An Indian village with all children who have attended primary school, in educationally backward Madhya Pradesh seems unbelievable. Nonetheless, this is really the case in Baghora village in Bhind district.
The state’s literacy level is 64 percent, nearly paralleling the national literacy rate of 65 percent. However, the rural literacy rate is only 43 percent. The situation is particularly grim in rural areas: 87 percent (272) of the blocks record below average literacy rates and over 90 percent of the blocks have higher gender differentials in literacy levels than the national average. These figures clearly indicate the persisting gender disparities in the state. Bhind district also reflects these disparities with the female literacy at 55.2% and the sex ratio for children in 0-6 years being 832.
With a population of 450 people, Baghora village situated in Bhind district's rough terrain has more that 100 children in the age group of 3-14 years and all of them have either attained education till Class V or are in the process of completing it under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The village has only one primary school - Shaskiya Prathmik Vidhyalaya, Baghora – which at present has 70 students enrolled, including 29 girls.
So what makes the children of this village attend school regularly when other parts of the state - barring a few - are plagued with teacher absenteeism and drop outs? This is despite incentives like mid-day meals, free textbooks, free uniforms for girls and scholarships. Apt comes the reply, "I go and pursue the parents to send their children to school regularly whenever any one is found absent", said the school's Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president Badou Singh Kushwaha.
Madhya Pradesh has passed the Peoples Education Act, 2002 and these PTAs have been constituted under its aegis. This is one of the landmark efforts of the State Government to enhance school-community linkages and bring about effective participation of parents and community in school development. UNICEF has collaborated with the state education department in developing the training modules for training of PTAs on their roles and responsibilities - modules which are now being used to train PTAs across the state.
“Both parents and teachers own joint responsibility to educate the child", said Krishna Murari Mishra, Headmaster of Sarva Primary School, whose school has five teachers and 229 students. "Earlier teachers used to be concerned only with teaching but now they also know about their responsibility of bringing the child to school and involving the community in school development”. To attract children to schools, education kits and school furniture provided by UNICEF have added to ensuring regularity of children’s’ presence in school.
A few kilometers away from Sarva is Dhamsa - another Bhind village with a government primary school exclusively for girls. This school has 96 girls studying from Class I to Class V. "I want to be a doctor", says Revati (14), who has three brothers and two sisters. Asked the reason why, she said "My father died for want of treatment because there is no doctor in my village". Whether Revati succeeds in fulfilling her desire only time will tell, but one amongst so many Revatis will definitely achieve that milestone one day. "And this has been possible due to Quality Education inputs which have helped improve learning among children", says Sanjay Manjhi, one of the teachers.
UNICEF is partnering the state in implementing Quality Education Initiative across the state to improve quality of education under SSA. There is a special focus on four districts viz. Guna, Shivpuri, Jhabua and Bhind.
Hamid El- Bashir, UNICEF State Representative for Madhya Pradesh, said that 'State of Madhya Pradesh has many developmental challenges and of course many potentials. Among the challenges is to get girls into school and to retain them up to higher grades. Educating children, particularly girls multiplies positive implications on the family and the society at large. Girls’ education is an important indicator for total social change in society. These are some successful initiatives that need to be replicated state wide.”