Free bicycles for school

IT IS indeed inspiring to learn about the success of the free bicycle program for schoolgirls in Bihar, India that dramatically stopped the ballooning number of teenagers dropping out from schools.

The Indian government is now reportedly now thinking of expanding the free bicycle for school program across the country in an effort to keep more teenage girls and boys in schools – and away from computer or billiard shops or any other places where they should not be.

In Bihar, one of the poorest and least developed states in India, school girls often give up their education for marriage or are discouraged for lack of money by their families to travel long distances along on public transport to their school.

Since the program began in 2006, the number of female school dropouts has reportedly been cut down to around 1 million from 2.5 million, increased enrollment of girls threefold in four years, and created a situation where more girls than boys are now in school.

Under this free bicycle program for school, the government grants money for the purchase of bike to girls in secondary and high schools when they reached the eighth grade and had a 80% attendance record.

The grant money is deposited in a joint bank account in the names of the student and her parents. The school administrators then monitor whether the girls buy bicycles and use them, or if the bike is sold and the girl ends up leaving school. It operates on an honor system basis.

The principle is simple – the lowly bicycle increases school girls’ mobility and the cost-free transportation to school reduces at least one major expense of their families. With a bicycle as his precious possession, a young student is kept where she/he should be – at the school.

In the Philippines, the lack of public or private transportation contributes significantly to the increasing school drop-out rate in most rural areas. Students are said to walk over 3 km (2 miles) one way on rough roads with no access to or ability to pay for public transportation.

Others have also to walk long distances to their schools. They have to wake up much earlier than 8 am for the opening of the classes and rushed in the afternoon to be able to reach home before dark, leaving them with little time to do their homework at night.

There is a similar initiative in the Philippines that promotes free bicycles for school, known as the Bike for the Philippines, where various organizations and individuals have donated bikes to qualifying students in an effort to ease the hardship of getting to their schools.

With so much surplus Japanese bikes being smuggled into the country and being sold cheaply in our cities, our government should confiscate and donate them to Mindanao and other far-flung areas where the rate of school dropouts among our youth remains high.

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