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.

Sources:

Chelala, Cesar (2013, October 19). Educate girls to alleviate poverty. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/10/19/educate-girls-to-alleviate-poverty/.

Saikia, Pranab (2013, November 10). Bringing education to girls, on buses. Times of India. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-10/gurgaon/43885288_1_20-villages-girl-students-higher-education.

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Female education affects child mortality rates

According to recent reports by UNESCO, allowing females to complete secondary education could decrease the under-five mortality rates in India and Nigeria by 61 and 43 percent, respectively. Aarti Dhar, reporter for Indian newspaper The Hindu, writes that completing secondary school causes girls to marry later, creating a higher maturity of both body and mind when they have children. Not only that, but also the academic and worldly knowledge gained in school allows mothers to better care for their babies.

In terms of mothers’ well-being, the 2012 World Mothers Report ranks India 119th and Nigeria 123rd out of 165 surveyed countries. This ranking is based on mothers’ health, educational and economic statuses. The article states that there are many “simple solutions” to improve children’s health, such as mosquito nets and clean water, but that these things are only effective if women are taught to use them. Of course he is correct, but to consider clean water a simple solution is a bit ambitious. Dhar also discusses several prevalent causes of child mortality, such as pneumonia and diarrhea. These diseases are largely preventable with appropriate vitamins and nutrients, and proper hygiene. By completing school, not only would mothers know the necessary nutrients and hygiene rules but Dhar asserts that they would have a stronger voice in the home.

An article I recently read by Jane Parpart entitled Deconstructing the Development Expert discusses the vulnerability of women in third world countries. During colonization (and even before) it was challenging to attend school no matter one’s gender, but men have historically been provided with greater opportunity. This led to the subordination of women due to poverty, a lack of education, and powerlessness.

Parpart discusses Women in Development (WID), an approach to the development of third world countries that is superimposed with feminism. Parpart argues that though those in WID may mean well, the discourse associated encourages practitioners to undervalue the knowledge and expertise of impoverished, primitive people – even women – perpetuating their general powerlessness. She brings to light a new “empowerment approach” to development that calls for a new definition of the word ‘development’ itself. This approach is grounded in the expertise and knowledge of the women in developing countries, and uses the experiences from their daily lives to determine what is needed in their lives and communities.

Applying this division of post-structuralism to Dhar, people tend to see their own problems above others’. If women were consulted about their desires and necessities in the community, I would speculate many of their concerns would focus on their rights – particularly those pertaining to education and health. Imagine if this approach were applied in every developing community. How many more health clinics would there be? Schools? Universities?

In this article, Dhar merely states facts and findings from recent UNESCO studies. Taken at face value, the credibility is negligent; however, once applied to recent readings and development theory, his writing becomes a succinct summary of what the development world should aim to achieve. Education is a powerful tool. It leads to better health, better job opportunities, a better economic status, and a bigger voice for all members of society, and isn’t that the purpose of development?

Dhar, A. (2013, September 25). Female education linked to under-5 mortality rate. The Hindu. Retreived from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/female-education-linked-to-under5-mortality-rate/article5164829.ece.