A Mighty Girl

A revolution has begun brewing in quiet villages and dusty districts across India: a revolution of hope...

The happy sound of Asha’s humming reaches Leela’s ears, and the mother smiles, her face lit with indulgence and pride. She enjoys working in the fields whenever Asha’s around, Leela realises. But it is her absence from the fields that makes me gladder, she says to herself, as she gazes on her 11-year-old daughter. Next month, Asha will go middle school along with other kids from the village. Who would have thought that the uneducated daughter of migratory labourers, who can barely afford to feed themselves, would ever have a shot at making a different life for herself? 

It’s been a little over two years since Asha started going to the ‘special’ school near the farm. From teaching Asha to recognise the alphabet and numbers, to helping her discover the beauty of reciting poetry, telling stories, music and craft, Ajay sir and Manini didi have been God-sent. Asha’s progress has been a miracle for Leela, a miracle that has finally allowed her to ‘hope.’

A staggering 54 per cent of world’s 67 million out-of-school children are girls. Of these, over 8.1 million are in India. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) rates India at an abysmal 119 out of 169 countries: Only three out of 10 girls, who enter Grade 1, complete Grade 10. The worrying school drop-out rate coupled with the skewed child sex ratio (914 girls to 1000 boys) has also lead to early marriage, dowry harassment, teen maternity and even death.

Across the world and particularly in India, research has indicated that educating girls has far-reaching, positive effects. Educated girls tend to marry later, have fewer children, feed them better, and are most likely to provide education for their children.

In 2012, Titan decided to bolster its efforts in education through a girl child education initiative.  “The time had come for us to invest in a cause that directly impacted the girl child who is exploited and endangered, especially because of the practise of female foeticide, followed by even the upper class families,” Bhaskar Bhat, managing director of Titan said. 

The initiative named ‘Titan Kanya’ – Empowered Girl Child aims to support 10,000 girl children with participation directly by Titan and through support from our employees and business associates. The girls hail from urban, rural and tribal areas of the country, sometimes deeply remote, with little access to a school. The programme takes a holistic approach to the cause of girl child education, by not only addressing the needs of Kanyas in the Academic Support Centres and ensuring attendance and good results, but also engaging with their families and other stakeholders to build ownership among the community.   

Partnering with two well-known and well-executed girl child education programmes, Titan embarked on its mission to empower the girl child, supported by employees, vendor partners, franchisees and distributers.  Besides providing monetary support, Titan encourages employees to volunteer for these programmes.

Titan’s partnership with Nanhi Kali, run by the K C Mahindra Education Trust (KCMET) in collaboration with the Nandi Foundation, has helped empower 7,097 girls across 490 Schools. Our collaboration with IIMPact, an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) has helped better the lives of 2,090 girls across 60 learning centres. As of December 2014, 9,187 girl children had been reached via Titan Kanya. 

Over the past three years, reaching these figures has taken both perseverance and innovation. The IIMPact programme for instance, is targeted at mobilising and motivating non-school going, illiterate girls between the ages of 6 and 14, from poor, socially backward rural areas and disadvantaged communities and putting them firmly on the track of literacy through primary education.  

Working largely out of Uttarakhand and West Bengal, the programme offers high quality education for out-of-school girls in non-formal learning centres. The key features of the initiative are learning as per syllabus, individual attention, weekly assessment and learning plans based on the child’s potential and capacity. Parents are encouraged to pay attention to the progress of their children while varied teaching methodologies make learning interesting and effective. Children also participate in recitation, storytelling, painting, singing, dancing and making handicrafts.

This one-on-one tailored approach has resulted in children showing tremendous progress in a period of just three months: each child progress by one level, each quarter. The programme is offered up to Grade 5, and the students are eventually mainstreamed into local middle schools. Additionally, basic counselling for parents and community mobilisation, as well as teacher training is also conducted. Over 90 per cent of the children under this programme have been drawn from minority communities whose access to education has been restricted due to social and financial limitations. 

The Nanhi Kali programme, in collaboration with KCMET, has impacted girl child education in the cities of Chennai, Kanker, Krishnagiri, Mahabubnagar, Delhi, Sheopur, Ratlam, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Vishakapatnam and Pratapgarh. The initiative has received great support from Titan employees (595 volunteers across 543 academic centres) and business associates. And because every journey needs to stay on course for it to reach its destination, the programme is tracked on the following parameters: reduction in ‘drop-out’ rates; improvement in school attendance; and improvements in learning levels in Maths, Science and Languages.

There has been a considerable reduction in ‘drop-out’ rates: currently reduced to less than 5 per cent (which largely accounts for migration.) The average attendance is around 88 per cent, a marked improvement from the initial figures of 70 per cent. 

As always, Titan’s efforts are inspired by its people. Over 650 Titan employees contribute approximately Rs 1, 50,000 through payroll recovery each month, for supporting around 1300 Titan Kanyas. Additionally, 130 Titan Business Associates have contributed around Rs 1.30 crores towards supporting close to 1800 Titan Kanyas. This countrywide participation has motivated us to sustain, grow and deepen this bond.