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Shared Courage to Break the Chalkboard Ceiling

Did you know nearly 40 percent of girls in some rural regions of India are never given the opportunity to attend school, and that 60 percent of all Indian girls are forced to drop out by tenth grade to work or marry?1 Five boys in the remote Indian village of Ferozepur took a stand to end this cultural bias against educating girls and fight for gender equality in their community.

For generations, girls in the remote Indian village of Ferozepur have been discouraged from attending school or forced to drop out early to take care of siblings and housework, work in nearby fields, or marry and start their own families. It’s simply the way things have been done.

But three years ago, change was driven by an unexpected force, five teenage boys in the village: Gurcharan Singh, Maninder Singh, Navbeep Singh, Sukhvinber Singh, and Sukha Singh.

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It was two of Gurcharan’s sisters, Kamaljeet and Ramanjeet Kaur, who encouraged him to sign up for the Intel® Learn Program, an after-school program that offers underserved youth access to technology and the chance to develop important 21st century skills. Though his sisters recognized the value of the opportunity, they knew they could not attend and didn’t want their brother to miss out.

When Gurcharan arrived at the program, he and his peers were struck by the realization that not one girl was enrolled. When the instructor asked the boys to develop a project to address a community issue, they were in complete agreement on their focus. The Balika Shiksa (Girl Education) Task Force was born.

In the following weeks, the boys collected information, prepared presentations, and went door-to-door to talk to villagers about the benefits of educating girls. They shared success stories and data. They used the slogan, "Only if a girl child is educated can a girl child be elevated."

Initially, Gurcharan reports, villagers were resistant or resigned to the status quo. "They said, 'You're wasting your time. Nothing will change.'"

But over time, doubters were convinced. When the next Intel Learn Program session started, three girls' names were on the roster: Mandeep Kaur, Birpal Kaur, and Rajinder Kaur. Mandeep describes the shift like this: "My parents realized that education is everything today, and that a good education can offer me a better future." Mandeep and Birpal are now studying to become lawyers; Ranjinder, a doctor.

Not only that, Shri Sukhwinder Singh Ji, principal at the local Government High School Wakilanwalan, reports that the dropout rate for girls has steadily declined in Ferozepur and neighboring villages in the three years since Balika Shiksa was formed. "The girls are now at par with the boys in the school," he says, "and the girls are now pursuing higher studies in Zira District College. Also, many have joined vocational courses after class 12."

As for Gurcharan's sisters, Kamalijeet, who long dreamed of becoming an educator, is now teaching in a local school, while Ramanjeet is pursuing a college degree in IT.

And the boys? They, too, are pursuing higher education.

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1. Source: http://girlsdiscovered.org/