A goat is an asset, but a girl is a liability!

A much needed organisation promoting inclusion in India

A much needed organisation promoting inclusion in India


Home Page of Educate Girls  (click on this link for further information)

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.




Educating ourselves in order to understand the lives of others.


Let's not give up on the world's poorest children

Let’s not give up on the world’s poorest children

“Education is a fundamental right and the basis for progress in every country. Parents need information about health and nutrition if they are to give their children the start in life they deserve. Prosperous countries depend on skilled and educated workers. The challenges of conquering poverty, combatting climate change and achieving truly sustainable development in the coming decades compel us to work together. With partnership, leadership and wise investments in education, we can transform individual lives, national economies and our world.”             


This week could prove to be important in the lives of many of the world’s poorest children. I have written several times on this blog about the Education for All goals, established to improve the lives of children and families around the world. At times I have discussed the alarming statistics, such as those contained in the 2014 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report, that suggests that whilst progress has been made, this is at an alarmingly slow rate. Too many children continue to live in poverty, have no opportunity to go to school and are subjected to hunger, violence and a lack of adequate health care.

In New York in the coming days, representatives of United Nations member governments will be coming together to discuss the updating and future monitoring of the EFA goals. National governments are being asked to identify their own priorities and the actions they plan to take towards implementing change. High on the agenda is the development of universal education and  an assurance that all children have an opportunity to learn and acquire the skills, knowledge and understanding to contribute to the lives of their families and countries.

Education alone cannot address the ills of the world. Natural disaster, conflict and political instability are all factors that impact upon the potential for improving children’s lives. However, without education the task is so much greater. A new publication from UNESCO, Sustainable Development Begins with Education: How education can contribute to the proposed post-2015 goals, provides both interesting statistics, and evidence for the ways in which the provision of education can impact upon a vast range of issues. These include the rights of women, environmental stability and climate change, economic well-being and poverty reduction, all of which are so dependent upon an educated population to ensure progress.

It is, of course easy to become cynical and to sink into despair when considering the state of the world, and the apparent indifference often shown to such overarching issues. However, if change is to occur, we must surely begin by educating ourselves about the current situation and the impact upon the lives of those who either receive an inadequate education, or no education at all. Whilst many of the  EFA goals have not been achieved, we should acknowledge the tremendous commitment made by some governments, non-governmental organisations and dedicated individuals that have resulted in positive change for many children.

A few days ago a colleague proposed that the setting of new post 2015 goals would have little impact and that some countries will sign up to these with no intention of effecting change. In ten years time, he suggested, the same countries will be in the same decrepit state or even worse.  He may be right, but the alternative is simply to ignore the challenges, claim that this is not our responsibility and to remain in ignorance of what needs to be done.

Change through education begins when we educate ourselves, and recognise the significance of the difficulties faced by many of the world’s children. It must obviously not stop at that point, but unless we equip ourselves with this level of knowledge we remain unaware of the starting point for change and less likely to work towards improving the lives of those in the greatest need. There is a great danger in believing that the situation experienced by the poorest people in the world has little to do with us in our state of relative comfort. However, history shows that conflict that begins in those states where people are dispossessed or feel that they are oppressed by corrupt and uncaring regimes, quickly spread and impact upon the lives of those much further afield.

To suggest that this is not our problem is both disingenuous and naïve. If you also believe that educating yourself about the challenges faced by children living in poverty and without adequate education is important, you might take a few minutes to read the latest UNESCO document, and to watch the brief attached video recording.

Click on the link here to read the UNESCO document



Click below to see a video made to publicise this issue


This man’s education could be put to better use!


This is a well written document, presumably produced by someone who has received an education but would prefer to keep others in ignorance. What is to be gained?

This is a well written document, presumably produced by someone who has received an education but would prefer to keep others in ignorance. What is to be gained?


It requires an educated person to construct a document, which takes account of good grammar and spelling. It is an even greater achievement to do so in what may be the writer’s second or even third language. Generally speaking when an individual has attained this level of proficiency it is, at least in part, because they have received the support of a teacher.

