New Delhi, Dec 3 (PTI) Safeena Hussain, founder of 'Educate Girls,' has become the first Indian woman to bag the WISE Prize worth 5 lakh USD for mobilising 14 lakh out of school girls in Indian villages to get back to mainstream education.
The prize, awarded by the Qatar Foundation at the 11th Edition of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Summit earlier this week in Doha, is one of the most prestigious awards in education.
"Sixteen years back, when 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' was unheard of, I had decided to set up Educate Girls, an NGO to bring out of school girls back to mainstream education. Even in the 21st century, there are villages in India where goats are considered assets but girls are considered liability," Safeena told PTI in an interview.
"From poverty to patriarchy, there are endless reasons to keep girls out of school or forcing them to drop out without completing their education," Safeena said.
"I realised the importance of the subject when I was forced to take a three-year break from my studies due to difficult circumstances at home. Fresh out of school, I had resigned to the fate of staying at home," she said.
Safeena's fate took a turn when three years later one of her aunts took it upon herself to get her back to studies, ultimately helping her land a seat at London School of Economics. "I then decided that I had to play the same role for girls like me."
Family apathy, lack of motivation, and reluctance from the girls themselves, were the major roadblocks Safeena had to face when she started the mission to educate girls in rural Rajasthan, which has now expanded to Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh.
Daughter of noted character actor Yusuf Husain, who recently died, and wife to filmmaker Hansal Mehta, Safeena travels to villages extensively where her "team Balika", operating along with field agents, knocks on each door to check if a girl is out of school.
"This mission was very much personal hence the model we executed had to be personal too. From abandoned child brides to young girls being pushed into household work, the girls we have brought back to school have tragic stories but bright futures.
"Right from convincing families, to showing them the way of getting affordable education and enrolling them into the nearest government school, the teams work on each and every factor to ensure these girls are not forced out of school," Safeena said.
The group has been using Artificial Intelligence to identify villages with high numbers of out-of-school girls.
"Equipped with this information, over 21,000 gender champions go door-to-door in the hardest-to-reach villages of India to identify these girls. Working in partnership with the government and communities, we reintegrate them into the formal education system.
"AI can help us find the most vulnerable girls faster, and help us deliver quality education at scale, however we must not forget that the human touch remains an indispensable element on the ground," Safeena said.
Established in 2011 by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, the WISE Prize for Education is the first distinction of its kind to recognise an individual or a team for an outstanding, world-class contribution to education.
Safeena is the second Indian to receive the award.
'Pratham' co-founder Madhav Chavan was the recipient of the 2012 WISE Prize for providing quality education to millions of underserved children in India.