Bicycles: Powering Development and Education in India

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SAN DIEGO, California — Bicycles are helping women across India gain access to the internet and education. The Indian government and Google have both launched programs that use bicycles to enable women and girls to access education and economic prosperity. As a result, development and education in India have promising futures.

Bicycles for Access to Education

In India, getting to school is often difficult or even perilous. Money is often a limiting factor, as families cannot afford transportation to cover the long distances to and from school. Consequently, many students drop out. A 2014 study found that 50 percent of girls in the Indian state of Bihar were sexually harassed on their way to or from school. Harassment is a driver of school dropouts in India, as parents fear for the safety of their children.

The use of bicycles helps resolve these concerns. Another 2014 study concluded that providing teenage girls with bicycles increases secondary school enrollment by 30 percent. Various programs have recognized the value of a bicycle in allowing students to access education in India. For example, in 2007 the government began a bicycle distribution program in the Indian state of Bihar to allow girls to stay in school. The purpose of bicycle distribution is to ease travel time and safety concerns, allowing girls to regularly attend school. The program was so successful that it was replicated in other states.

Bicycle programs in India not only resulted in higher school enrollment but also elevated the status of girls and women in the country. These girls developed confidence in their education and career ambitions, resulting in better academic performance.

The success resulting from bicycle distribution programs has a positive reach beyond India. The Indian government recently gifted 2,000 bicycles to Nepal, intended to help children access and remain in school. A program that began as a local initiative has created a virtuous cycle of empowerment.

Providing girls and women with access to an education in India empowers them and creates room for a prosperous future. According to the U.N. Development Committee, “when women have equal access to education, they go on to fully participate in business and economic decision-making, they are a key driving force against poverty.”

The use of bicycles for development in India extends beyond access to education. Google’s Internet Saathi program is helping to improve the daily lives of women and increase their opportunities for prosperity.

Bicycles for Internet Skills and Access

Rural India is largely an untapped internet user base. As of 2014, one billion people in India had no internet access. Even when families can afford it, they often refrain because they do not realize the value.

However, internet use in India is growing rapidly. With 342 million users as of March 2016, India overtook the United States as the second-largest online user base. A recent study predicts that the number of rural internet users will increase from 120 million in 2015 to almost 315 million in 2020.

A new Google project is expanding internet access in rural India — all by bicycle. The program is called Internet Saathis, a Hindi word meaning companion. In this initiative, Google trains Indian women in internet skills and provides them bicycles equipped with smartphones and tablets. The women then travel from village to village, teaching women how to use the internet. Through this outreach, the tech giant seeks to promote internet education in India.

Internet Saathi is designed to help improve the lives of families. Results of the program show that women use their acquired skills to look up recipes, crop prices, government programs and health advice. One year after its establishment, the Internet Saathi program is going strong and yielding incredible results. In this time, about 9,000 tutors have reached one million women. Google’s project seeks to reach 100,000 villages by the end of this year, significantly increasing internet use for women in rural India.

This project is helping to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goal of fostering innovation and promoting inclusive industrialization, the main tenet of which is to provide universal and affordable internet access to developing countries by 2020.

The Internet Saathi program not only teaches women new and modern skills but also trains women as instructors. Female instructors serve as positive role models for women across India and help promote a positive social image for women.

Both the Google and government-led programs advocate belief in the abilities of Indian girls and empower them to continue with their education and pursue careers. Through these programs, bicycles act as agents of change in development and education in India.

McKenna Lux

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

McKenna Lux

McKenna lives in San Diego, CA. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, and a Master’s in International Relations from Leiden University. McKenna was a four-year coxswain for UC Santa Barbara’s rowing team.

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