Launched in 1988 in accordance with the New Education Policy 1986, the Mahila Samakhya Program aims to benefit women of all ages, especially those from socially and economically backward communities. Its objective is to integrate formal and non formal education for girls, education schemes for adult women and providing vocational training for girls and women. It is perhaps the only program that seeks to build perspectives and develop the capacity of poor women in order to address gender and social barriers to education and for the realization of women’s rights at the family and community level.
Its approach towards women’s learning and education has shown ways of bringing very poor women and girls into the ambit of the learning process. MS program looks at ‘education’ as a broad learning process and practice that makes them self sufficient for addressing their needs and issues, access to information and knowledge about their rights and entitlements, and to make informed choices, during the course of learning, The success of MS has come from its autonomy to plan, implement and respond to a number of situations in the field. It operates within a broad framework described in the national plan document. However the detailed programming is done according to the local situation in the states.
An important impact of MS work has been the establishment of strong sanghs in villages. Currently, more than a million poor and marginalized women have been mobilized and organized into these sanghs, which in turn have begun to federalize and constitute a powerful civil society voice. Of the 1.05 million women (at the end of the XI FYP) with whom the program interacts and works with in a sustained manner, 36.74% are SC, 16.33% ST, 27.47% OBC, 9.13% Muslim and around 10.38% are women from the general categories.
Thus, the program has developed a deep understanding and insights on contextual, relevant and meaningful ways of working with women and older girls belonging to very deprived and marginalized communities and social groups. The relevance and continuance of Mahila Samakhya for the 12th Plan is very significant with the current thrust on inclusive education and development through the RTE-SSA. What needs to be recognized is that this has been possible through sustained perspective building and training of the field staff in order to keep the focus on most marginalized women. The vast trained human resource associated with MS has to be harnessed for achievement of the underlying goals of RTE, viz. equity and equality in and through education.
National Programme for Education of Girls at an Elementary Level (NPEGEL)
The National Programme for Education of Girls at an Elementary Level was started in September 2003 as an integral component of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It seeks to distribute free textbooks for girls till Class VIII, construct separate toilets for them and to conduct bridge camps for older out-of-school girls. The NPEGEL aimed at ensuring that 50% of the newly recruited teachers are female and the learning material should be gender sensitive. NPEGEL also intends to mobilize effective community efforts and establish an innovation fund (for better enrolment and retention) in every district.
Some of its main features are as follows:
- To develop and promote facilities in order to ensure retention of girls and to ensure active participation of women and girls in the field of education.
- To improve the quality of education through various initiatives and focus on the relevance and quality of girls’ education for their empowerment and continuous improvement.
- To strengthen the capacity of National, State and district institutions and organisations who are engaged in planning, management and evaluation of girls’ education at the elementary level, and create a management structure that will be able to respond to the challenges of girls’ education.
- To enable the entire education system to play a positive role in enhancing self-esteem and self-confidence of women and girls, thus building a positive image of women by recognizing their contribution to the society, polity and the economy.
- To develop community support for girls’ education and provide a conducive environment for girls’ education in the school, community and home; and
Kasturbha Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV)
Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) scheme was launched by the Government of India in August, 2004 for establishing residential schools at upper primary level for girls belonging especially to the SC, ST, OBC and minorities. Initially, KGBV ran as a separate scheme but in harmony with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL) and Mahila Samakhya (MS) for the first two years, but in 2007, it was merged with the SSA program.
The main objectives of the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya scheme are:
- Facilitating retention of girls in the schools
- Ensuring effective participation of girls in education
- Developing and promoting facilities to provide access to girls belonging to disadvantaged groups like SC and ST
Saakshar Bharat Mission
The Saakshar Bharat Mission was launched on 8th September, 2009. It aims to promote and strengthen Adult Education, specially of women, by extending educational options to those adults who have lost the opportunity of formal education and now need learning of any type, including, literacy, basic education, vocational education (skill development), physical and emotional development, practical arts, applied science, sports, and recreation.
The National Literacy Mission lays special focus on female literacy. The target of the Eleventh Five Year Plan was to achieve 80 per cent literacy rate but as per the Census 2011, merely 74.04 per cent literacy has been achieved. However, it improved considerably among females as compared to males with the latter increasing by 6.9 per cent points from 75.26 per cent to 82.14 per cent and the former by 11.8 per cent points from 53.67 per cent to 65.46 per cent
Taking into account the disparities in the literacy rate, the government has taken various measures for reducing the disparities in backward areas and target groups. By March 2012, the Saakshar Bharat program had reached 372 districts in 25 states and one UT covering over 161,219 gram pachayats. As the mission has been envisaged as the people’s program, the stakeholders, especially the gram panchayats, have an important role in its successful planning and implementation. Despite the efforts of the government to provide primary and elementary education, there is a lot more to be done in terms of quality. The declining levels of educational achievement are a major area of concern, though it is not clear as how much of the decline is, primarily because of lower levels of learning.