Innovator Interview: 2014 WISE Awards Winner, Educate Girls

Calla McCabe

Recently CEI talked to Educate Girls, an education program based in India, and recent WISE Award recipient.  Educate Girls was launched in 2007 with the aim of reforming government schools through community empowerment and ownership. The organization strives to boost girls' enrollment and attendance, promote girl-friendly education infrastructure, and advance learning outcomes by engaging students, teachers, schools, communities, and the government.  To achieve these goals, Educate Girls leverages existing government education expenditure to improve schools by mobilizing village communities to take ownership of the school reform process.

Educate Girls is also the recipient of a Development Impact Bond (DIB) to implement a range of programs designed to retain students and improve learning outcomes.  Under the DIB, the organization aims to retain 10,000 girls and improve results in basic English, Hindi, and math for 20,000 boys and girls in about 150 of the most poorly performing schools in Rajasthan. CEI's Nicholas Burnett is advising on the DIB which was launched by UBS Optimus Foundation and the Children's Investment Fund Foundation last year.

We interviewed Meena Bhati (pictured above,) a Communications Manager for Educate Girls, to dive deeper into the operation, challenges and successes of the program.  Meena's own personal struggle for education inspired her to ensure that every girl can receive an education.

Where are you located?

Educate Girls' operates in three districts in Rajasthan (Pali, Jalore and Sirohi). I presently work out of Educate Girls’ district office in Sirohi and frequently travel to the other two districts.

Describe a typical day for a Communications Manager at Educate Girls...

For me to be able to deliver the right message and communicate effectively with all our stakeholders, I need to understand what they think about the organization. My work hours are filled with interesting conversations and interactions.

I switch on my laptop at about 9.30 am and go through my emails first. I then put up a post on the facebook page that we have created exclusively for Team Balika - our army of community volunteers. It’s a good place for me to interact with them and for them to interact with each other. I then spend a few minutes on follow-ups and read articles.

At about 11.00 am, when I am settled in and have planned my day, I connect with the three District Managers for inputs on present activities and for updates. District teams may have requirements in terms of branding and communication – creation of hoardings and newspaper ads, slogan writing on walls in the villages, creation of standees and banners, carry out photo-shoots, write press releases, printing and distributing collaterals and the list goes on. Most of these needs are a part of a bigger exercise / campaign or an event while some others are fairly spontaneous needs.

I have to deliver a bi-monthly newsletter for which I must collate success stories, photographs of events, quotes from Government officials and other stakeholders and impact figures from the three districts I am responsible for and then get the newsletter designed, proof read, printed and dispatched to offices. This is an extensive task.

Apart from the above, I participate in workshops and review, meet, and facilitate donor and media visits to the field as and when the need arises.

I head home at about 6.00 pm.

Tell us a little bit about Educate Girls program in Rajasthan, India...

Educate Girls is holistically tackling issues at the root cause of gender inequality in India’s education system by leveraging existing community and government resources. Its comprehensive model helps communities assess their school situation, initiate action plans and empowers them to sustain positive results. Educate Girls believes that if girls in the most backward gender-gap districts are educated, they will have the potential to enter the formal economy, gain employment and lift their families out of poverty.

It presently implements its programs in six gender-gap districts of Rajasthan, a state that has the highest number of gender-gap districts in India. Over 4500 community volunteers (Team Balika) work tirelessly in over 8000 schools spread across these six districts.

What is Educate Girls’ signature approach to schooling?

Educate Girls targets to reach over 90% enrollment of out-of-school girls, achieve higher attendance and improve learning outcomes for all girls i.e it essentially focuses on three fundamental aspects – enrollment, retention and learning.

This is achieved through community mobilization, which is a powerful tool for change. Educate Girls creates community ownership through Team Balika (community volunteers), community based enrollment plans, school management committees, activity-based classroom teaching and creation of girl’s councils. By empowering village communities to improve the quality of girls’ education and infrastructure in their government schools, more girls can be educated at larger scales.

What is the current status of girls’ education in India? How is the idea of girls’ education received in India?

Throughout India, gender disparity remains a significant barrier to girls’ education, especially in underserved and marginalized communities. As a result of this, more than 3 million girls across the country are out of school. Estimates show that for every 100 girls in rural India, only 1 reaches class 12.

In the state of Rajasthan where Educate Girls implements its programs, statistics suggest that 40% girls drop out of school before class 5 to take care of house-hold chores and prepare themselves for a married life. Over 60% girls here are married before the legal age. Female literacy rate in the state is about 44%. For parents living in these communities, educating their daughters is seen as a dead investment and they believe it is more important for her to learn domestic jobs so she can keep her husband and in-laws happy. Educate Girls creates awareness in these communities about the countless ways in which girls can benefit from education.

How has your program developed since you launched it 7 years ago?

Since the commencement of its programs 7 years ago, Educate Girls efforts have been extremely well received by all stakeholders. Each year has been an experience and the learning’s have helped us better our approach and improve every element of our program. Educate Girls started its work with 500 schools in the Pali district of Rajasthan and is now present in six districts. A team of a handful of staff and Team Balika (community volunteers) have now grown to be a family of over 500 staff and over 4,500 volunteers. We all work to ensure that every single girl in every village is in school and is learning well.

What has been the largest problem you have encountered with the development and implementation of this program?

The first step of the program is to enroll an out-of-school girl into school and that is the most difficult part, as we have to fight mindset led gender issues. There are deep-rooted social / societal barriers to education.  Parents’ don’t believe in sending their girls to school. This belief stems from the perception that a girl is a liability. We rally around and persistently work with the entire community, in order to usher in a mass perception shift towards girls’ education. Unless we start establishing gender equity at the very elementary family level and then move on to communities and society levels, it will always be very difficult to get a girl into school.  

What problems have you encountered for providing education to girls in India at the secondary level?

Educate Girls works under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 that makes education free and compulsory for all children between 6 to 14 years and therefore our focus is on primary (elementary) education.

What has been the overall impact of the program?

Educate Girls’ efforts has achieved 99% girls enrollment bringing over 80,000 out-of-school girls back to school. About 1,075,000 children have benefitted from improved education infrastructure.

Where do you hope to see your program going in the future? What are the goals? What does scaling look like for your program?

We will be extending our programmatic interventions to more schools in more districts. Educate Girls aims to achieve behavioral, social and economic transformation for all girls towards an India where all children have equal opportunities to access quality education.  Its goal is to improve access and quality of education for around 4 million children living in underserved communities in India by 2018.

To learn more about Educate Girls, check out their CEI profile.

See more Girls' Education blogs

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