Various initiatives and NGO programmes have lately been focusing on the need to educate girl children in order to create an independent and better future for them and the nation. The government too is trying to encourage this.
While there are still millions of girls across the country who are unable to get basic education, there are also the stars who make the best of every opportunity that comes their way. Jaishree Salunkhe from Pune’s Chakan is one such example. Supported by the Nanhi Kali initiative, Jaishree has excelled at her academics despite various hardships and a stressful environment. She has won a Maharashtra State Council Education scholarship reserved for the backward classes. Jaishree’s father, though working as a daily wage labourer, is an alcoholic and spends all his earnings leaving her mother with a meagre annual income amounting to Rs 60,000 that she earns through her small tailoring business to fend for the family.
“I am very happy to have received this scholarship. My post school classes have really helped me study. Also, my mother insists on my studying regularly at home,” says an elated Jaishree, who also credits her teachers at Nanhi Kali for her achievement. The Class VI student says that she wants to be a teacher in the future. Vandana Bhakaray, who is the Nanhi Kali coordinator at Chakan, says that Jaishree is now part of the DASC which is the Nanhi Kali Digital Academic Support Centre where the girls are provided with digital tablets. Since Jaishree moved to secondary school in 2017-18, she was given the tablet for the first time during the last academic year.
Project Nanhi Kali was initiated in 1996 by the K C Mahindra Education Trust (KCMET) with the aim of providing primary education to underprivileged girl children in India. “Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, founded it with a strong belief that educating women would not only contribute to the economy but the issues of population and social evils like dowry system and child marriage would also reduce if more women are educated,” explains Sheetal Mehta, VP CSR and executive director, K C Mahindra Education Trust.
According to the World Bank, some of the benefits associated with girls’ education include reduction of child and maternal mortality, improvement of child nutrition and health, lower fertility rates and improvement in economic production. Apart from the objective of impacting the nation’s development through education of the girl child, “Anand Mahindra also wanted to encourage Indians to ‘give back’ in a focused manner. Hence Project Nanhi Kali was designed as a sponsorship support programme which allows individuals to participate and support the education of a girl child in India,” she says.
10 years of quality education
Project Nanhi Kali has been managed by the K C Mahindra Education Trust and Naandi Foundation since 2005. Its objective is to provide 10 years of quality education to girl children from economically disadvantaged families. Naandi, which in Sanskrit means a new beginning, is a social sector organisation working to make poverty history.
The Nanhi Kali project is currently working with 19 NGO implementation partners at the grass-root level to ensure that the girls receive academic and material support.
These Nanhi Kalis receive academic support through one to two hours of class conducted before or after school hours called the Academic Support Centre. “Here, concepts in Maths, Science and Language are taught, to bridge the gaps in learning and enable children to attain grade-specific competency levels,” Mehta says. The programme selects girls based on multiple criteria including enrollment in government schools, family income, parents’ educational background, social background and the child’s aptitude. A comprehensive sponsorship is created to take care of a range of their educational requirements, providing not only academic but also material support. “This includes uniforms, school bags, shoes, socks etc to enable the girl child to go to school with dignity. The material kit is ceremoniously handed over to each child at the beginning of the academic year,” she adds.
The programme also ensures regular interactions with the Nanhi Kali’s parents and the community to ensure that they don’t drop out of school. “Society plays an important role in a girl’s education. Therefore, counselling and sensitising the community on gender issues forms an important component of our programme,” Mehta says.
Project Nanhi Kali, along with Naandi Foundation, addresses rights of a girl child through education by reaching underprivileged girls in remote tribal and rural areas, and even urban slums, across 12 states in India. Currently, around 1,50,000 such girls are being supported by Nanhi Kali across India.
Mehta says that with the success of the current programme, they now have girls coming to them after clearing Class X, urging Nanhi Kali to support them further. “They don’t want to be left alone. So we are working on the new programme design where we can impart vocational knowledge and skills to these girls. Computer training, yoga, spoken English, basic finances, self defence are some of these,” she elaborates.