Free school buses: a practical and transformative solution for Indian girls

As the 2015 MDG target approaches, nations are increasingly concerned with achieving universal primary education. Since the Millennium Development Goal 2 states the need for universal primary education, many states and aid agencies have focused their recent attention on young children. While primary school serves as the educational foundation, it is critical that states and organizations also focus on improving access to secondary school and beyond.

The article, “Educate girls to alleviate poverty” highlights the fact that primary school enrollment rates have improved, but girls continue to face challenges in accessing secondary school. The article further explains that gender gaps tend to increase as students age, citing estimates that women in South Asia have about half as many years of schooling as their male counterparts. Even though more girls are enrolled in primary school, it is critical for them to have opportunities to further their education in secondary school. The piece calls for greater emphasis on improving access to education, specifically post primary schooling for females.

The article, “Bringing education to girls, on buses,” focuses on a practical solution to the issue of access. Pranab Saikia explains that many girls from rural villages surrounding Gurgaon, a city near New Delhi, were forced to leave school early because lacked a safe way to travel to school. Recognizing that it is not necessarily practical or realistic to build schools in every village for teenage girls, a local resident, Rakesh Daultabad raised money to provide free buss services for the young women. To date, three buses transport approximately 350 young women from their rural homes to their school in the city. This article highlights the fact that sometimes in education, the solution can be as simple as providing a school bus in order for students to safely travel to school.

After reading this article about buses, I was first struck by how such an obvious and simple solution can have a dramatic influence on a young woman’s life. While bus services are a practical solution, I would have liked to know how the founder, Rakesh Daultabad gained the trust of parents to transport their children. I would imagine that many parents would be skeptical of permitting their daughters from traveling to the city with strangers, especially males.

Additionally, while I agree that access to education and school enrollment is important, it is only one aspect of education reform. Attending school is not enough. It is imperative that students receive a high quality education in school. Simply transporting to student to school is not enough to ensure that they develop the necessary skills to become successful adults in the future. Schools must be improved and teachers must deliver quality lessons and learning opportunities. The Azim Premji Foundation is working to address the issue of quality in India through teacher training programs, curriculum building, school leader training and examination reforms.

In order for us to truly reform global education, and specifically education for girls, we must value and implement both practical approaches, such as Daultabad’s buses, to increase access, as well as the Azim Premji Foundation’s approach to improve the quality of schools, teachers and administrators. If we can focus on both access and quality, then there will be potential for true reform.


Chelala, Cesar (2013, October 19). Educate girls to alleviate poverty. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved from

Saikia, Pranab (2013, November 10). Bringing education to girls, on buses. Times of India. Retrieved from


A Call For Action?

On October 31, USAID announced its new partnership to raise awareness for girls’ education in India. Partnering with several other organizations, they will create local-language releases of the film “Girl Rising” to increase public dialogue on issues surrounding girls’ education in India.

Girl Rising is a powerful film that highlights the real-life stories of nine girls born into difficult circumstances in India, Haiti, Cambodia, Peru, Afghanistan, Sierre Leone, Egypt, Nepal, and Ethiopia. Many of the girls play themselves, and well-known actresses, such as Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Alicia Keys, Meryl Streep, and actor Liam Neeson, narrate the film.

Girl Rising has been stirring up attention all over the world. For the International Day of the Girl on October 11th it was shown at more than 2,000 events in over 150 countries. Though the film is about girls in 9 specific countries, it reflects the common issues girls face in most developing countries. USAID’s partnership in India is not the only example of a country putting hope in the film’s ability to bring change. In the Philippines, Intel’s Yvonne Flores mentions, “they are currently in talks with the Department of Education on the possibility of integrating the Girl Rising film in the curriculum”.

I would like to note that I have not personally seen the film, but nonetheless, I still want to weigh in. I appreciate that the partnership in India is working to translate the English film into local languages, ultimately I think this will allow the film to have a stronger impact on a wider audience. Yet, I am not entirely convinced that showing the masses the issues girls are facing will have any major effect. People in developing countries know that girls aren’t going to school. Most of them could probably tell you the top three reasons why they are not. It isn’t rocket science. The thing is that a major factor behind lack of girls’ education stems around cultural beliefs that girls are inferior to boys. Showing a video to raise awareness about the struggles girls go through will not ultimate convince people that girls should be valued. Last week I wrote a post about Kakenya Ntaiya a masaai woman who has opened up a school for girls in her village. What I liked most about Kakenya’s story is that she was actually changing the beliefs of the men in her village. Yvonne Flores said that the film promotes awareness and, “calls for commitment and action from everyone“. How? More often awareness does not lead to action. Those of you reading this are most likely aware of issues preventing girls’ education. Are you doing something? Raising awareness is a great first step, but I think the Girl Rising film is just that: a first step.

If you would like to watch the film here are some upcoming showings of “Girl Rising” near Philadelphia:

  • When: Tue, November 12, 2013 at 07:30 pm   Where: Plymouth Meeting 10
  • When: Tue, November 19, 2013 at 07:30 pm  Where: King Of Prussia Stadium 16 & Imax
  • When: Mon, December 23, 2013 at 07:30 pm  Where: Barn Plaza Stadium 14

To find a showing where you live, check out this website


Barawid, R. (2013, October 10). Girl Rising. Manila bulletin. Retrieved from

USAID (2013, October 31). Girl rising partnership in India [Press release]. Retrieved from

Greater Education Means Greater Inequality?

