India’s First Literacy School for Grandmothers

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made strides to improve female literacy. Until recently, the majority of educational programs focused on youth. Now, what is known as India’s first Grandmothers’ School is changing that and emphasizing the importance of a literate, older female generation.  

The Stats On Literacy in India

Of the 400 million-plus people in India that have never attended an educational institution, 58 percent are women. It is understood that a large number of the women with little or no literacy skills are seniors. Traditionally, in most families, boys are given priority in terms of education. For generations, girls were not considered earning members of the family, and their educations were seen as a monetary waste and unnecessary. 

Other factors that contribute to the low female literacy rate in India include the fact that several schools are located outside of villages, and many families lack means of transportation to get their children to school. According to Dr. Nidhi Gupta of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, many families can’t afford to send their children to school. Another contributor is child marriage. One-third of girls are married before age 18, and 1 in 9 are married before age 15. The majority of women who marry young are deprived of a formal education. Studies suggest that in some countries, including India, child marriage may account for 10 percent to 20 percent of school dropouts among girls at the secondary level. 

Grandmothers Gain Confidence Through Literacy
Although education initiatives in India have advanced significantly, including a 10 percent jump in literacy rates between 2011 and 2014, there is still a considerable gap between male and female literacy skills, with the largest gap being between men and women of the eldest generation. But one village in Maharashtra is taking initiative and tackling the low literacy rate among elderly women. The village of Phangane is home to Aajibaichi Shala, which means “school for grannies.” The school, which celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month on International Women’s Day, educates women ages 60 to 90 who were deprived education as children. 

Founder and teacher Yogendra Bangar partnered with the Motiram Dalal Charitable Trust to provide the women with their matching fuchsia saris as uniforms, school bags, blackboards, chalk, and slates. For two hours every afternoon, six days a week, the women attend classes in a small outdoor classroom made of bamboo. They learn how to read the Marathi alphabet, count, and write their names. 

The school has provided these women the chance to take a break from their daily routines, study together, socialize, and enjoy the atmosphere. Since the school started, the “grandmothers” have become increasingly happy and more confident in themselves. Education has empowered the women and has helped erase the shame they felt. They feel like they can go anywhere and not have to depend on the help of others to get their work done.

Around the world, programs like the Grandmothers’ School are key to helping individuals improve their literacy skills, which in turn reduces poverty, improves health, and advances human rights.  

ProLiteracy Programs in India 
Spanning 25 countries, ProLiteracy works with a network of 30 partner programs including health organizations, community libraries, and human rights agencies. The goal is to provide these programs with the training and grants necessary to provide students with literacy training. You can learn more about our international programs here. Listed below are two of our partner programs in India.

Kerala’s Laubach Literacy Educational Trust (LLET)
Adult Learners Being Reached: 524 women, 29 men, 553 total
Number of Literacy Classes/Communities: 15

Established in 1958, Kerala’s Laubach Literacy Educational Trust (LLET) is ProLiteracy’s oldest international program partner. The founder of LLET, the late Dr. A.K. John, was inspired by Dr. Frank Laubach’s ideas about literacy while studying at Syracuse University. John and his wife returned to their native Kerala to institute a program of village schools and specialized vocational training. To date, the program has resulted in about 65,000 learners graduating and over 300,000 individuals benefiting from economic and social changes in their families and communities. 

“The best part is what my children see. If their mother can learn, they know they can, too.” —Samana Panlutanura, a Harijan caste learner

Yuva Parivartan
Adult Learners Being Reached: 2,500 women, 0 men, 2,500 total
Number of Literacy Classes/Communities: 36

In India, for every 100 literate men, there are only 60 literate women. Economically, many women live well below the poverty line with makeshift housing and no safe water supply or sanitation. Yuva Parivartan’s primary objective is to motivate and train young women and men to act as agents of social and economic change. The organization provides training, classes, camps, workshops and seminars on health, literacy, income generation, and advocacy for women’s rights. The goal of Yuva Parivartan’s literacy instruction is to ensure that by the end the program students can read, write, and do math. The program also provides students with vocational classes so they can acquire a trade and a means to increase income and improve the lives of their families.  

“Once I started attending the classes, I realized how much more effective I could become if I was able to read and write and be able to count. I now have a much better understanding of money. The supervisors where I used to work and moneylenders are not able to cheat me now.” 
—Cheena Thai, Yuva Parivartan learner



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