of a robust evaluation system that could help students evaluate themselves and work on it promptly,
  • Lack of regular guidance and necessary interventions from teachers to help students excel,
  • The feeling of insecurity to send a girl child out of home alone,
  • Communities’ constant pressure on girls to get married early.

I feel addressing some of these pervasive shortcomings could have made NEP better for every girl like Shreya.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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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.

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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.

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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 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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