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Educate Girls: Reaching out to literacy backwaters through community engagement
CB Bureau, New Delhi, April 15, 2011
This year, India Development Marketplace (IDM), the long-term programme supported by the World Bank Group, shortlisted 30 out of 264 proposals seeking finance to scale or replicate inclusive and sustainable business models in Bihar, Rajasthan and Orissa. Keeping in perspective the parameters of social impact, sustainability, growth potential and innovation, the expert jury selected 13 of the most innovative proposals with the highest potential for scaling up in a financially sustainable manner.

One of the winning entities was Educate Girls, whose model was identified as a cutting-edge solution to the most pressing social and economic problems in India. The NGO was awarded a $50,000 grant to replicate its cost-efficient and sustainable model and boost learning levels in Jalore, the district with the lowest literacy rates in Rajasthan.

The Mumbai-based NGO leverages existing community and government resources to improve the quality of girls’ education and infrastructure in government schools in the state of Rajasthan. Since 2007, Educate Girls has worked with about 2,400 government schools in Pali District in Rajasthan, where the introduction of creative learning and teaching techniques is claimed to have increased learning outcomes by 25 per cent.

Safeena Husain, founder and executive director of Educate Girls, commented: ‘Seeing the dramatic impact our village trainers have in Pali, the grant helps us to provide enough village-based teaching and training resources for boosting literacy levels of almost 600,000 marginalized children.’

Founded in 2007, the NGO works to improve girls’ enrolment, retention and academic performance in government schools. Educate Girls recently won the EdelGive Social Innovation Honors 2011 in recognition of the significant improvements achieved in girls’ education in rural Rajasthan.

Educate Girls states its ‘theory of change’ thus: ‘By empowering village communities to improve the quality of girls’ education and infrastructure in government schools, more girls can be educated at a larger scale. As a result health, income levels and overall livelihoods of rural and tribal societies improve.’ Violence and political extremism decline as well. Moreover, educating girls accelerates overall literacy: mothers with primary-school education are thought to be five times more likely to send their children to school.

With community mobilization and sustainability as the guiding parameters, the NGO aims to, among other things:

1)  enhance enrolment and retention of girls through individual tracking, community mobilization and quality improvement;

2)  reduce gender disparity in schools and project areas, and improve the level of life skills and competency of the girl child; and

3)  ensure increased participation of children, families and communities in plans and actions for holistic education.

The period from 2005 to 2007 saw Educate Girls implementing a pilot project for the Rajasthan government in 50 schools. By 2010, the project had expanded to about 2,400 government schools in Pali District, touching the lives of over 125,000 girls. In 2010 alone, the NGO identified 11,243 ‘out of school’ girls in a door-to-door survey. Enrolment plan was developed for all the identified girls and more than 500 village meetings were conducted to formalize the plan and ensure community participation. Further, nearly 550 teachers were trained in child-centric creative learning teaching (CLT) techniques.

As Husain explains, ‘The CLT approach is not rote memorization that’s prevalent in many school systems. Rather, we work to improve school quality by incorporating life and work skills, with a focus on creative learning, which increases involvement and keeps the children in school.’

The Educate Girls model regards people in the community as the greatest asset in education. By engaging all the stakeholders—communities, teachers, children and government officials—individual programmes in any of the locations will continue. Equally critically, the programme helps educate large numbers of girls at a very low cost by leveraging the investment that the government has already made in teachers’ salaries, physical plant, textbooks, etc.

Educate Girls has identified 26 most backward districts in India in terms of gender gap in education. Nine of these districts are in Rajasthan. The immediate five-year plan is to be able to cover all these areas and also put in place a detailed child-centric curriculum for children at all levels.


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