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The Bond that is Educating Girls Across India

Schoolgirls in rural Bihar, India. In Indian villages one in 10 girls aged 10 to 14 are kept out of school to help contribute to the family income or care for siblings. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

NEW DELHI, Dec 1 2018 (IPS) - Barely five months into the start of Sneha’s year at a government school in Bhilwara, a town in India’s desert state of Rajasthan, the bubbly 15-year-old was pulled out by her parents. They wanted her to stay at home instead, to look after her four younger siblings and to cook and clean for the family as her parents worked on their farm.

Sneha’s  parents, however, are no different from thousands of others in rural Rajasthan who believe it is pointless to educate daughters as they ultimately get married and leave their parents’ homes to manage their own households and raise kids.

Many opt to train their daughters in housekeeping and child rearing from a young age, using their skills to provide free care and services to their families instead.

Sneha’s story, however, had a different ending. Her school principal and Educate Girls (EG), a non-profit that empowers communities to facilitate girls’ education in rural India, intervened. They spoke to Sneha’s parents about the importance of education and how receiving an education could become life-changing for the young girl and her family.

“After we were counselled, we realised that we had erred in depriving our daughter of an education,” Kishan Ram, 48, Sneha’s father, told IPS. “And that if  we educate her, she will be able to make informed life choices that will not only help her earn a livelihood but also improve the future of an entire generation.”

Sneha’ is not the only young girl in India who was able to return to school thanks to intervention from EG.

Since 2007, the multiple award-winning organisation has been working to empower and educate underprivileged communities to make young girls employable, join the country’s formal workforce and lift their families out of poverty.

EG has grown from a 500-school pilot project, to serve a network of over 25,000 schools across 16 districts in Rajasthan as well as the central India state of Madhya Pradesh. It aims to leverage existing community and government resources to augment access and quality of education for around 2.5 million children across 27,500 schools by the end of 2018.

In 2015 EG became part of a unique experiment. It implemented the Development Impact Bond (DIB), a mechanism which capitalises on private risk capital so that a third party, such as a donor agency or foundation, can finance the achievement of agreed-upon outcomes.

“This type of outcome-based funding can be a great catalyst for driving quality and improving learning outcomes in the education sector,” Dr. Suresh Pant, an educationist and former associate Professor from the Delhi University, told IPS.

According to one of the stakeholders in the project, UBS Optimus Foundation, DIBs are more result-oriented compared to traditional funding as they transfer the risk to investors who put in the working capital for the implementing organisations on the ground. Predefined targets are regularly measured and this enables the implementing organisation to adapt quickly for any course correction where necessary. The implementing organisation has an increased motivation to deliver results.

“Patriarchy and gender-based discrimination systematically exclude girls from school thus denying them the advantages of autonomy, mobility and economic independence that boys enjoy,” EG’s Founder and London School of Economics alumnus, Safeena Husain, told IPS. “Education opens doors for girls giving them the potential for equal opportunity. Our organisation alleviates these girls’ life and future by bringing them into a formal education system.”

Children in the rural town of Harohalli Taluq, 60 kilometres south of Bangalore, India. Though India has achieved a 99 percent enrolment rate of school children at primary level, the quality of learning has remained abysmal. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Though India has achieved a 99 percent enrolment rate of school children at primary level, the quality of learning has remained abysmal. An Indian student, say surveys, lags at least two grades behind the level that is expected for their age. Rajasthan reports some of the worst education indicators in the country.

Working in synergy with the government, EG taps into a network of 12,000 community volunteers, called Team Balika, to ensure higher enrolment and attendance for girls as well as improved learning outcomes for all children.

Experts say this approach to education is a huge boon for Indian villages where one in 10 girls aged 10 to 14 are kept out of school to help contribute to the family income or care for siblings.

Dr. Shamika Ravi, Research Director at Brookings India, opines that the DIB model has immense implications for education policy and innovative financing instruments.

“Impact Bonds are a new, complementary source of funding developmental interventions. Private sector firms undertake the initial investment by providing the upfront working capital to service providers to deliver programmes on the ground. Outcome payers — governments or development agencies — are obligated to repay the private firms’ investment alongside a fixed return if, and only if, pre-determined performance indicators are met. The bonds’ stakeholders can collectively impact the delivery of social services, and how small-scale interventions can create benchmarks and common frameworks for scale and sector-wide impact,” he writes in his column in The Hindu newspaper.

EG students’ learning is measured using the Annual Status of  Education Report, an annual survey that provides reliable estimates of children’s enrolment and basic learning levels for each district and state in India. The test measures three proficiencies: Hindi, English and Mathematics. Student enrolment is defined by the percentage of out-of-school girls (between the ages of seven and 14) enrolled in school by the end of the third year.

According to EG’s annual report released this August, in it’s third year the DIB surpassed both its target outcomes by achieving 160 percent of its learning target and 116 percent of its enrolment target.

“Progress was measured against agreed targets for the number of out-of-school girls enrolled into primary and upper primary schools as well as the progress of girls and boys in English, Hindi and Math. The outcome-based funding model, with its constant feedback and analysis of data from the field teams, has allowed the organisation to identify challenges and craft customised  solutions,” says the report.

The organisation’s biggest success was enrolment—which reached 92 percent—and accounted for 20 percent of the outcome payment. The programme had also surpassed the target, enrolling 768 girls, accounting for a 116 percent increase. Learning outcomes, which made up 80 percent of the outcome payment, saw an upward spiral of 8,940 more learning levels than the comparison group against a targeted predefined metric of 5,592, equivalent to a 160 percent achievement against target, says the report.

Participation in the DIB, explains Husain has led to EG becoming more target-driven and develop precise frameworks, processes and capabilities to measure and monitor the outcomes achieved. “The success of the DIB model has proven we’re on the right path,” she concludes.

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