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Have wheels, will learn? India bets on free scooters for top girl students

[Aug. 19, 2020: Joshua Shavit]

The Indian state of Assam is trying a new tack to keep girls learning – rewarding 22,000 of its top performers with a free scooter for passing final school exams.

The northeastern state hopes its giveaway will encourage more girls to go to college, with the hazards of public transport often cited as a hindrance to further education.

"This will help many girl students to have hassle-free transportation to their respective colleges," the state's education minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The minister said the free scooters would go to any girl who scored over 60 per cent in their end-of-school exams, with delivery of the prizes due by mid-October.

"We also see it as an attempt to empower the girls and make them independent," he said.

Long distances and a lack of safe transport are among the top reasons that prompt girls to miss class and drop out, according to a report by charity Child Rights and You.

In Mumbai, non-profit Door Step School has renamed some of the narrow, winding alleys of the city slums after children who hit milestones – from a dropout rejoining class to a child who convinced her parents to send her to school.

"Our reach within the community improved wherever we put up the boards as more parents were encouraged to send their children (to learn)," said Bina Lashkari, co-founder of the charity.

In western Nalbari district, Gitashree Das was ecstatic at the idea of ending her hour-long commute to college on a shared auto rickshaw and cramped bus.

"With the (scooter), I can commute in about 20 minutes," she said.


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The number of out-of-school girls across India aged 11 to 14 fell below 5 per cent in 2018 compared with about 10 per cent a decade ago, according to a survey by education non-profit Pratham.

Child Rights and You said its 2019 survey showed that roughly one in every three girls who drop out of school quit at age 10, a full six to eight years short of the usual school-leaving age.


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