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Educating India's Young Women
Alex Steffen, 25 Feb 04

Here's an excellent three-part series describing life for three young Indian women -- an upper-middle class academic star, a working class student with hopes of breaking out of poverty, and a farm girl who dreams of being a doctor as she walks the 45 minutes to school.

About a third of the people on the planet are teens or children. Most live in the developing world. How the young women and girls in this, the real baby boom, are educated and supported will have gigantic impacts not only on population growth and development, but on human rights, democracy and cultural evolution. Here's an excellent window on how that process is unfolding in India.

"Ankana Dagga is an Indian ninth-grader who shares many of the same tastes, interests, and habits as bright kids anywhere in the "globalized" world. She teaches roller skating, studies classical Indian dance, reads John Grisham, swaps Celine Dion CDs, and has a crush on Brad Pitt.

"She also scores above 90 percent on crucial tests at Delhi Public School, one of the most competitive in India. Since third grade, she has subscribed to The Times of India. She studies three languages, including Latin - other subjects include physics, chemistry, and higher math."

...

"For decades the Patil family, now eight members, has lived in one room in this Bombay "chowl structure," a moldy three-story built in the 1940s as a male dormitory for mill workers from the village. By Indian standards, the Patils are solidly lower-middle class: Shraddha's father respools yarn in a textile mill. Her mother tapes labels on boxes in a factory. Neither parent went past seventh grade.

"But already their promising daughter, who likes Chinese food and dancing to Hindi film songs, is poised to pass the crucial 10th-grade exam in March. That exam holds both the key to higher study in the Indian school system, and what is increasingly difficult for the average Indian to find: a better job."

...

"Anita Chaudary is the first girl from her farming-caste village in dusty Rajasthan state to make it to 10th grade. Both of her parents are illiterate. But neither wants their promising daughter to spend her days bent in the fields, as they do. So when an all-girls school opened in Phagi, the small town supporting tiny surrounding villages like Mandi - Anita's parents promised to help in any way they could.

"Traditionally, Rajasthan is one of the most regressive parts of India for females. Only about 35 percent of them can sign their names or read street signs. Only 2 of 10 get to Grade 8.

"When Anita walks 45 minutes down a dirt road to school today, she dreams of "helping people," of being a doctor. "But that will require a lot of work. My grades need to improve. I was careless in ninth grade, but I'm studying harder now. What I really want is to travel to the US. But I'll probably end up in Jaipur."
(Thanks, Lisa!)

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