By Alka Pande
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
An Indian boarding school initiative for female teens has been hindered by electricity blackouts. Now the government is promising new, improved facilities and IKEA is offering solar lamps to light the way in the meantime.
LUCKNOW, UTTAR PRADESH, India (WOMENSENEWS)-- More than 39,000 young female teens in this state are studying in 454 boarding schools set up for them in 2004 and 2005 by a national project to increase literacy rates in some of the most undeveloped regions of the country.
Over 80 percent of these girls come from families living much below the poverty line.
It's an impressive literacy push, but the state's poor electricity supply--less than half the national average of 1 power connection for every 9.5 people--is holding things back.
The government mandates that the schools be in areas of the state where girls' education is less than 30 percent.
"Such areas just do not get 24-hour power supply even if the buildings have electricity connections," says V.K. Pandey, an educator employed by the state government.
And many of the schools are crowded into existing schools. In one such school, the girls often eat lunch in darkness in a corridor.
"The girls also often keep the windows shut, especially during educational programs on health or during cultural activities, so that the boys from the adjoining areas can't peep in," says Vijay Laxmi, a teacher there.
The poor power supply also means students cannot study after sunset, so there is no homework and no studying after school hours, says Shuchi Mittal, the school warden.
But darkness is giving way.
"Now the government has sanctioned money for these schools to have their own buildings and, in a couple of years, they will be shifted to new venues with better facilities," says Lalita Pradeep, a state worker.
In the meantime, IKEA is helping to light the way.
Through a partnership with UNICEF, the Swedish maker of interior-design and household products is donating 60,000 solar lamps to Uttar Pradesh. In the first phase of the project 2,000 lamps will be distributed to the state's 454 schools; providing one lamp for every four girls.
"In June 2009, it was decided to keep aside one solar lamp on each lamp sold from outlets anywhere across the world and make it available to UNICEF, which is working to promote children's education," says Vandana Verma, a social-responsibility advisor to IKEA, which has been commissioning products from artisans in the state since 1998.
Lamps that go to India and Pakistan are equipped with long-lasting batteries designed to perform in very high temperatures.
The additional light will help facilitate the schoolgirls' education at the boarding schools set up by the national project. The schools focus on a fragile age group: young female teens.
In a 2009 state study researchers found that about 10 percent of all children--boys and girls--in the age group of 11-14 had dropped out, often to help their families earn a living. By the time they had reached 15 or 16, the dropout rate jumped to 24 percent.
Sixty percent of the dropouts were female; 90 percent came from the most marginalized castes and they were mostly first-generation school goers.
Teachers say it's not easy for rural communities to decide to send their daughters to residential schools.
"Initially, we had to conduct house-to-house counseling and organize motivational camps to make people understand the benefits of these schools," says Vikram Maurya, a teacher in the program.
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Alka Pande is a Lucknow, India-based freelance journalist who writes on issues related to development, politics, the girl child and so on. She has worked with leading national dailies, including The Indian Express and The Times of India.
This article is adapted from one that was released by the Women's Feature Service. For more articles on women's issues log on to: http://www.wfsnews.org