Evidence suggests that girls who remain in school longer are less likely to get married early thereby averting early pregnancy. Financial constraint is a key reason for girls dropping out after grade 8. Poor households lack resources to pay for schooling and associated costs (e.g., for textbooks, uniforms, school supplies, and transportation). COVID-19 exacerbated the issue, with the loss of income/livelihoods and increased mortality due to the infection. Further, prolonged school closure increased the drop-out rate, and a large proportion of girls did not return to school, putting them at risk of gender-based violence and forced child marriage.
Udaan therefore focused on improving delivery and access to governments pre-matric scholarships (Grades 9 & 10) to overcome the cost barriers for girls education. In spite of the introduction of pre-matric scholarship schemes a decade ago (in 2012), the uptake of scholarships, especially in rural India, is limited. The reasons vary from lack of awareness about the availability of the scheme to lack of knowledge to access them. Hence Udaan engaged closely with State Education Department, Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment for systemic reforms and improving access to scholarships for rural communities in Rajasthan.
Udaan strategic worked towards improvising the system through the following activities:
Simplified application process – In the foremost step Udaan reduced the documentation requirement for availing scholarships. From 8 documents in total, it reduced to 3 documents. With this, it facilitated in auto-renewal process with no requirement of res-submission of documentation. Udaan facilitated kiosks and centers of Common Service Centers to correct the pre-existing registration data. It also led to out identification of eligible students at grade 8 and promote opening their bank accounts and Aadhar seeding instead of asking them to open bank accounts after they reach grade 9.
Manual to IT enabled System – The existing manual entry process was cumbersome and time-consuming, leading to errors hence to ensure smooth scholarship registration and timely disbursement, Rajasthans Education Department integrated scholarship management with the existing Shaladarpan software, having a dynamic database of all students. With this, Udaan build capacity of first-time computer users at district level to monitor and execute scholarship management system.
Increased Budget allocation – Udaan bridged the gap of procedural differences between the State and the Central Government. Facilitated on-time submission of Utilisation Certificate to Govt of India for obtaining the funds. Along with this, clearance of backlog and initiation of scholarship fund disbursement resulted in enhancement rate of enrolments and scholarship applications.
Raising awareness on process and entitlements of scholarships – Intensive community mobilization activities such as Radio Jingles, miking, community-based plays, wall paintings, pamphlets distribution raised awareness among the eligible students and their parents. Conducted training of scholarship in-charge at the school level; videos explaining scholarship process procedure through Shaladarpan (government portal) was circulated across 15 districts and engaging district administration led to increase in school enrolments and scholarships registration.
Transforming parental attitude towards girls education – Through inter personal counselling sessions with the parents of girls and peer group mentoring, the team was able to penetrate the attitude of parents towards girls education. Most importantly, information on financial security for girl child education through scholarships received quick positive responses from the community. The team also introduced Financial Literacy sessions for girls in school to make them understand about fund utilization appropriately.
Experimenting a peer-based approach for retaining girls in school – Innovative initiatives such as Champion Balikas promoted scholarship application to prevent school drop-outs and motivating parents and young girls to attend school regularly.