Educate Girls Globally

By:Charlotte Mills Seligman Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Jewel Of Collaboration educate-girls-globally

Based on the stunning results of its education reform program in 500 government schools in the Pali District of Rajasthan, India, Educate Girls Globally (EGG) is now expanding into more than 2,300 schools to serve more than 260,000 children, about 125,000 of them girls. Half of the funding for the expansion is coming from DASRA1, a philanthropic organization in India that has pledges from private donors four years into the future to support the model. “This is an unprecedented endorsement for the model,” says EGG Founder and President A. Lawrence Chickering. “We have demonstrated the model’s effectiveness and we are now ready to expand to other developing countries.”

The project, run by EGG’s Indian affiliate, Foundation to Educate Girls Globally, has reduced the number of girls out of school by 90% and has dramatically improved learning. In March 2008 EGG conducted a household survey in the neighborhoods near the 500 schools initially using the program and found some 3,839 girls not enrolled – either because they had dropped out or because they had never gone to school. By December of 2009 some 3,560 more girls had enrolled, and only 279 girls remained out of school.

Equally impressive have been increases in learning. After three months of EGG’s Creative Learning Teaching (CLT), in addition to EGG’s basic program, far more children can read in Hindi or English and do basic math than before. Dr. Barbara Herz, an economist who launched the World Bank’s Women in Development Division and who now co-chairs EGG’s Board, made these comments on the results, “The percentage of children in the Program Schools, grades III-VII, reading a paragraph in Hindi jumped from 42 percent before CLT to 59 percent after.” She says, “Those reading a paragraph in English nearly tripled, from 15 to 43 percent. Those able to add and subtract two digits doubled from 26 to 57 percent. In fact, the gains are so large that even if the test scores are slightly inaccurate, as measures of learning tests often are, it’s plain that positive change is occurring.”

The EGG program is unique on many levels: It works in operating government schools, which keep costs low. It is scalable and can be deployed exponentially in schools. It is replicable in many countries, cultures, and political systems; and it is sustainable for the benefit of future generations.

After EGG’s founding in 1999, Chickering began developing a strategy for promoting girls’ education to address the problem of poverty and extremism in developing countries. “Research by the UN and the World Bank shows that as women are educated, birthrates fall, family health improves, literacy increases, per capita income grows, and governance and political participation improve,” he says. “Research also shows that an uneducated and marginalized female population is a significant cause of both poverty and extremism.” The gains are so large that even if the test scores are slightly inaccurate, as measures of learning often are, it's plain that positive change is occurring. - Dr. Barbara Herz Chickering has spent more than 30 years researching, designing, and advocating reforms of government institutions and policies to empower disadvantaged people. He is a graduate of Stanford University and the Yale Law School, a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and author of numerous books and articles on how civil society initiatives can support foreign policy objectives strategically. In 2005 EGG started partnering with the World Economic Forum and then the state government of Rajasthan to create a reform model for Rajasthan.

EGG’s model regards people in the community as the greatest underutilized asset in education. By engaging all the stakeholders—communities, teachers, children, and government officials—individual programs in any of the locations will continue, even after EGG withdraws. And learning is enhanced in the schools by shifting to more creative, interactive teaching and by helping girls in the school to form local groups where they gain confidence and experience.

Because government buy-in is essential to reform government schools, EGG starts by getting the government’s endorsement. Working with government ministries, the EGG program helps educate large numbers of girls at a very low cost by leveraging the investment governments have already made in teachers’ salaries, physical plant, textbooks, etc. According to Chickering, EGG’s model has proven that, with a mere 2% increase in their budget, governments can reach 25-33% more girls and can significantly raise learning scores, both in reading and math.

“Most NGOs refuse to work with governments because of bureaucratic and political opposition,” explains Chickering. “But EGG believes that working inside government schools is the only way to achieve large-scale, low-cost, sustainable change. And we have shown how to do it without bureaucratic opposition.” As evidence, EGG’s 2010 budget is a modest $600,000.