The above image of a document was given to me this morning by a friend from Pakistan. It had been pushed under the door of an acquaintance in Karachi who has had a long standing commitment to the education of children in that city. As an advocate of education this person has always treated children as individuals deserving of an education, regardless of their nationality, religion, class, gender or caste. This is an attitude that many of us would see as being founded upon human rights and social justice; qualities that we expect to see in educated people, but it would appear that others disagree.

Leaving aside for the moment the rather obtuse sentiments expressed in this leaflet, one of the first things that struck me about it was that it is quite well written. The English language has been used to good effect (even if this is being applied for  nefarious purposes), with reasonable grammar and consistent spelling. It most certainly could not have been written by someone who had not received a formal education. I am making an assumption here that the first language of the writer is not English and that they are more likely to be familiar with Urdu,  Sindhi or possibly Pashtun, and that English could well be their second or third language. I am also interested to note that they have made a decision to write this text in English, presumably in the belief that it is a communication aimed at  other educated individuals.

Having read this embittered diatribe I find myself wondering what is to be gained by denying educational opportunities to others, similar to those that the author has clearly experienced in the past. If he (it is almost certainly a man) wishes to challenge the introduction of western cultural values, he is of course quite entitled to do so. There are many debates taking place regularly around the world about the loss of national and regional identity, and these are often stimulating and well informed. I most certainly support those individuals who believe that the protection of local languages, the preservation of regional heritage and arts, and the fair representation of national histories should be given a priority. Like many others who have engaged in the debate, I have a concern that the English language has become too dominant and is a force for restricting the opportunities of those who are unable to receive tuition in its use. Though I presume that this latter issue is of no concern to the writer of this misconceived missive.

Attempts to stifle debate are usually made by those who feel that they are losing the argument. They betray the insecurities and inadequacies of the author. The messages conveyed in this text are intended to frighten, and to deny the rights of others to have their voices heard. I would suggest that anonymously pushing this leaflet under the doors of individuals who are committed to ensuring that children receive a well balanced liberal education is likely to have the opposite effect. Copies of this narrow minded text are already being circulated and held up as an example of the misrepresentation of the tenets of Islam, and a misguided action by an ill-informed, ignorant and faceless individual.

I am pleased that the writer of this sad text has  gained some benefits from his education. He has obviously acquired the skills of expression, even if he lacks the individuality and critical thinking that could make him into a more interesting author. The threats contained within this document will be abhorrent to the vast majority of people in Pakistan. I hope that the purveyor of this sick note, full of despicable hatred, may find the time to reflect on the efforts made by his teachers on his behalf. They clearly did a good job in terms of his English language abilities. I also hope that if he has children they may experience an education that is truly inclusive, and promotes understanding, respect and tolerance. The kind of education that I imagine most of the schools targeted by this leaflet are determined to provide. Long may they thrive.


How much courage does it take to be a teacher?

Standing Up for Schools - supporting those who have no power to support themselves

Standing Up for Schools – supporting those who have no power to support themselves

There were times when I was teaching in school when I would get home exhausted, and at times frustrated as a result of something that happened during the day. However, I never truly felt like throwing in the towel and finding some other way of making a living. I knew the that for every bad day I had at school, there would be fifty or more good ones, and that I could never wish for a better job than that of being a teacher.

Whilst I had the occasional bad day at school I never experienced anything like the stress or the horrors that Ali Khan has faced. An article in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper (17th March), written by Louise Tickle described how, after hearing an explosion, Ali Khan arrived at the school where he taught in Charbagh Pakistan to find it destroyed. The Pakistan Taliban, determined to show their opposition to education and their overwhelming commitment to ignorance, had blown up the school, believing that they could terrorise the local population sufficiently to prevent them sending their children to receive an education. I can well imagine that parents in that area must have experienced many sleepless nights, wondering whether to be cowed by this dreadful act, or to stand in opposition to the murderous bullies.

The Taliban could not have reckoned with the determination of Ali Khan and his colleagues. All fifty two of the teachers from that school returned to work, setting up classes by sharing with another school and operating a shift system. Many of the children and families returned immediately for lesson, others took longer, understandably apprehensive of what might happen. Ali Khan stated that he did have worries himself about returning to work, but then decided:-

“I was born a teacher, and I will die in the profession because of my passion for educating children.”

