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We Need To Question The ABCs Of NEP 2020

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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.


What Is Foundational Literacy?

Remember writing pages after pages of this? Writing 26 alphabets and 100 numbers was the same goal for all of us who started learning. And it took all of us different time lengths to achieve it; different mediums of instruction and education followed —formal for some and informal for others.

Something that seems trivial and learned at a young age is undeniably a ‘skill’ that we take for granted. Yet, our entire learning progress relies on this. If you know the alphabet and can count, you can do pretty much everything.

This ability of a student or learner is called foundational literacy and numeracy skills. Therefore, a school’s curriculum is designed to train students to be able to identify and use these skills in their daily lives. This is most of what comprises early learning.

What Does NEP Say About Foundational Literacy?

The NEP 2020 strives to accord the highest priority to foundational literacy & numeracy for students by the time they are in grade 3. According to the new pedagogical hierarchy set, it includes a five year focus period on foundational studies for child development.

This base is named the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) which promises holistic development of the child. The ECCE framework would be regulated by a new pedagogical curriculum set by NCERT. Educators will be specially trained, and the framework will be helpful to parents as well.

A study investigating the literacy rate of India between 1987-2017 tells us how the gender gap in literacy varies in different age cohorts. India shows substantial development over these years to close the gender gap in literacy in age cohort 6-14 years. Thus, it’s seemingly on track to achieve universal literacy among children by 2030.

The progress is often shadowed by the wide gender disparity in adult literacy rates. However, the focus here is on literacy and not how well utilized foundational literacy acts as the backbone to create educated adults with no gender disparity in education.

Accordingly, all State/UT governments will immediately prepare an implementation plan for attaining universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary schools, identifying stage-wise targets and goals to be achieved by 2025, and closely tracking and monitoring the progress of the same.” The pandemic may have been an unprecedented event. Yet foreseeing an education system achieve this mammoth task even without a pandemic by 2025 is utopian at best.

What’s The Ground Reality Of Foundational Literacy?

Talking to primary grade teachers of an all-girls school based in rural Jharkhand, I tried to understand the reality of foundational literacy for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The challenge is not limited to the lack of resources for online learning but also to accommodate young girls in a virtual classroom. There are different learning needs in a classroom, a lack of support from an informally educated family, and no direct exposure to a safe or fun learning environment!

The teachers say it has been a challenge to keep students’ interest in learning alive. Only being able to reach out to them for two hours a day, six days a week, from behind the screen is not enough. Sometimes they doubt themselves when they aren’t able to deliver instructions adequately; it’s almost like putting up an improv show each time for an audience with an attention span of 8 seconds.

They are prioritizing keeping these skills alive rather than finishing the syllabus. They engage parents in the learning process by giving students activities that they need to involve their parents in. Learning about a family member and writing about them in English or budgeting the groceries that come to their home.

Learning with parents has become the norm for these students. Learning a new word in English is a joy for the student and their parents! Involving parents in stabilizing foundational literacy for young girls is a great way to show the immediate perks of learning other than convincing them of a brighter future.

Position Of Girls In The Foundational Literacy Scenario

Investing in children’s education throughout the pandemic is a burden for many parents. Keeping them at home and training them in labour that contributes to family income is easier. Especially for a girl child, whose education will bear lesser economic returns (because they would be asked to marry as soon as possible before they can even start planning a career), why should parents invest in early education?

They have designated their daughters’ fate to be a married woman bound with duties to her family. Parents do not imagine their daughters going to jobs and pay for the family, and this bias starts showing early. Girls’ education is a debate for the entire period of learning. Policy recommendations should focus on access to education, especially foundational literacy, to minority communities.

Rohingya Refugee Girl in School Classroom

Limitations Of NEP

Besides, building an education system largely depends on how adept the learner is at reading, writing, and counting. While these terms are shoved under the carpet of ECCE, words like cognitive development and socio-emotional-ethical development come up. I strive to understand why a simpler language is deemed counterintuitive in a policy draft.

The promises of NEP 2020 sway the readers away with magnanimous promises but excludes a huge number of students from reaping benefits. It’s amazing that the document doesn’t focus on identifying learning and cognitive disabilities while talking about foundational literacy.

Instead, the NEP 2020 treats disability as a drawback that alienates students from the education system. Specially trained educators to teach disabled students but no universal training for educators to identify students with special needs.

A student may need extra attention for different causes— mental illness, physical impairment, delayed cognitive development and learning disability. The NEP only identifies blind and students who use wheelchairs to serve as a representative statistic for the document.

Girls often don’t feel comfortable and safe going to school premises where there is a lack of resources to aid healthy menstruation. Lack of sanitary napkins, clean toilets, and a safe environment to convey their discomfort or pain during menstruation. The policies should focus on infrastructural makeovers as well to be able to accommodate the most basic needs of students.

NEP wishes to remove language barriers between teachers and students by making use of digital aids. The approach is questionable on the grounds of recognition of language diversity in a country. A native Sadri speaker who is a 4th-grade student crying and being angry at learning or speaking in Hindi is only one of the countless examples ignored by the pedagogy curriculum.

What Can We Expect Post-Pandemic?

The pandemic ensuing virtual learning has reinforced the importance of a safe learning environment. Lack of time, lack of study space, lack of accessibility to resources, lack of internet, and lack of electricity are some of the stumbling blocks students have faced.

Young girls are expected to partake in domestic chores no matter their age. Despite the presence of a capable elder man in the house, it’s the job of a girl child to prioritize domestic responsibilities and later work with her studies as and when possible.

The pandemic would be over someday, schools would reopen, yet some students will continue to be deprived of prerequisites to efficient learning. In addition, studies have found girls are struggling to access digital devices owing to male ownership trends in families. This questions the possibility of girl children returning to school.

Some students will grow up with unidentified needs that will never find recognition in public spaces. Disabled students with needs different from an average student, especially from minority communities, continue to be sidelined in a pandemic and by the NEP.

All students by grade 3 should be able to read, write, and count. The lack of it is a problem for the education system to build itself. With the NEP’s highly ambitious multidisciplinary curriculum, lack of foundational literacy is a key problem!

There can’t be one solution to a problem that has multiple facets to it. Similarly, achieving foundational literacy is a goal the country’s government should invest in heavily, set a realistic goal, and have multiple strategies at work. Revision of guidelines, frameworks, and deadlines for a post-pandemic era of education is necessary.

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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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