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Champion of Indian girls' education to visit NZ

Champion of Indian girls' education to visit NZ

An advocate of education for Indian girls, Mrs Kamla Singh, arrives in New Zealand today for a fortnight visit.

An imbalance of the sexes at Indian schools is of great concern Mrs Singh says. "When I began teaching, more than 40 years ago, there were more boy students than girls. Today, there are still more boys than girls". She says this is because there has been a reduction in the female population.

"It's a cultural thing in India where a family wants a male child, not a female child, so the female is aborted. Girls are seen as a problem, parents don't want to incur the cost of giving a dowry and so on. They see having girls as a curse upon them. Everyone wants a boy in their family."

A common expression, Munda sona, kudi chinta (son is gold, daughter means worry) reflects a thinking that cuts across all sectors of Indian society.

The Indian government, Mrs Singh says, is worried about the growing population imbalance. In the Punjab and Rajasthan the population ration of boys is far higher than girls. To get their boys wives Mrs Singh says parents have to take them to other states.

Mrs Singh is pleased by the turn around she has seen in the past 10 years with an increasing acceptance of formal education for girls. "Everything in India is focused on the child getting a good match, even education. Now days an educated girl has a far better chance of getting a good marriage than an uneducated girl, so mothers are very ambitious for their daughters and help them study to get good marks".

Mrs Singh has taught at St Thomas School in Jagadhri, for 38 years, 15 of those years as principal. St Thomas school is the co-ed successor to a Christian Middle School for Girls that pioneered education for girls in the Jagadhri district, India.
St Thomas School is committed to having 50 percent girl students and employs many of its former students as teachers; of its 75 teachers, 68 are female.

St Thomas School is Christian and teaches children of any religious faith. Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Muslim children study together happily. The school is highly respected for its accepting, caring community spirit.

During her visit to NZ, Mrs Singh will reunite with Presbyterian minister Rev Doreen Riddell, QSM, the founding teacher of St Thomas School. Doreen was principal of St Thomas School for 27 years; she hired Kamla as a young teacher in 1970. Kamla later succeeded her as principal in 1993.

Rev Riddell says the attitude to the education of girls in India has changed dramatically over the years. "Girls are entering professions and parents realise that girls can earn a salary. Almost all the former students of St Thomas go on to tertiary education or training. Many are nurses, teachers, doctors, even engineers".

Mrs Singh is in New Zealand to celebrate 100 years of Presbyterian mission to India. She is a guest of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Mrs Singh will attend both the Governor-General of New Zealand's cocktail function and the Presbyterian Church General Assembly.

The Presbyterian Church has a long relationship with St Thomas School. The Church's Global Mission Office makes an annual grant to the school and is currently fund raising for a new building.


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