The courage of teachers like Ali Khan is incredible, and fortunately the majority of us who have the privilege to work in education will never have to confront such situations. However, Ali Khan’s story is sadly far from unique. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) report that schools in seventy countries came under assault between 2009 and 2014. It is hard to imagine the courage required by teachers and children to continue in education in such circumstances. I am not sure that I could be this brave.

This coming June the Norwegian Government will being leading a move to afford schools the same status as hospitals, as sacrosanct spaces during periods of armed conflict. This initiative is receiving support from many other agencies working for child protection and children’s rights. The United Nations special envoy on global education, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is also joining this campaign, and has asked governments around the world to make a commitment to changing the current situation.

For those of us who work in comfortable educational situations it is difficult to conceive of what we can do from our positions of privilege. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack recognises this dilemma, but believes that the weight of public opinion could be important in exerting the pressure required to ensure that governments back the proposed changes to current legislation. To this end they have launched a petition under the banner, Stand Up for School. This declares:-

“We, the world’s youth, teachers, parents and global citizens appeal to our governments to keep their promise, made at the United Nations in 2000, to ensure all out-of-school children gain their right to education before the end of 2015.

We are standing up to bring an end to the barriers preventing girls and boys from going to school, including forced work and early marriage, conflict and attacks on schools, exploitation and discrimination. All children deserve the opportunity to learn and achieve their potential”.

I am quite sure that Ali Khan will be hoping that such sentiments result in action.

The petition can be found at:-



Education and business can be uncomfortable bed fellows


How can we be sure of the motivations of those who see education as a business opportunity.

How can we be sure of the motivations of those who see education as a business opportunity.

Dr Kishore Singh who is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, recently expressed his concern that universal access to education is in danger of being inhibited because of current proposals being considered in a number of African nations. Government authorities in several of these countries have recently been considering the delegation of fundamental education services to the private sector, in what Dr Singh perceives to be an effort to reduce spending on education.

Dr Singh, who has a background in law, is well versed in the challenges of working towards the achievement of the rights of all children to receive an education, having held a post of responsibility for overseeing the right to education at UNESCO for many years. He has been involved in a number of campaigns in this area, and has been recognised for being outspoken on issues such as the eradication of corporal punishment, and violence towards children. His experience and knowledge is such that we should be prepared to listen attentively when he expresses his concern that children are in danger of being denied learning opportunities because of poor governance.

Whilst expressing his apprehensions about current developments in Africa, Dr Singh was also aware of similar moves elsewhere in the world. The actions identified by this United Nations expert as being of concern, include those of  the Society of Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan and the Independent Schools Federation of India, who have recently challenged India’s Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE), by suggesting that it violates their autonomy and places a strain upon their resources. There is, of course, an element of genuine concern in such arguments. In countries that are challenged by difficult socio-economic circumstances, where making progress in the provision of education is always going to be accompanied by tensions. However, as Dr Singh states:

“Education is not a privilege of the rich and well-to-do; it is an inalienable right of every child. Provision of basic education free of costs is a core obligation of States.”

Why should Dr Kishore Singh be concerned? If the private sector is willing to provide education for children, shouldn’t the state be encouraged to support such an initiative? It is certainly true to say that there are many excellent private schools, some run by NGOs, others by charitable trusts and even some by wealthy philanthropists, which are doing excellent work in this field. I am sure that Dr Singh recognises this, but he is right to express his apprehensions.

In particular there are concerns that once the state abdicates responsibility for the education of its children, it loses control of the ability to ensure that the quality of schooling is high, and that the curriculum and other procedures are fit for purpose. Where things go wrong, if the state has no oversight and no available sanctions, there is little opportunity for redress. There must also be questions asked about the motivations of those who choose to develop private educational institutions. There are many instances where such schools have been run purely on business lines, with a focus upon making profit, and others where they have been seen as the means of promoting a doctrine which may not always be in the interests of the children or communities which they claim to support. In countries where private schooling sits comfortably alongside that provided by the state, there are well established elements of quality assurance and control, overseen by national governments, to which all schools must adhere. Where such procedures are ignored, this can lead to major injustices and the exclusion of significant elements of the population from schooling.

