Educating girls is the most important issue promoting development because educated women are the most powerful agents of social change everywhere. Despite significant initiatives in many countries, the overall record has been disappointing. Learning continues to be poor, and girls remain disempowered in many countries.
Many people believe education can change culture. Education, however, largely depends on a supporting culture—not the other way around. This may explain the disappointing results of many efforts to promote education reform.
If culture and scale are the two great challenges that need to be overcome, real progress depends on reducing cultural influences on traditional people while promoting change in government schools.
Empowering communities and girls reduces cultural influences, while also reforming schools and increasing learning. Although reforming government schools is essential to achieve progress at scale, most NGOs will not go near them.
Educate Girls Globally (EGG) has developed an empowerment model, working with governments in two states of India, that empowers entire communities, reforms schools, and wins government support. Anjula Tyagi, EGG’s first project officer, started developing the model in 2001 in Uttarakhand. Along with four team members, she walked from village to village, lived with the people and spent hours talking to women, men and girls. They worked on farms, played with children—always watching the teachers and the schools from inside, trying to understand the challenge in school reform. It took almost two years to shape EGG’s first empowerment model.
In 2004, Anjula signed EGG’s first agreement with government of Uttarakhand for expansion of the project in all of the primary schools of five remote hill districts in the State. Extraordinary achievements in Uttarakhand lead to expansion of the program in another State Rajasthan. EGG was invited to launch its girls education model under Rajasthan Education Initiative, the most showcased Public-Private partnership in education in India. In 2005, Anjula Tyagi signed the first agreement to implement the program in Rajasthan, with C.K. Mathew, Secretary of Education (now a Director of EGG) signing on behalf of the government. Anjula moved with three senior staff from Uttarakhand to launch the Rajasthan project. They solved every unsolved problem in the next two years and set the stage for scale. In 2007, EGG seed funded a new organization.
In 2013, we scaled our model to Uttarakhand secondary schools. We experimented with new approaches to empowering girls, public health (changing traditional habits), and transferring the model to the government—always our ultimate objective. Our breakthrough moment occurred last December, when the State Education Department joined hands with us to expand into all 1200 schools covering over 300,000 children and 1000 villages. Thousands of girls have been sent back to schools since then.
Six other districts have since requested the same expansion, bringing the total districts to more than half in the state or perhaps 6,000 schools serving about two million students and more than one million girls. Without any effort to market the model to them, demand was generated entirely word-of-mouth.
EGG’s empowerment model is based on mobilizing communities to take ‘ownership’ of schools. This happens when people understand that schools can never be any better than they themselves make them. The model’s cost is very low (less than $2.00/child/year) because we are ‘the tail wagging the dog’. Donations achieve extraordinary leverage.
EGG’s process begins with school and village surveys (School Information Campaign and Village Information Campaign), which are shared in community meetings. School Management Committees (SMCs) provide leadership for these objectives:
- Empowering communities and people to become active, self-determined ‘subjects’ and changemakers rather than passive ‘objects’, defined by traditional roles;
- Empowering girls as leaders and role models;
- Promoting projects without EGG subsidies; and
- Promoting changes that governments want in every school.
Governments typically proclaim girls’ ‘right’ to education—with disappointing results. Most reforms focus on improving schools (the supply side), ignoring individual motivation (the demand side). They assume that the ‘disadvantaged’—having ‘no assets, only needs’—can play no role in promoting change. Only empowered people, including the ‘disadvantaged’, can assert themselves as individuals, free of cultures that cripple motivation. Legal rights are powerless to empower people.
Politics cannot trump culture. EGG’s strategy in minutes empowers people to become active change-agents. Wanting to return to school, girls speak as subjects when they ask ‘for a chance in life’. Men embrace them and become active advocates for educating girls.
The high school graduation rate in EGG schools is 20% higher than the State average, and four times as many girls choose to take the state exams in EGG project schools. Three-fifths of girls now seek help from teachers after school compared to one-third of non-EGG girls. EGG schools now have almost twice as many computers, three times the science labs, double the girls’ toilets, 70 percent more library books, and 40 percent more teachers (including women teachers) as non-EGG schools. The project on public health (hand washing) increased washing from 14% to more than 60%, but two schools achieved 90% washing, providing the key for increasing all results.
Our two most important accomplishments are the empowerment of girls as leaders, holding their own with boys; and the government’s embrace of this sustainable model for every school. Both outcomes can play important roles in India’s continuing growth as a showcase for many countries.
Girls’ Parliaments are examples of the outstanding innovation work being done in secondary schools. Girls Parliaments meet with families, encouraging girls to return to school; administer Life Skill Training; and address issues from academics to health, sports, debating, and safety. Girls who were silent before now advocate for education to elected officials and demand accountability from village elders, the government, and even the police.
A. Lawrence Chickering is Founder and President-Emeritus of Educate Girls Globally. He has founded several global organizations, including the International Center for Economic Growth; and he has written widely about the empowerment of citizens in public policy institutions ranging from development for foreign policy to education and housing. His best-known book is Beyond Left and Right, a manifesto for a ‘transpartisan’ politics.
Anjula Tyagi is the Executive Director of EGG who designed, implemented and scaled EGG’s first girls empowerment model. A public policy graduate from Harvard University with more than 15 years experience, she travels extensively around the globe, promoting her deep passion for educating girls. Organizations, foundations and corporations interested in joining EGG’s network of partners are encouraged to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.