NEW DELHI — Educational opportunities and literacy rates among girls are on the rise in India. For most rural elderly women, these changes are coming too late. However, in the grandmothers’ school in Fangane, Maharashtra, elderly women are given a second chance at acquiring literacy.
A Priority: Female Education
In recent years, the Indian government has taken steps to enhance female education. In 2009, the Right to Education Act was signed into law, granting free and compulsory primary education to every child in the country regardless of factors such as class and sex. In 2013 and 2014, 48 percent of primary school children were female. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (“save the girl child, educate the girl child”) initiative was launched in 2015 to achieve greater gender equality. It aims to shift society’s perception on girls, enforce legislation to reduce female foeticide and enable access to education for more girls.
Between 2001 and 2011, not only did the overall literacy rate rise from 65 percent to 74 percent, the gender gap in literacy also narrowed. Male literacy increased from 75 to 82 percent in the first decade of the new century, and female literacy increased from 52 to 65 percent.
Although India still has a long way to go in terms of gender equality, Anirudha Dutta, an equity analyst based in Mumbai, believes that a “monumental change is under way” in the country, largely fueled by improved access to education for girls. He expects that through education, women will achieve greater participation in the workplace and expand their access to managerial positions. They will also gain confidence and empowerment to stand up for their rights.
No Educational Age Limit
In Fangane, a small village in the Western state of Maharashtra, not only can the young girls profit from the political and social changes: their grandmothers can learn to read and write with them. The Aajibaichi Shala (Grandmothers’ School) offers primary education to women age 60 and above. Six days a week, the students are taught reading and writing in the local language Marathi as well as basic math.
The teacher of the village’s primary school, Yogendra Bangar, had the idea to open the school after realizing that nearly all elderly women in Fangane were illiterate. After a family offered to lend some land, the Motiram Charitable Trust provided the pink uniforms, school bags and materials like slates and chalk pencils. The school was opened in March 2016, on International Women’s Day, with 28 students in attendance.
Students of the grandmothers’ school were cited as saying that the education heightened their self-esteem, made them feel more independent and gave them dignity. The Indian Express interviewed 60-year old student Kanta More, who expressed her pride in being able to sign documents at the bank without any help. Awareness of hygiene issues was also raised, especially in helping to end open defecation in the village reports the Indian Express.
The school’s founder, Bangar, claims that the literacy rate in Fangane is now at 100 percent. He hopes for support from the government in the form of fellowships, for example, which would encourage the students and help to spread the initiative to other parts of Maharashtra state.
– Lena Riebl