A blanket approval?

‘’ One Child, One Teacher, One Book, One Pen can change the world’’

This line doesn’t need an introduction. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear this. If you are unaware, it’s by Malala Yousafzai addressing the United Nations on her 16thbirthday. Her courage and value advocating for education and especially for girls has moved many. Regardless of what creates girl’s exclusion in education, the consequences for them are real. 

Let’s face it, education has been hailed as the ‘silver bullet’ for combating many profound challenges. Beyond the usual human capital benefits, the importance for specifically advocating girl’s participation within education is so that girls can increase their sense of agency. However, simply assuming that access to education will automatically translate into empowerment ignores the true experiences of schooling, which will ultimately drive and contribute to further education divisions.

Over the past decade, I have spent much of my time and research within Asia, specifically India. Without a doubt, I can recall many headlines and newsflashes of the worthy education progress across India. Although the Government of India have made heavy commitments for education expansion since its Independence over 70 years ago, the parameters for development and inclusion remain a ‘pipeline dream’ as local realities remain very different. This is true for tribal communities, constitutionally known as the Scheduled Tribe (ST) in India who represent 8.6 per cent of the total population of India (Census of India,2011). 

As part of my own field research conducted in February 2019 within a remote village in Gujarat, India I hold some apprehension towards education within this setting. While ST girls continue to face marginalisation for multiple reasons, simply providing access to education doesn’t actually disentangle any of the true complexities that ST girls face in India. To make a real difference within India, there is a greater need to focus on what school experiences ST girls face if we are truly to deliver a difference. 

Here is a couple of questions to consider:

  1. Does education simply reinforce the superiority of female gender norms?
  2. How is education perceived among parents?
  3. Are certain types/subjects/activities promoted more than others?

Drawing on my field research by using one isolated example of ST girls attending tailoring classes demonstrates why there is a real need to focus on girls schooling experiences. The image below is an example of a blanket using the skills learnt from such classes. 

This was created solely by a 14 year old girl, it is beautiful. The intricacies are incredible that far outweigh any of my own attempts at 15 during my GCSEs. She made four in total. However, what my research implies is that for ST girls to participate in co-curricular activities such as sewing far outweighed most other education decisions made by ST parents within the village. Why? The ability to learn to sew to make blankets was found to indicative as a mark to support girls’ marriage preparation, a dowry exchange during marriage. 

Drawing on parental interviews, typical responses stated:

‘’That is good of the school teaches sewing machine, but this is mainly for girls’’.

‘’I say that learning sewing is more important. For the girls they don’t have to work and they can earn money at home. That is my plan. For the girls whatever the work she gets at home is good then going out’’. 

On the one hand, while tailoring is offered as a long term economic security for ST girls, the overriding message of tailoring as a co-curricular education activity in this case is compromised which reinforces girls role within the domestic sphere and short term marriage goals. 

Although that this is an isolated example, more questions and research needs to be raised on other schooling experiences that ST children are encountering and how their experiences may offer different interpretations. Ultimately, advocating for a ‘quality education’ approach is vital, but encompassing ST parents within education matters need to recognised in order to deliver real changes. 

Here are three questions for you to consider:

  1. What else can girls gain from learning tailoring? Is there a space for girls to be empowered with these skills?
  2. Do they receive an education and get married so there is no tangible value seen?
  3. With these education skills, can girls be better equipped to pass education as an asset to their daughters?

Thank you

I value any of your comments and feedback 


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