Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Childcare centers bridging gender gap at schools

 Until a few years ago, the gender gap as shown by the Net Enrollment Rate (NER) of Meshram Barah Secondary School in Ghandruk village, a popular trekking destination in Kaski district, was distressingly high.

Among every 100 students, almost 70 were boys. Girls constituted only 30 per cent of the total number of students.

Today, gender gap does not exist in Ghandruk schools. According to Krishna Prasad Poudyal, the principal of Meshram Barah, 49 per cent of students in the school are girls. "The gap between boy and girl students has been bridged here," Poudyal says. "Boy and girl students come in equal number these days."

The awe-inspiring success in bridging the gender gap in Ghandruk is not due to government´s interventions. Instead, it was an outcome of a simple approach adopted by local mother´s groups to free themselves and their daughters from the burden of looking after their younger siblings. "It is the main reason behind the success," says Poudyal, “Of course, there are other reasons as well."

In 1990, four years after the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) was launched in Ghandruk, the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), known as King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation back then, encouraged local women to actively participate in conserving Annapurna region´s rich biodiversity and endangered wildlife. However, despite their whole-hearted interest in nature conservation, local women failed to manage their time for it.

"The main hurdle for local mothers to actively participate in nature conservation was their kids," says Jagan Subba Gurung, a staffer of the ACAP project. “So, we decided to set up a daycare center (DCC) to help the mothers get rid of the dull duty of babysitting."

Not only did the construction of the DCC enable mothers devote more time and energy to nature conservation but also provided their daughters with opportunities to attend schools. "Back then, the older girls, along with their mothers, would have to look after the younger children," Gurung said. "Therefore, most of them could not go to schools."

Currently, a total of 50 children, below the age of six, are learning Nepali and English alphabets at the DCC with the help of various songs. Children as young as two year olds come to the DCC. "Girl students drop their younger siblings at the DCC on their way to school," he says.

"Once the DCC began taking care of little babies, girl students, who took the responsibility earlier, were free to go to school," Gurung says.

Teachers at the DCC teach the babies in a creative way and give them nutritious food after an hour of nap every day. Mothers provide the DCC with handful of rice, wheat flour, lentils and sugars for their babies. "As they are learning in a creative way and eating nutritious food, they will perform very well later in schools," Gurung said.

The concept of DCC, later adopted by the Ministry of Education as Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centers, has been replicated in places apart from Ghandruk.

According to Bidur Pokharel, who works at the NTNC, seven day care centers have been established in various parts of the ACAP. "These centers have enabled girls to go to schools throughout the ACAP region," he says.

source:republica, 23 march 2011