Out-of-school girls receive schooling support in Yayatmal district of Maharashtra
by Seema Kurup
Maharashtra, India, 26 September 2005: Last year, Pushpa Gaikwad was a seventeen-year-old school drop-out grazing cattle. While her parents prepared for her marriage, Pushpa argued that a wedding could wait, and that she wanted to attend evening classes in order to pass college entrance exams. Her parents eventually relented.
Pushpa cleared the exams with high marks and also got married. She now attends a junior college ten kilometres away from her village, and says she never imagined she would get the chance to keep studying. “Now that I have managed so far, I will ensure that I complete my education and become a teacher,” she said.
In 2003, a UNICEF survey in the district of Yayatmal showed that out of 23,895 girls who enrolled in Grades I through IV, only 1,260 made it beyond that. Primary reasons included parents’ discomfort with the idea of sending their adolescent daughters to schools more than five kilometres from their villages – particularly with no proper roads or transport.
For many girls who are pulled out of school at age ten or eleven, the future means working in the fields or on road construction sites, earning as little as Rs.20 (less than half a US dollar) a day. In some areas, girls would be married by age thirteen.
With the help of district officials, UNICEF identified five villages with particularly high drop-out rates, and in them, 118 out-of-school girls between eleven and eighteen years old. Through a programme called Savitri Shikshan Prakalp, named after Savitribai Phule, a leader in women’s education in the mid-19th century in what is now Maharashtra, the girls were to receive preparatory classes and support for examinations that would allow them to continue their schooling.
Last year, forty-two girls in the make-up programme showed up for the college entrance exams, which was a first in itself for the district. Twenty-two passed, four of them with high marks. Most of the girls have returned to the formal education system: nine have enrolled in dairy technology, five in general sciences and four in arts.
All seventy-six girls who took the exam to get into Grades X-XII passed and sixty are back in regular schools. The few girls who did not clear the exams are even more determined now to pass them next time around.
It was hard for some of the girls to go back to their studies. “When we used to go to our classes, people on the way would laugh at us… the boys would tease us”, says Pushpa. “There were other concerns too – what if my parents get offended; what about the economic support to the family; what if I fail?”
Janka, who passed her exams, says she will miss the classes. The make-up programme taught them more than simple academics, she says. Just as importantly, it helped develop their confidence and self-esteem.
“The issue isn’t passing or failing. Girls should get the opportunity to attend regular, formal school,” said Dhrupada Khandare. Changing the way communities think about girls and school has been critical, she said.
Pushpa’s mother agrees. It is a matter of prestige for parents to have an educated daughter. “Let’s not talk about the past,” she says. “I will make sure that my daughter completes her education.”
Savitri Shikshan Prakalp is expanding, now covering around two hundred girls in nearby districts.