As reported by The Times of India, a recent survey of formally employed Indians showed something odd: the higher level of education a woman has, the greater the inequality is between her and her male counterparts. Specifically, among those with no formal education, women are paid 11.99% more on average. Completing some form of basic education means that both groups will earn more, but the pay gap switches, with men 10% ahead. The trend continues up to those with master’s degrees, where men earn 40.76% more than women. To avoid listing out all the data from the report, here’s a chart:

"Percent Difference in Salary of Females from Males"

Data from Varkkey & Korde (2013)

(If you’re not familiar with some of the categories, you don’t have to take my word for it: here’s the full report. It’s not a long read, and covers far more than just this one issue. It’s fascinating.) So with the PhD-level data outlying somewhat, we can see the pay gap becoming more pronounced the more education one receives! This is directly counter to the conventional understanding that investing in your education reduces economic inequality.

As we read again and again, educating young girls is supposed to solve these problems later in life. So why hasn’t it worked in this case? The report offers some theories:

  • There is a perception that a woman’s primary responsibility is unpaid care work
  • Women exit the work force earlier in life than men (for marriage or motherhood)
  • Women take breaks in their careers
  • Women opt for part-time jobs to care for children
  • Women “are categorized as potential mothers”

So here we get to the truth of the matter. Women should only work as long as they are single and without children, while men should work regardless of their marital or parental status. This is obviously not a story isolated to India.

It’s easy to discuss the obvious sexism inherent in these assumptions: women’s intense labor in the home and with children is economically undervalued; women should be the primary caregivers of children; all women will get pregnant and leave work; married women should not work, etc.

Consider also what messages these pay gaps are sending to the young girls currently in school: I should not worry too much about getting an advanced degree, because I will eventually leave work to care for my husband and children; I am best suited to work involving household chores and child-rearing; because I am always seen as a potential mother, I should feel incomplete as a woman until I have a child.

So how can these disparities be remedied? If education is not the panacea we imagine it to be, then what is the answer? Well if I knew that, I wouldn’t be in school studying this, but here’s my stab at it: more education.

Educating the young girls themselves is one thing, and the most important. On the whole, a quality education opens doors economically, socially, personally, psychologically, and you get the idea. But what about their parents, neighbors, male classmates, political and community leaders, and the rest of the nation?

Just as important for India to teach young girls letters and numbers, history and economics, physics and anthropology, is for India to teach itself that the women these girls will become can be valuable contributors to every aspect of India’s future success. Limiting their potential contributions by insisting that a woman’s value is derived from her husband and children hurts not only that woman and her community, but India as a whole. To deny half the population the ability to fully exercise their capabilities is to deny them the chance to flourish as individuals.

(And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that every other country could stand to learn the same lessons. Just look at the gender gap in the US.)

Unnithan, C. (2013, November 3). For women, more education means salary discrimination at work. The Times of India. Retrieved from

Varkkey, B. & Korde, R. (2013). WageIndicator. Gender pay gap in the formal sector: 2006 – 2013: Preliminary evidences from Paycheck India data. Retrieved from

One generation of educated girls is a revolution

Melinda Tankard Reist, the author of this “news” article in the Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper, begins her stream-of-consciousness entry by talking about slum girls in an unnamed Indian town who had been given the chance to go to school. Reist is a blogger, social commentator, and advocate for women and girls worldwide. From the start, Reist infiltrates emotional propaganda into her work, perhaps to cover up the fact that any newsworthy information is lacking in numbers and strength, but I digress.

These Indian girls had been brought up living off the waste in nearby landfills, selling cloth they found for money to buy food. In India, in many communities, girls are not given first priority. Inserting her propaganda again, Reist tells us how a Christian NGO gave them this gift of education and now they are graduating and she gets to hand out the graduation certificates. Hooray!! Happy endings for all. Sarcasm aside, yes, it was a beautiful story, but what about the other “66 million girls currently out of school”? There are far too many unhappy endings to be rejoicing just yet.

For the second half of her written celebration, Reist gives an overview of the recent documentary Girl Rising. In all seriousness, if you haven’t seen this it is worth your time. Reist highlights three of the girls portrayed in this documentary and their heart-wrenching stories of oppression and determination to be educated. In their personal fights for education, these girls faced pre-pubescent marriage, poverty, and child slavery. The documentary brings to light issues faced by millions of girls worldwide whose significance is not recognized by patriarchal societies.

Ironically, the quote Reist chooses from the film is from a child bride, saying, “Don’t tell me you are on my side; your silence has spoken for you.” If Reist had wanted to bring up the disappointing statistics pertaining to girls denied education, it is my humble opinion that she should have focused more of her article on suggested solutions or current global legislation such as EFA or the MDG. It felt as if she were saying, “There are so many poor, unfortunate girls out of school, but let’s look past them to the happy endings and all the progress being made.” This is why change is so slow. If you feel strongly enough to write an article about sending girls to school for the purpose of reduced poverty and world change, you should do something about it.

In light of a recent class on the topic of feminist perspectives of development, it is worthwhile to note that Reist, a self-proclaimed feminist, seems to fall neatly within the Women in Development (WID) viewpoint. Those who ascribe to WID, though advocates for the advancement of women in society, still view women as helpless victims. Reist ends her article saying, “‘If [these girls] get what they need incredible things will happen. Can we help them do that?’” It seems to me that these girls are heroes all on their own.

Reist, M.T. (2013, October 6). One generation of educated girls is a revolution. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from