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Room to Read: Life skills support to reduce dropouts

Room to Read: Life skills support to reduce dropouts
Educating a girl means creating a more informed family, a stronger community, and a brighter future. For each additional year of schooling she completes, her future income increases by an estimated 15-25 percent. In the last decade, Nepal has made significant gains in primary school enrollment. But girls in historically under-resourced communities continue to drop out, particularly in secondary school. When children reach secondary school, the lack of gender equality in education becomes more pronounced; factors contributing to this situation include gender-based norms and roles, low-income families, a poor learning environment, and early marriage.

Room to Read is addressing this vast challenge through its Girls' Education Program, which intervenes at a time when girls are particularly vulnerable to falling behind or dropping out of secondary school. With a focus on teaching girls important life skills and providing mentoring support, young girls are prepared to overcome common obstacles and succeed in their education and their lives after graduation.  In the life skills curriculum, Room to Read teaches students to learn to become self-awareness, self-efficacy, and social- awareness which leads to ten skill sets that will help girls stay in school, make responsible decisions, build healthy relationships, and achieve their goals.

When girls are empowered with life skills and supportive mentors, they not only stay in school longer but become leaders of their own lives and agents of change. These abilities assist young women in breaking down barriers, shifting societal paradigms, and sparking solutions to issues such as gender inequality, poverty, hunger, disease, conflict, climate change, and others. Trained local mentors, also known as social mobilizers, who act as role models, advisors, and advocates for girls, are essential to the process. Mentors offer individual sessions to girls, which serve as a safe space for them to share and maneuver through the challenges of adolescence. Meet Reshma. She had always wanted to be a lawyer since she was a young child. She learned that she was getting married in a week, though, when she was in the eighth grade. She had to deal with the ongoing pressure from her family and relatives even though she did not want to quit her education and get married. "I was shocked when they told me I was getting married in a week, and I was terrified of being away from my mom, my friends, my school and my dream." Fortunately, she was taught to oppose child marriage during her life skills session. She was aware that married before the age of 18 was illegal, and she had every right to file a complaint. She took help from her social mobilizer and filed the case when her ceaseless pleading of not wanting to get married and her dream of completing her education was left unheard. Reshma persevered through the police intervention and kept herself composed to voice out against wrong. She is now in grade 9 and tightly holding her dreams of advocating for social good. Nepal has Asia's third highest rate of child marriage. Despite laws and policies to eradicate child marriage the practice remained widespread, with 7 percent of girls married by age 15 and 40 percent married by age 18 ( Human Right Watch, 2021). We know that families suffering extreme economic hardship often choose to deprioritize a daughter’s education. This intervention could be an end to the vast opportunity- an end to taking charge of their life, an end to their dream, or an end to a gender-equal world. Quality education is more than just access to school but equipping them to handle challenges that girls may face, from gender bias to societal values and norms that construct their personal and professional growth. To support girls in their academic endeavors and beyond, it is crucial to create an environment that encourages family, school, and community involvement. Room to Read pioneers the life skills curriculum and works closely with communities, government, and schools across Nepal under the Girls’ Education Program and aims for gender equality in Nepal at scale. The impact that a girl's decision to stay in school will have on her future, her community, and her quality of life is astounding. Girls who complete their education are more likely to be in charge of their own destiny, to challenge gender biases, and to have better employment opportunities, all of which will contribute to the growth of the nation's economy. Thus, investing in girls’ education creates more informed families, and transforms communities, countries, and the entire world.