So, how did you meet?

Do you think my blog post title resembles a line you would ask someone at the start of a new founding relationship? Dependent on how you define ‘relationship,’ this blog, this relationship, depicts the start of my journey, my love for social impact and for a country that I’ve visited countless times, India. 

I’m often asked, ‘how and why I started working in India? how often do you travel there? what you do when you are out there? and finally, what’s it like travelling solo? This is not the exhaustive list of questions, but I’ve never realised that my passion and drive of working in international development through volunteering would raise as many questions. I can’t answer all of these questions on this post, honestly, who has the time or the attention span! But I will answer one, why I choose to work in India. 

My relationship with India began in December 2004, I think I was 21, I had just finished my undergraduate degree and I was ‘reassured’ from friends and family that my mum was going to help ‘set me up’ and find ‘the one’ for me. This was all a joke and a complete exaggeration alongside all the ‘Delhi Belly’ comments. But these comments were a classic representation of my ‘preparation’ for my first trip to India as well as being armed with all of the NRI* essentials which we all know has to include Imodium. But oh my, I’m certain that anyone would be well aware and remember their first time they arrived in India. I felt like I was confronted with the biggest welcome slap in the face, one side from the heat and the other, humidity, with a strong dose of strange scents, pollution and noise levels created by honking vehicles all in desperate rage for tarmac rights. But it’s Mumbai, the streets never sleep, and that’s just how Mumbai rolls. 

NRI* Non-resident Indian

I recall sitting at the back of the taxi from the airport to the hotel and I purposefully asked that I could sit next to the window so that I could observe the city. Red light hit, the car stood still and the honking of cars nearby were just relentless. ‘Knock, knock’ on the glass window of the car, I made eye contact with a young girl child, a street child, no older than 8 from my observation. She said ‘didi” (sister)  and pointed at the something she was holding, in hope that I would purchase it. I was startled, she caught me off guard. I can still vividly remember the look in her eyes.

In response, the driver said, ‘don’t give her money and don’t look at her, she will eventually go away’.

I abided, but I was conflicted. Where were her parents? has she eaten? School? Home? 

But this observation was only just the beginning. For the subsequent 3 weeks, my family and I spent numerous car journeys weaving between major towns and cities. I racked up hours gazing outside the window capturing and digesting as many new observations creating my own mental journal. The questions of concern I expressed in Mumbai over the young child, initiated the next set of questions through my observations on my travels. This observation looped the length of my 3 week stint which peeled away a new layer of thinking, paving a new direction and thought process that still remains deeply ingrained in my work today. 

Throughout those journeys, I often wondered how remote and isolated communities along the roadside lived and sustained themselves? This may seem too primitive a question, but I’m confident new visitors to India have raised the same query. These homes or shacks were regularly made out of cardboard and tin sheets, it was common to see large families of 6 or more to a room with no running water or electricity. As my thoughts evolved, I created my own speculations how these local communities met their basic needs. It was these thoughts that planted a seed and developed my passion and love within development and India. 

After my first visit to India, I navigated the next couple of years successfully achieving a new set of academic acronyms beside my name, but my thoughts, questions and mind often wondered back to my observations in India. The following years, I continued to spend my time working and supporting the lives of underprivileged children in various settings and contexts through an international charity in India and developed my own networks and connections, but my desire to work with communities that I observed in 2004 remained.

It was only until 2018 where my vision manifested during a trip to India visiting local schools in a city called Bhuj, Gujarat located in the Northwest state of India. It was this trip I had the opportunity and connections to visit a rural nomadic community. My route and only access to these communities were spent ducking and diving through traffic, off main road intersections and off beaten tracks riding on the back of a scooter. For the first time, I had an opportunity to talk to community members and ask them meaningful questions about their lives. Not only did I feel that this was my calling, it was only just the beginning. In 2019 it navigated my focus for my independent research for my Masters. My research study entitled: ‘Empowerment for All? Exploring gender differences in parental attitudes among the Scheduled Tribes (ST) towards education for tribal children in Gujarat, India. This revealed a new unimagined layer.

Back of the scooter!

With my previous expertise in education and international development, I was aware of the increasing attention and marked gains of investing in girls’ education across the globe, therefore, I used my Masters as an opportunity to listen to voices from marginalised communities about their views towards education. Their responses were enlightening. 

