Bicycles can empower and bring social changeShareThis
Despite India’s relative economic strength and upcoming financial power much of the country’s basic infrastructure remains very much under developed. The country has always had a very large middle class but in some states illiteracy levels still remain high. This illiteracy rate is higher for women than it is for men in what is a male dominated society.
But now one scheme used by an Indian state is attempting to change that and it involves the bicycle.
Bihar, which is in north east India, has been running a bicycle scheme for girls that specifically subsidies the price of a bike so they can get to local schools and be educated to a higher level where previously they would have dropped out.
Women’s literacy in Bihar is among the lowest in India and has been as low as 33% in recent years according to state figures.
Under the scheme, a girl can apply for a grant of Rs 2,000/£30 (upon passing Indian Class 8 grade exams at a state government accredited school) to buy a bicycle. An additional Rs 700 grant is given to the girls to buy a school uniform. The money is given to the student directly so as to avoid any possibility of corruption.
The Class 9 and Class 10 grade in India is equivalent to 14 and 15 year olds doing their GCSEs here. Qualifications received at that level in India determines whether students can proceed to higher secondary education that in turn prepares them for university.
There was some apprehension that giving the cash directly to the students could see the money being pocketed by parents instead but survey figures has found that in 9 out of 10 cases, the money has been used to buy a bike.
The first year of providing cycles in 2007-08, brought an increase of 163,000 girls to attending the Class 9 grade of school compared to the previous year. This rose to 436,000 girls attending Class 9 or 10 grades by 2009-10. In total, Bihar State has given out 871,000 bikes in the first three years of the scheme.
These figures have been instrumental in reducing the drop out rate for girls at Class 9 or Class 10 level in Bihar from 2.5m a year to just 1m a year.
Bihar is now starting to extend the scheme to boys in the state and the success of the scheme has not gone unnoticed in other parts of India. West Bengal has also started a similar project.
The programme is fully subsided by Bihar’s state government and it is rightly proud that it has been able to make a difference in terms of development, especially in rural areas of the state, where India’s caste system has traditionally stopped children getting any education at all. It has also brought about some empowerment for women in what is a macho society.
In India, girls, particularly those from poor rural areas, do not continue their education beyond the primary or middle schools. This leaves them with fewer opportunities to contribute towards the economic development of society while also not pulling successive generations out of poverty.
As this scheme shows bicycles can become a real instrument for social change.