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Fifteen years ago, the UN set a goal that by 2015 there would be universal free primary education. Although the number of children out of school has been cut almost in half, getting them to stay in school has proved more challenging. The WNET series “Time for School” travels to India to see whether education has improved for young girls in the country.
Fifteen years ago, the United Nations set a goal: By this year, every child in every nation should be able to obtain free basic education.
While the number of children out of school has been cut almost in half, there are still 57 million worldwide who have never set foot in a classroom. Hundreds of millions more have dropped out.
PBS has been reporting on the global education crisis by following six children from different countries over 12 years, part of WNET's documentary series "Time for School."
Tonight, we travel to India, where nearly 100 percent of children start primary school. But especially for girls in rural areas, staying in school remains a challenge, and literacy rates have not improved.
Neeraj Gujar is 9 years old and lives with her tightly knit family of herders in a small village in Rajasthan, a desert region in the northwest of India. It's a deeply traditional community, where women rarely have the chance to go to school.
NEERAJ GUJAR, India (through interpreter):
My name is Neeraj. I'm about 9 or 10, and I have been studying for the past year, math, multiplication, addition. So I'm learning.
QUESTION (through interpreter):
Did you ever go to school?
WOMAN (through interpreter):
What would I go to school for? What's so great about being educated? Even if you study, these educated people have nothing to do. Anyway, the everyday chores will take over.
NEERAJ GUJAR (through interpreter):
I work during the day. I do so much. I have to sweep. I have to bring water. I have to make dung cakes. I have to graze the cows.
Like many girls here, Neeraj can only go to school if she does so at night. In Rajasthan, 56 percent of the female population is illiterate. Schools like hers started in India to educate the country's legions of girls, who must work all day.
The goal was that students would eventually transfer into mainstream day schools.
SHYOJI RAM, Teacher (through interpreter):
This is our Earth. It's round. This map is flat, but, otherwise, our Earth is round. If I keep four this side and four this side, it will equal eight.
This education's going to help them. An illiterate person doesn't know these things. These girls are more confident about expressing themselves. And they're beginning to express themselves.
NEERAJ GUJAR (through translator):
By the time I come back, everyone's asleep. When I grow up, I want to go to a big school to study. By then, I will know more. And then maybe I can become a teacher.
Four plus four, eight. Six plus six.
It's been a long time since I last studied.
Over the years, droughts have forced Neeraj to leave school for months at a time to graze the cattle far from home. Meanwhile, many of her friends had advanced to the day school, and, without enough students, the night school closed.
I liked everything about night school. Everyone would study and talk. All the friends would sit together. I really miss that a lot.
After Neeraj's school was closed, her teacher tried to help her transition into the government-run day school. But for all her effort, Neeraj had only qualified for second grade, so she was placed in a class with much younger children.
When I was made to sit with the younger children they'd tease me, saying, "Oh, she's so big."
Sitting with the little ones, I felt embarrassed. That's why I dropped out.
See? We let her study until first and second grade. She has to learn how to cook now. What I want is that she makes a good match and really enjoys life. What else? That's what parents want.
KANARAM GUJAR, Father of Neeraj (through interpreter): We will look for an educated boy. Happy, she will be.
I met him on our wedding day. Honestly, I'm telling you the truth.
MAN (through interpreter):
I first saw her by the well in Tilonia.
A boy marries whom his parents want him to. He has no choice in the matter. They will make sure that she's beautiful and knows how to do all the housework. I'm a farmer, so an uneducated wife is a suitable match for me.
Neeraj is now 21 years old, and has been married for a year. Her husband, Jagdish, supports them delivering milk with his new truck. As is traditional, Neeraj lives with her in-laws, but, today, she is traveling home to give birth to her first child.
My hearts gets happier as I get closer to my village.
My daughter's name is Anita. She will grow up to be a smart woman. I would like her to be a doctor in a big hospital. But who knows what will happen? I'm a mother now. No more playing around for me. We must focus on the girl's education.
JAGDISH, Husband of Neeraj (through interpreter): My wife and I talk when we have time. We have to work and we have to educate our daughter. We didn't have education.
In India today, enrollment in primary schools is nearly universal compared to 84 percent 15 years ago. But school quality, absenteeism, and dropout rates still remain a problem in rural areas.
Nonetheless, the chances for Neeraj's daughter, Anita, are much better than they were for her mother.
Now I'm filled with regret. I wish I had continued my studies. I could've held my own with educated folks. Now I can only do the farming and the housework.
Education not only helps the individual, but the entire family as well.
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