My thoughts and internal dialogue from 2004 that I dubbed too far-fetched in the beginning, has started steering in a new direction, pealing back a new layer. The only way I can describe India is like a magnet, a country close to my heart and one of my greatest teachers, continually revealing itself in layers. I now use my time to explore new education opportunities, one that is both inclusive and transformative for these communities.For me, it’s this next layer that drives my mission to deliver a new long-term change in the lives of girls from marginalised communities for their future, driven by an equity of voices that will one day contribute to change and empowerment. 

How can existing infrastructures be used to support education in low tech and low resource environments in light of the pandemic?

At present, having a computer and an internet connection can be the difference between learning and not learning. Around the world, over 1.5 billion children are currently affected by the school closers ordered by governments to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As a result of school closures, many governments are faced with one profound question: How can ALL children continue to learn and access education? The answer to this question is dependent upon what resources are available.

In most countries, the sudden move to distance learning has forced teachers and students into a digital world away from familiar, well-structured face-to-face classroom environments. While this new change maintains access to learning, it also carries the risk of escalating existing inequalities for marginalized and vulnerable learners. This is particularly true for those living in low resource, poor countries who already struggle to receive quality education and where access to devices and connectivity is lacking. This represents challenges as these communities are not prepared or equipped for the new change. 

Map 1:  Global school closures caused by COVID-19

For many children that live in poor countries, teachers provide education through a ‘blended’ education approach that uses both face to face interaction and online learning. However, this ‘blended’ approach is no longer appropriate at present as social distancing has been enforced by governments. Therefore, there is a need to unpack the use of different tools in developing regions so that education can continue to be accessed for ALL children. One example adopted by some NGOs to support the continuity of education in low resource and low tech environments is through leveraging co-exisiting education programmes from emergency and conflict zones which require little or no technology. However, despite important lessons that can be discovered from adopting educational programmes from other contexts these must be taken with a pinch of salt.

WHY?

Put simply, any educational programmes that are implemented or adopted are conditional on the recipient context. This is evident through my own research on planning for education in low tech and low resource environments in India. The next section below briefly summarises my own suggestions how existing infrastructures needs to be considered within any context when planning for education continuity during the pandemic.

What materials are currently available?

Explore what materials are already available for continuous learning within a context. These channels should be continued to be harnessed to support learners e.g. radio broadcasting or mobile phones.

Equity.

It is also important to consider who has access and who remains excluded to education resources. Many children are already left out of education, therefore there is a responsibility that when education resources are made available during the COVID-19 response, these resources are still distributed fairly among ALL learners.

Access

It is important to recognise WHO actually has access to education resources? Is it just parents? Children? or both?

Literacy levels

Identify the level of literacy and digital literacy among learners, parents and teachers in the community. 

Equipment

In order to sustain any education changes for the unforeseeable future, questions must be raised how former education equipment could be repurposed within a context and how these resources could be used as a long term education investment? Could these resources be used to support catch up or accelerated catch up classes for learners?

This is not an exhaustive list for low tech and low resource environments. However, these are critical starter points when planning for COVID-19 education responses.

WHAT WOULD YOU PRIORITISE?

Thank you for reading my post

Priya

Why are girls hardest hit by school closures due to COVID-19.

If you take away anything from this post, take note of this figure: 89. 

At present, over 89% of students enrolled in education globally are currently out of school due to COVID-19 (UNESCO, 2020).  It’s simply staggering. 

With sweeping COVID-19 lockdown regulations firmly in place,many learners are isolating behind screens through a home digital learning setting. In this post I reflect on what impact these school closures will mean for other groups of children in the Global South. Within your own thoughts, you may have considered how school closures will have considerable impact on children who are either vulnerable or marginalised. However, would you have contemplated the impacts of school closures on gender? 

When gender intersects with other forms of discrimination such as caste, girls are faced with greater prejudice what is also described as a ‘double disadvantage’. Therefore, for girls in the Global South, they will experience the impacts of this pandemic in a different way to boys owing to deep-rooted gender inequalities and norms. Girls outcome is bleak, which evidently will interrupt their education and increase school drop-out rates in the long term. These claims are not new, and have been supported and identified by previous UNESCO reports stating that ‘girls are far more likely to remain excluded from education than boys’ (UNESCO, 2016). Thus, in recognition of these disparities, progress towards girls’ education have continued to remain a central priority within the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

However, what could this mean for girls education in the these communities in the future?

When school gates reopen, many girls will continue to participate in education, however, others may never return. This shift could be recognised as families consider economic hardships caused by the crisis and therefore have opportunity costs educating their daughters. This will threaten and reverse any gains made for girls’ education. Within the quest to halt these education imbalances, international initiatives and policy makers will now more than ever need to prioritise the needs and specific challenges faced by girls, through gender responsive actions. 

