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Educating girls in India

An after-school program in industrial Delhi sets out to right the gender imbalance in Indian education.

In addition, due to various caste and religious reasons, many parents don't send their daughters to school, ever, or stop their education after they reach puberty. “Many parents don’t want men to teach their daughters,” said Pushpa Kumar, the Okhla’s center’s teacher. “We tell them 'let the girl learn something. We will make sure women teach them,'” said Kumar, who wanted to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree but, instead, was married off by her own parents after her freshman year.

Kumar talks proudly of one girl whose parents had never sent her to school. After convincing them to send her to the Project Why center, and after studying there for two years, the once-illiterate was admitted into school in grade eight.

Project Why has been a huge learning experience for Bakshi, who has mostly self-funded the project, which also tutors some boys in separate classes. But the results have been worth more than just money, she says, especially for poor girls.

According to Bakshi, as many as 150 girls have graduated high school and 90 percent of them are today working. One is a manager at a small restaurant, another is an office assistant, and many others are completing diploma courses, she says. “One of our students, Janki [who doesn’t have a last name] has not just graduated high school but has successfully completed a diploma in business studies,” said Rani Bhardwaj, another of Project Why’s success stories.

When Bakshi met Bhardwaj, then 15 years old, she had dropped out of school at grade nine because she says she was beaten up by her teacher for bringing the tuition fee a day late. (Though these schools are mostly free, they charge a small fee at the secondary level). “She was bright and intelligent,” recalled Bakshi, but after her mother pulled her out she completely lacked confidence.

After being tutored by Project Why, Bhardwaj graduated high school and started working at Project Why. She's also taking correspondence classes for a Bachelor of Arts degree. “Now I feel I have some level,” she said in English, referring to the status she has earned with her job at the organization.

Pooja, a thin 12-year-old, has been at the center for about six months. She is still shy and points to her toddler brother, when asked if she has a sibling there.

And how does she like being here? “It is fun ... learning things,” she mumbled as she rushed off to join her girlfriends, many of whom were talking to each other as they pointed to the chalkboard.

The girls have, by now, grown a bit restive at me interrupting their lesson to talk to Kumar. But when they saw me leave, they made sure to stand up and shout, “Bye-bye, ma’am!”