Rajasthan is one of the most male-dominated states in India and, thus, one of the most traditional and difficult in which to promote change. EGG’s Community Activation Model has proven successful in reversing men’s response to girls’ education from negative to positive. According to Chickering, one of the most profound moments in the program occurs at village meetings, when the girls who have dropped out address assembled village leaders, explaining why they dropped out of school and why they want to go back to school. “These moments are transformative,” he says. “Hearing their own daughters stand up and speak out, asking for a chance in life, the elders, even in the most traditional Islamic communities, become advocates. Our program actually promotes deep cultural change in very traditional communities.”

Research by the UN and the World Bank shows that as women are educated, birthrates fall, family health improves, literacy increases, per capita income grows, and governance and political participation improve. - A. Lawrence Chickering

An important part of EGG’s model is the creation of Action Committees to develop action plans for each school. The Committees reach out to the communities and identify issues, such as teacher absenteeism, lack of clean water, or the absence of girls’ bathrooms, and set them as priorities in their action plans. “Sustainability is integral to the program,” says Barbara Herz. “Initially, staff members chair the Action Committee meetings, which take place every six weeks, to monitor progress on the action plans. Once we determine that the Action Committees can assume full responsibility for ongoing operations, they are on their own. After that, EGG follows up with annual and/or bi-annual visits to make sure all goes well or to lend a helping hand.”

Heading up the program in Rajasthan is EGG’s Executive Director, Safeena Husain, who oversees the program as well as the training of lead teachers in the villages. “The Creative Learning Teaching (CLT) approach is not rote memorization that’s prevalent in many school systems,” Husain says. “Rather, we work to improve school quality by incorporating life and work skills, with a focus on creative learning, which increases involvement and keeps the children in school.”

EGG’s program also fosters girls’ self-esteem and leadership training through its student parliament, which has served 6,500 girls in the second stage program in 500 schools. In that stage, the program also gave leadership training to 6,500 adults who participated in the school management committees. The program also gives training in life skills, which has increased self-assertion, even in tribal schools. According to Chickering, these “soft” skills have been as rigorously evaluated as has been the attendance and learning results in the program.

Chickering believes that EGG’s model could become a powerful instrument in the U.S. government’s counterinsurgency strategy. He was recently invited by the U.S. military to visit Afghanistan and explore using the model there. He is also currently in conversations with both the Counter Operations Center and the Central Command Center in Tampa, Florida, regarding Afghanistan and other countries. He is also talking to various departments in the State Department about the same issue. “When you give people a stake in the school system, you promote a positive concept of citizenship, and you give them a reason to resist forces that are trying to bring the system down,” says Chickering.

Chickering maintains that the EGG model is a new, organic model of public policy change by engaging people to work incrementally for change. “The traditional model of public policy reform is mechanical,’ he says. “Everything happens on Tuesday—an election happens, a bill or a regulation passes. Everything changes suddenly, and sudden changes bring uncertainty about effects; people don’t like uncertainty. So they vote no. In our model, change happens incrementally, organically, and there is never any opposition.”

He believes that without opposition, the process transcends all current political debates. “Our model is neither ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal,’ but draws strength from across the political spectrum. We think it is a powerful way to use conservative means to achieve liberal ends.” EGG's model could become a powerful instrument in the U.S. government's counterinsurgency strategy. “I think we’re at a tipping point,” Chickering says. “The extraordinary results we’ve gotten in India are achieving serious recognition there. The model can easily be replicated in other countries and cultures, with measurable results and at surprisingly low costs. It is only a matter of time before governments there and elsewhere realize that with a relatively small, incremental investment, they can greatly improve their education systems. My concern now is to build the capacity to respond to the demand we know is coming.”

Given the crippling poverty, religious extremism, and abuse of girls and women in many of the world’s most volatile regions, let’s hope that EGG’s education model reaches critical mass and becomes an epidemic of social change.

Charlotte Seligman is President of Traversant, Inc., a San Francisco Bay Area brand communications firm she founded in 1999. She is an impassioned advocate of equal rights and education for girls and women and works with numerous nonprofits, including Educate Girls Globally, No Means No USA, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, and Refugee Transitions. She received her B.A. in Communications from Stanford and served in the Peace Corps in Liberia, West Africa. In 2008, she received a University of Cambridge CELTA certificate to teach English as a Foreign Language.