Where schools are managed in order to make a profit, they are usually dependent upon contributions from the wealthiest sections of society. The children of affluent families tend to be warmly welcomed by the management of these schools, those who come from more marginalised backgrounds less so. When these schools have endeavoured to provide for a proportion of children from poorer communities, or those who have been excluded because of disability or special educational needs, they have often been faced with opposition from those parents who believe that this will be to the detriment of their children.  In talking about the importance of providing parental choice, the managers and owners of these establishments are almost invariably considering the right to choice of only a small and largely advantaged section of the population.

It may, of course, be the case that Dr Kishore Singh’s anxieties are ill-founded. It could be the case that a beneficent and selfless organisation takes responsibility for schooling in a state, and is prepared to accept the guidance of a democratically elected government with regards to how provision for all children can be achieved. Sadly, I think that in expressing his concerns, Dr Singh is right in suggesting that the forfeiting of responsibility for ensuring that all children have access to education is a measure of the lack of commitment to equity and inclusion on the part of some governments.

Ensuring that Education for All becomes a reality was never going to be easy. It will be made even harder if governments fail to accept that it is their responsibility to effect change that will benefit all children.


No longer any reason to remain ignorant.

This SOMO Report provides harrowing examples of the exploitation of children

This SOMO Report provides harrowing examples of the exploitation of children

I had a conversation this morning with one of my PhD students, a young man from India who is nearing completion of his studies. During the course of our meeting we were reflecting on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the India child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, about whom I wrote on this blog yesterday, and why it was that neither of us, prior to this award had encountered this man and his work. Of the possible reasons we discussed, having read much about him over the past week, two seem to have some currency. Firstly, he appears to be a modest man who is immersed in his work and has not sought the publicity that might have followed his actions. Secondly, and much more disturbing, that the problems associated with child labour and trafficking are so great that his efforts to challenge these have been lost in the enormity of the task.

The humble nature of Kailash Satyarthi is apparent in the many recent interviews that have inevitably followed the Nobel prize announcement, but I would venture that the second factor that we considered, that of the extent of child labour is far more significant. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates, that all work done by children under the age of 15, and all hazardous work done by children under the age of 18 is illegal. Yet there are many reports of the abuse of this aspect of the Convention and these include estimates that there may be as many as 200 million children illegally employed around the world.

Since 1973, SOMO an independent, not-for-profit organisation working on social, ecological and economic issues has investigated multinational corporations and the consequences of their activities for people and the environment around the world.  A recent report published by this organisation highlights the extent of the problem and provides case examples from several countries.

An example from India presented in the report describes how girls are deployed in the yarn and textile spinning mills in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. They are apparently contracted for periods of up to five years in a scheme known as ‘Sumangali’  which means ‘happily married bride’ in Tamil. The promise being that they will earn enough money after a period of time to provide a good dowry for their marriage. However, the SOMO report found that the girls, who live in appalling conditions, are forbidden phone calls home and are not allowed unaccompanied visitors to their hostels. They earn barely enough money to survive.

When reading details such as this from the SOMO report one realises the enormity of the challenge that Bachpan Bachao Andolan, the organisation founded by Kailash Satyarthi faces in making progress towards the eradication of this problem. It takes little imagination to understand that there are many with vested interests in maintaining the status quo who will do all that they can to oppose the implementation of the law and the upholding of children’s rights. The actions that unscrupulous employers and business men are prepared to take to uphold their illegal regimes are possibly another reason for Kailash Satyarthi to maintain a low profile. He has already survived a number of brutal attacks during his efforts to defend children and expose child labour. These included an assault on himself and his associates at a Delhi garment sweatshop in 2011 and several raids upon his offices by people intent on halting his activities.

So, returning to our previous ignorance of the activities of Kailash Satyarthi, I suspect that our theories related to his personal modesty and the overwhelming nature of the atrocities of child labour both have an element of truth. Sadly for many children the interventions of campaigners such as Kailash Satyarthi have had insufficient impact, but others have benefited from his determined interventions, and hopefully the publicity that his work is now receiving will make the life of ruthless employers and child traffickers that much more difficult in the future.





Who is capable?

Having made a commitment to protect the rights of children Benny must now wrestle with the challenges of being a research student.

Having made a commitment to protect the rights of children Benny must now wrestle with the challenges of being a research student.


