An empowered girl is someone who knows what she can do and what she cannot. She is aware that she is different and is confident that she can use her perspective to create a difference. She aspires for change and is aware of her rights and accountability. She is strong-willed and is herself a benevolent change agent. She makes informed choices, takes decisions, negotiates and works to bring change for herself, family, community and nation.

Despite this vision, India is the country with the highest number of out of school adolescents in the world. There are still close to three million out-of-school girls in the country. Patriarchal norms, cultural biases and poor school infrastructure, especially at post-primary level, keep girls out of school.

Girls need a foundation of knowledge, skills and experiences to gain control over their lives. Providing good education opportunities, resources and leadership opportunities can help girls to better articulate their needs, protect their personal assets, participate in decision-making and, overall, shape their future.

Educational interventions must provide leadership platforms for girls to participate and lead, and create enabling systems and structures at community, family and school fronts that ensure that the education that girls receive is safe and secure education.

The basis to address marginalisation is to empower learners through education.

Education curriculum and processes needs to be inclusive, they should engage with the lives of the children. This includes their poverty, aspirations, socialisation, and needs. It can never be driven as a minimalistic tool only to acquire numeracy and literacy. This also means learning processes must enable construction and deconstruction of three important layers of an individual — self, family, and society. It should foster reflection to accept and discriminate knowledge.

Several organisations such as CARE India have adopted a variety of innovative measures to implement girl child education programmes in an effective manner. Special training approaches and leadership approaches focus on training the teachers and helping them adopt means and methods through which they can empower girls. Special training curricula can be designed to address the needs of out-of-school children, especially girls from a marginalised background. Conceptual learning and cognitive, psychological and social bridging can be promoted through inclusive, empowerment-based, accelerated curriculum.

One example of how these strategies work effectively is that of Seema Parveen of Uttar Pradesh. She was disillusioned by the way things worked in the government-run education centres. The children seemed disinterested and bored. Many of them did not take to studying naturally as they did not understand the importance of studying.

After attending cluster-level teacher development meetings organised by CARE India, Seema was able to enhance her technical skills and create interesting classroom processes and strategies to engage the students. She established a library within the classroom and motivated children to read books.

She was also able to establish a link between the children’s local context and local reference materials by creating a language based on poems, short stories, charts and pictures. She encouraged children to take on leadership roles and participate in activities within the classroom. She allowed diversity in expression which freed the minds of her students and they began exhibiting interest in coming to school.

Girl’s collectivisation is an important strategy that can be used for leadership development in them. It allows the girls exposure to new experiences, knowledge and people. It allows for girls to meet, reflect on common social issues that concern them, and find solutions together.

A platform and a foundation can be built which will act as a forum for understanding and arriving at a consensus around concepts like self, identity, aspiration, understanding social norms, structure, and governance. Reflective platforms at school level will also build strong gender identity which empowers self-awareness and identity both in girls and boys.

A strong focus on leadership development within the formal education system lays the foundation for addressing quality and equity issues in education.