Here are my four suggestions on how to support girls:

  1. Work closely with teachers and communities to support distance learning that includes the importance of girls’ education as part their learning programmes.
  2. In areas where internet connection is less accessible school material should be sent home. 
  3. Ensure that learning structures and approaches are flexible so that girls can continue to support families who often disproportionately shoulder the burden of care. This is also vital for pregnant girls and young mothers who often are prevented from accessing education.  
  4. Within development polices, there should be room to provide spaces for girls to have their voice and make their own decisions about schools.

Transforming for the future together

Thank you for reading

Priya

When a global pandemic hits India

While some stockpile and battle over toilet paper…what happens when a total lockdown hits India. 

Strict new rules or ‘draconian’ regulations as some describe curbs life in the UK to help tackle the spread of coronavirus. With over 80,000 cases reported in mainland China, as the pandemic reaches the borders of many nations, the number of cases outside China now exceed that figure with more than 425,000 affected in over 150 countries worldwide. Sweeping ‘lockdown’ regulations dominate and are now being echoed right across the world.

As of March 24th, India, with a population of 1.3billion joins the list of countries under lockdown. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has imposed a nationwide lockdown which will be enforced for 21 days following a sharp increase in confirmed cases to 519. Although cities including Delhi and Mumbai have already been under strict restrictions, this recent move extends to every corner of the country. Modi suggests what many world leaders endorse that ‘social distancing is the only option to combat coronavirus’. As well as ‘social distancing’, other key words such as ‘social isolation’ and ‘hygiene’ are other words making the rounds.  While many are trying to protect themselves from this virus, an uncomfortable truth is unfolding that not everyone can, especially for the poor, vulnerable and marginalised representing 176 million living in extreme poverty according to an recent Oxfam report. 

The challenge. 

As the pandemic takes precedence, many uncomfortable truths are starting to resurface. Through my own research and fieldwork working in remote regions in Gujarat, a northwest state in India, many of these communities I visited in these regions will be at the greatest risk of contracting the virus. The burdens of the pandemic will be pushed disproportionately on an already polarised nation created not just through wealth but also through the social structure on a daily basis. These challenges are compounded further by the housing arrangements, little access to sanitation and drinking water facilities, poor access to health centres as well as poor access to knowledge and information.   

Nomadic communities in remote regions in Gujarat

In reality, the concept of ‘social distancing’ as a measure to curb the pandemic may not be recognised in rural communities where social distancing is not an option.  The reality for nomadic communities, the poor or even those living in slums where many are huddled together in overcrowded homes and huts as well as communities with little understanding of the importance of hygiene and washing hands transmission rates of the virus will peak. This dystopian outlook is a potentially true for the nomadic community I supported in 2019. Not only do these communities have no protective measures including access to running water and soap, literacy levels are low and access to knowledge from technology in the form of smart phones is non-existent.  

While the coronavirus continues to evoke much despair, many nations around the world are taking many necessary restrictions, however, speculations will continue for each  nation, not only on how they react but the aftermath and possibly for those who remain voiceless.    

Thank you for reading

#staysafe #stayhome

A blanket approval?

‘’ One Child, One Teacher, One Book, One Pen can change the world’’

This line doesn’t need an introduction. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear this. If you are unaware, it’s by Malala Yousafzai addressing the United Nations on her 16thbirthday. Her courage and value advocating for education and especially for girls has moved many. Regardless of what creates girl’s exclusion in education, the consequences for them are real. 

Let’s face it, education has been hailed as the ‘silver bullet’ for combating many profound challenges. Beyond the usual human capital benefits, the importance for specifically advocating girl’s participation within education is so that girls can increase their sense of agency. However, simply assuming that access to education will automatically translate into empowerment ignores the true experiences of schooling, which will ultimately drive and contribute to further education divisions.

Over the past decade, I have spent much of my time and research within Asia, specifically India. Without a doubt, I can recall many headlines and newsflashes of the worthy education progress across India. Although the Government of India have made heavy commitments for education expansion since its Independence over 70 years ago, the parameters for development and inclusion remain a ‘pipeline dream’ as local realities remain very different. This is true for tribal communities, constitutionally known as the Scheduled Tribe (ST) in India who represent 8.6 per cent of the total population of India (Census of India,2011). 

As part of my own field research conducted in February 2019 within a remote village in Gujarat, India I hold some apprehension towards education within this setting. While ST girls continue to face marginalisation for multiple reasons, simply providing access to education doesn’t actually disentangle any of the true complexities that ST girls face in India. To make a real difference within India, there is a greater need to focus on what school experiences ST girls face if we are truly to deliver a difference. 

