Before India’s government enacted the Right to Education Act in 2009, 8 million children between the ages of 6 to 14 did not attend school. Since then, rates of enrollment have drastically improved—now 96 percent of children in that age range attend school. However, while access to education has improved, studies show that the quality of education has regressed.
According to a 2014 study from Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), poor rural populations still lack access to high-quality schools. ASER evaluated the education systems in 577 rural districts across India and found that skills in mathematics and reading have declined, For example, “In 2009, 60.2 percent of children in Std VIII could read simple sentences in English but in 2014, this figure is 46.8 percent.”
In terms of attendance, rural areas are also far behind. Outside of urban centers, 15.9 percent of boys and 17.3 percent of girls between the ages of 6 to 14 are currently out of school.
To reverse these statistics, Bollywood star and Miss World winner Priyanka Chopra teamed up with UNICEF to advocate for the right to an education that all children deserve. Chopra follows in the footsteps of other Bollywood actors who have become UNICEF ambassadors, such as Amitabh Bachchan and Sharmila Tagore, who raised awareness of polio and AIDS in India, respectively.
Chopra’s cause is, and has been long before joining UNICEF, education. Before becoming a UNICEF ambassador in 2010, Chopra attended the 20th anniversary of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child. In 2006, Chopra founded the Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education, through which she supports 70 students, 50 of whom are girls.
In the wake of the Right to Education Act, Chopra was crucial to the 2010 program “Awaaz Do,” Hindi for “Speak Up.” Awaaz Do was a digital campaign to encourage citizens to “demand the rights for children who are excluded and marginalized.”
UNICEF defines their ambassadors as “celebrities with a demonstrated commitment to improving the lives of children.” Chopra certainly fits that description. Her use of fame and wealth to support equal access to quality education has changed countless lives, and her involvement with UNICEF only expands the reach of her generosity.
– Sabrina Yates