By Our Correspondent
JAIPUR—An educational intervention launched by a non-government organisation in the rural areas of Rajasthan’s Alwar district five years ago is showing positive results and has heralded a new era for the empowerment of Muslim girls belonging to the Mewat region. The “Initiative for Better Tomorrow” project was started with the objective of stopping child marriages by promoting adolescent girls’ education.
The Alwar Mewat Institute of Education and Development (AMIED), headquartered in Alwar city, volunteered to conduct bridge courses and run residential and remedial classes for girls to enable them to complete their senior secondary education. The parents were convinced and the local communities in 25 villages of the district were mobilised to send girls to the government-run hostels from villages where only poorly equipped primary and middle schools were functioning.
As a result of the successful implementation of the project, young girls belonging to the backward Meo Muslim community have completed their school, college, technical and vocational education and several of them have opened e-Mitra centres in the villages for the benefit of the local people. Girls in the region were earlier married at the age of 12 to 14 years.
AMIED Member-Secretary Noor Mohammed said the results of the project were very encouraging. A new generation of educated and confident girls has emerged in the region, where people believed till a few years ago that the girls were only meant to do household chores and lend a hand in the agricultural fields during the crop sowing and harvest season, he pointed out.
About a dozen girls and women have started their e-Mitra centres with the support of the Digital Empowerment Foundation and a mobile phone manufacturing company. These centres, run with solar power, are also utilised for counselling on reproductive health and digital education as well as for motivating girls and their families for education.
The impact is visible in the villages such as Jilota, Medabas, Musakheda, Ismailpur, Ghansoli, Chorbasai and Kolgaon. From Bagora village, half-a-dozen girls travel as a group to Kishangarh Bas every day to attend college. Marriage is nowhere on priority for these girls until they complete their education.
The project, funded by an American philanthropic organisation, has also led to the establishment of groups called Mewat Balika Manch, which fine-tune girls’ skills and provide subject-specific support for board examinations. Besides, people’s conventions and workshops with Maulvis and Ulema are regularly organised to discuss the ways to stop the dropout of girls from schools.
Twenty-one-year Rukmina of Bidarka village, a beneficiary of the project, is also the proud recipient of an award given by the Kishangarh Bas Sub-Divisional Officer on last year’s Republic Day in recognition of her contribution to women’s empowerment by generating awareness about digital services. She studies for a bachelor’s degree and runs an e-governance centre in the village.
Rukmina is among the 80 girls from about a dozen villages of Kishangarh Bas block who have completed their schooling and are going for higher and technical education. The prolonged educational intervention has created this first batch of girls in the region which had an abysmal 10% female literacy rate till a decade ago.
Daughter of a landless labourer who worked hard to become the in-charge of the work sites under the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme, Rukmina is looked upon as an entrepreneur whose e-mitra centre provides online facilities to the villagers. “I also use this place as a platform for school girls and give them guidance for studies. As Bidarka’s first girl to pass out XII, it is very satisfying,” Rukmina said.
While Rukmina is pursuing the bachelor’s course from an open university, three girls from her village have joined Kishangarh Government Post-Graduate College at the block headquarters and one – Sakunat, daughter of Sarpanch Jamshed Khan – has shifted to Bharatpur to study in the Agriculture College. Since Bidarka has only a government middle school, several girls are staying in hostels in Kishangarh Bas to study till XII.
Similarly, Shabnam Bano, 23, from the nearby Mirzapur village is the first girl from the block to complete a polytechnic diploma course and join an engineering college. She has completed B.Tech. from Alwar’s Laxmi Devi Institute of Engineering & Technology. Shabnam said though she had convinced her parents, she could join the polytechnic college in Alwar after facing a strong opposition by villagers who thought that education polluted girls’ minds.
The AMIED, in collaboration with a child rights organisation, Plan India, has also established “smart classes” in the schools, with the provision of basic facilities in their buildings and the measures for capacity enhancement of teachers. These schools are situated in Ramgarh and Umren blocks of Alwar district and an industrial group from Finland has pitched in with financial assistance.
Noor Mohammed said the project was aimed at evolving an atmosphere that could encourage rural families in the Meo-dominated blocks to send their children to the government schools. “The Meo Muslim, Dalit and Other Backward Class children were either attending private schools or not going to school at all,” he said.
The lack of basic facilities in the school buildings and high dropout rates, coupled with the indifference of local communities, had created an environment in which only the private schools had emerged as an alternative despite their low quality. The AMIED Member-Secretary said the first generation of Meos, currently getting educated, was often discouraged by the absence of a support system at home or in the village.
As part of the project, the AMIED activists fanned out to 25 schools during the last three years and guided the teachers, staff, students and village elders for betterment of education system, strengthening of the school development and management committees and access to water, sanitation and hygiene, besides making significant additions to the infrastructure.
The schools of primary, upper primary, secondary and senior secondary levels are situated in the far-off tehsils and villages, such as Jatpur, Choreti Pahad, Jhareda, Ghegholi, Naharpur, Palka, Dhandholi and Goleta. Scientific laboratory instruments and books of Mewati literature, English learning and Rajasthan’s history were also presented to the schools.
Rajwati Yadav, a teacher in Dadar’s Government Secondary School, said that the Building as Learning Aid (BaLA) concept in the project had utilised the existing infrastructural elements as learning resources and helped the primary section’s students in becoming proficient in counting numbers, spelling words and making basic calculations.
The AMIED has recorded an increase in the average result of schools in the project’s area to 87.33% for the secondary board examination and 89.86% for the senior secondary exam following the effective interventions. Besides, 32 girls have qualified for the prestigious Gargi Award of the State Government.
Overcoming the declining enrolments and increasing dropouts, the government schools in the region have made a turnaround with the model project. Better amenities of furniture, toilets and large classrooms and the facility of K-Yan or the “knowledge vehicle” device integrating a full-feature multimedia computer with a projector and audio system, powered by solar energy panels, has promoted interactive learning and boosted the confidence of girls.
As many as 25 government schools functioning in Ramgarh and Umren blocks have improved their performance following the project’s implementation. The project has helped improve their infrastructure and succeeded in attracting students from marginalised sections to the government schools.