Here is a couple of questions to consider:

  1. Does education simply reinforce the superiority of female gender norms?
  2. How is education perceived among parents?
  3. Are certain types/subjects/activities promoted more than others?

Drawing on my field research by using one isolated example of ST girls attending tailoring classes demonstrates why there is a real need to focus on girls schooling experiences. The image below is an example of a blanket using the skills learnt from such classes. 

This was created solely by a 14 year old girl, it is beautiful. The intricacies are incredible that far outweigh any of my own attempts at 15 during my GCSEs. She made four in total. However, what my research implies is that for ST girls to participate in co-curricular activities such as sewing far outweighed most other education decisions made by ST parents within the village. Why? The ability to learn to sew to make blankets was found to indicative as a mark to support girls’ marriage preparation, a dowry exchange during marriage. 

Drawing on parental interviews, typical responses stated:

‘’That is good of the school teaches sewing machine, but this is mainly for girls’’.

‘’I say that learning sewing is more important. For the girls they don’t have to work and they can earn money at home. That is my plan. For the girls whatever the work she gets at home is good then going out’’. 

On the one hand, while tailoring is offered as a long term economic security for ST girls, the overriding message of tailoring as a co-curricular education activity in this case is compromised which reinforces girls role within the domestic sphere and short term marriage goals. 

Although that this is an isolated example, more questions and research needs to be raised on other schooling experiences that ST children are encountering and how their experiences may offer different interpretations. Ultimately, advocating for a ‘quality education’ approach is vital, but encompassing ST parents within education matters need to recognised in order to deliver real changes. 

Here are three questions for you to consider:

  1. What else can girls gain from learning tailoring? Is there a space for girls to be empowered with these skills?
  2. Do they receive an education and get married so there is no tangible value seen?
  3. With these education skills, can girls be better equipped to pass education as an asset to their daughters?

Thank you

I value any of your comments and feedback 

Priya  

At the crossroad

There is no shame in taking a leap in life even if it embraces uncertainty. I’ve recently taken the plunge and packed up working on the ‘frontline’ of the education system. 

Being a teacher is all I have ever envisioned growing up. However, for me, this is a foundation for a greater cause. While potholes stand in the way of any journey, I look back on past the 13 years with fond memories. 

Throughout September, each day I recorded one memory of what some may describe as ‘jail time’ within my profession. I share these memories with you with pride, gazing outside coffee shop windows drinking lattes.

Here goes…

  1. Detention slips and strike cards
  2. Curious smells from the student toilets
  3. Pealing classroom displays
  4. A David Attenborough DVD saves the impromptu cover lesson
  5. Facing those ‘dreaded classes’
  6. A whole school fire drill in the pouring rain caused by a burning bagel
  7. Heaps of workplace banter
  8. Another education initiative
  9. Another windows update, creates a 20 minute delay to log on to any PC. 
  10. Coffee clubs and ‘sexy marking clubs’.
  11. Panic planning and marking
  12. Hitting your photocopying budget quota two weeks before the end of term.
  13. Another year teaching longshore drift.
  14. Suggesting that geography is simply colouring in. It’s shading, actually. 
  15. Living for the weekend, no wait, half term. 
  16. A snow day blessing
  17. Mid August exam result anxiety
  18. Terrified making the first phonecall home to a parent
  19. Seagulls at breaktime out to get
  20. Swinging back on chairs and calling out
  21. Precarious graffiti images
  22. Job promotions and keeping the faith
  23. Glorious international trips that crafts the travel bug among the young eager eye
  24. Thankful for a 3 month travel sabbatical 
  25. Incredible form groups
  26. End of year gift appreciation
  27. From oversized blazers, to… 
  28. Foundation and nail varnish, ‘please can you just tuck your shirt in’!
  29. ‘Miss, my water bottle leaked in my bag’.
  30. ‘Miss, can I turn the page now’?

Rediscovering

Priya x

My Story

Hi, I’m Priya.

I’ve been working on the ‘frontline’ of the UK secondary education system for the past 13 years.

I’m a recent Masters graduate with a real passion and drive to improve the lives of children.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer and spend time and learn from many communities across Asia, particularly India.

Voices from the Remote was inspired from my own Masters independent study. I use accounts and stories from remote regions from my own research as well as other inspiring studies to highlight the reality and challenges that are representative for lives of millions.

I focus on the importance of education and its transformative potential unfolding many challenges that still continue to exist.

Thank you for visiting

Smiles

Priya x