Research seminars are a regular feature of life in the Centre for Education and Research at the University of Northampton. These provide opportunities for researchers, including students to present their work in progress and to encourage discussion of ideas related to their studies. They are attended by a gathering of experienced and novice researchers who are keen to learn from each other and share issues and ideas.

On Friday, one of our PhD students, Benny from India presented aspects of his research on the use and efficacy of learning mentors in primary schools. Benny’s research is interesting and the presentation was engaging, but whilst the subject of his study held the attention of his audience, comprising students and researchers from the UK, Viet Nam, China, Hungary and Kenya, it was a specific issue related to data collection and research ethics that provoked much discussion. The debate began with a consideration of the challenges of obtaining informed consent from research participants before proceeding to interview them or observe them in class. Benny described the frustration that many of us have felt when he has obtained the consent of a parent to interview their child, but then the child refuses to give their own consent and therefore the observation or interview cannot proceed.

This is not an unfamiliar issue, but rather one that comes up all the time. The argument is usually put that children are minors and that if we have the consent of their parents it is perfectly OK to conduct and interview for research purposes.  This is of course true, if we have parental consent the researcher can interview or observe the child. However, there is a further consideration here and one that I (along with many other researchers) believe to be important.

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states that

“Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

Every member state of the United Nations with the notable exceptions of the United States of America and Somalia signed up to this agreement. This being the case I believe that as researchers and teachers we should recognise the spirit and intention of the convention and try to abide by its principles.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was written in the knowledge that children are vulnerable and in some circumstances have been ignored or even abused by people in positions of authority. Its intention is clearly to afford protection to children but also to instil respect for their views, and ensure that they are encouraged to understand those actions that might affect them. For this reason I take a particular view and express to my students the belief that children need to be consulted and their consent obtained before we involve them in research. Though we often debate this point it is one that most educational researchers appear happy to accept because they too are concerned for the wellbeing of children. However, there is one part of article 12 that always gives cause for concern and confusion.

The article emphasises that “the child who is capable of forming his or her own views” should be consulted and recommends that due consideration must be given to the “age and maturity of the child.” These are clauses that I often find problematic. They usually result in my asking the question “who is capable?” For those of us working in the area of inclusive education, a commitment to full participation of the child is important and we would like to think that we take all appropriate measures to ensure that they are fully included in all aspects of decision making that concern them.  Yet it is not only my students like Benny, who find this issue challenging. There are many complications surrounding this matter, but two of the most common issues I will raise here.

Firstly, when conducting research that involves children who may have learning difficulties, challenges with communication or of social adjustment how can we be sure that they understand what we are asking when we seek consent? Over a number of years some of my research has involved young people with multiple disabilities and complex needs. Some of these children who have no spoken language, and severe cognitive impairments are dependent upon adults for all of their basic needs. Are such children capable of giving their consent to be a part of my project? If so, how do we go about obtaining their informed consent? I do not believe that there is a simple answer to these questions; however, I do believe that there are principles that may guide us in this area. At the outset I think it important that we assume that all children can understand far more than they are often given credit for. It is important as researchers that we err on the side of caution and take every measure possible to ensure that each child is consulted and is comfortable with the decisions we make. For those with the most complex needs we should seek the assistance of those who know the child best and may therefore have ways of communicating with them that we cannot hope to achieve in a limited period of time. We need to take the advice of these more knowledgeable individuals to ensure that the work that we are doing is not causing stress or in any way discomforting the children at the centre of our work. For pupils with such complex needs the consent of parents or carers is particularly critical to our work, but we need others who know the child well to be around at all stages of the research to be sure that we are not inadvertently causing any distress to the individual.

The second issue (there are of course others), relates to the notions of age and maturity. My colleague Jane Murray recently completed an interesting study of children as researchers. Her work involved observing children in nursery settings to investigate their powers of inquiry and investigation of their world. Her study, and that of others working in this field suggests that very young children have a refined sense of justice and that they are able to demonstrate both verbally and in other ways that they have opinions and beliefs. We should not therefore assume that there is an age after which we should believe that children are capable. The onus is upon us as researchers to find ways to engage children in our research and to ensure that we work not only within the recommendations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but that we actually challenge the narrow views of capability and maturity that may afford an escape clause to those who wish to deny the application of these rights in respect of a vulnerable population.

Benny is not the first to wrestle with these issues, neither will he be the last!