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One of the most interesting aspects of working in the area of inclusive education is that the opportunities for learning and understanding a range of complex situations are immense. Whilst most of the students I work with on the MA programme in Bangalore are concerned for the education of children with special educational needs, many exhibit a much broader understanding of those conditions that either support inclusion or lead to isolation and exclusion from education.
Teaching and researching in the field of education in the UK inevitably means that I spend a great deal of my time working with well-educated and highly intelligent, articulate women. Schools in my country are dependent upon a professional and dedicated work force made up largely of women, and in many subjects in schools the performance of girls exceeds that of their male peers. This has not always been the case, and it took many years of campaigning and determination on the part of liberal minded educators to ensure that girls in schools receive opportunities commensurate to those of their male classmates.
In India, when visiting schools, particularly those addressing the needs of primary aged children, I am always aware of the predominantly female teaching profession that is characteristic of these establishments. Here, teachers are seen very much to be part of a caring profession and as women have generally been the care providers in homes, this responsibility has been passed on to the classroom. Female teachers carry the bulk of responsibility in most of the schools I have visited in India, and accept and perform their duties with enthusiasm and a commendable commitment to their students. Yet many of these women are exceptional in respect of their personal and professional experiences and the opportunities that they have had, to become learners.
In stating at the outset of this posting that many of the teachers who attend the MA in Special and Inclusive Education course in Bangalore have a broad understanding of factors that impact on inclusion, I had in mind a number of conversations that I have had with an excellent student who recently graduated from the course. The research conducted by Pooja for her final dissertation was focused upon the challenges that exist for many girls in India who wish to obtain an education but face many obstacles in achieving their ambition. I am delighted to say that Pooja is intending to continue her studies in this area as she commences on a journey that should enable her to graduate in a few years with a PhD.
Whilst there are many obstacles to inclusion in India, those which are inhibiting the education of girls, particularly in rural areas and in poorer communities, appear particularly difficult to address. There are still dominant beliefs about the place of women as child carers and home makers in some parts of Indian society that frustrate girls who wish to pursue their studies. The conversations I have had with Pooja and with other friends and colleagues in India, has encouraged me to explore this issue further, and in the course of my investigations I have stumbled upon a number of remarkable organisations and individuals who are attempting to address this matter.
Educate Girls was founded in 2007 as an organisation specifically aiming to increase the enrolment of girls into schools. They have recruited and trained teams of young women who work in communities to raise awareness of educational opportunities, to explain the benefits of schooling and to encourage families to send their girls to school. These teams, known as Team Balika (Community Volunteers) are comprised mainly of 18 – 25 year olds, who have undergone training and have a commitment to work with schools and village communities to promote their cause. Under the inspirational leadership of Safeena Husain, a formidable tour de force, they have made significant progress since their early days and have been responsible for the enrolment of more than 80,000 girls into schools.
The work of this organisation is much needed, with an estimated 3 million girls out of school in India. Even when girls do attend school it is believed that out of every 100 girls in rural India only one reaches class 12.
Recently Educate Girls was one of four recipients of the 2015 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship receiving a $1.25 million, three-year investment to enable them to continue and expand their work. The video clip below provides an introduction to the excellent work that this organisation is doing. It shows both the magnitude of the problem, and the enthusiasm of those who are working for a more inclusive approach to education. Early in the film it is suggested that in some parts of India it is still perceived that “A goat is an asset, but a girl is a liability!” Those who are working hard to challenge such a view, whether it be through activism or research, are making a significant contribution to the development of more inclusive schools.
THE VIDEO BELOW SHOWS SOME OF THE EXCELLENT WORK OF EDUCATE GIRLS