|© UNICEF India/2006/Gulati|
|A community celebrating the enrolment of children – nearly half of them girls – in the schools of India’s Gujarat State.|
By Gurinder Gulati
GUJARAT, India, 30 June 2006 – Every one of Gujarat State’s 18,000 villages was celebrating on 17 June, the start of a three-day, statewide enrolment drive that ultimately placed 593,863 children in school. Nearly half of these new students are girls.
The achievement is particularly notable because Gujarat – though one of the most economically developed states in India – has ranked low in female literacy, with a rate of only 58.6 per cent in 2001.
Since a government-sponsored education initiative known as ‘Shala Pravesh Utsav’ (School Entrance Festival) began three years ago, girls’ enrolment has increased and there has been a sharp reduction in overall drop-out rates – down to 11.8 per cent in 2006.
“This initiative will not only result in reducing gender disparity in elementary education, but also motivate the community to send their girls to the schools,” said UNICEF’s Gujarat State Representative, Dr. Yogendra Mathur.
|© UNICEF India/2006/Gulati|
|Manisha, a newly enrolled girl in Andharpada village, Gujarat, with a school bag donated by a non-governmental organization.|
Community pledges support
Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi kicked off the enrolment drive this year from the predominantly tribal village of Dabkhal. Celebratory posters (which declared, ‘Educate girls – they are our assets’) decorated the road where a throng of residents and newly enrolled children gathered.
Mr. Modi honoured current students and teachers for outstanding performance during the past year and presented new students with books and education kits. Children also received a booklet on hygiene featuring Meena, the lead character of a series of animated films developed by UNICEF.
Community members promised their full support to the endeavour, taking an oath in which they committed to ensuring that all children in their village would be enrolled in school.
Ensuring regular attendance
In villages throughout Gujarat, children dressed in colourful costumes and wore festive crowns, celebrating the importance of school enrolment.
In Kajali, village head Ratni Ben remarked, “It gives me a nice feeling to see the little ones being enrolled in school with all the fanfare.” The Kajali village council recently constructed a separate girl’s latrine – another step forward to help ensure regular attendance of girls in the school.
“I am happy to see more and more children being enrolled every year,” said former Kajali village head Yogi Bhai, 76, who donated land for the local school.
The Government of Gujarat has made provisions for a school in every village. Now the onus is on the community to come forward to educate their children.
“I am feeling very nice in the company of my new friends in the school,” said Manisha, a six-year-old girl from Andharpada village. With a new school bag in hand, she added, “I would like to be a teacher when I grow up.”
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