Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Teacher Education

Committee Member

Valerie Polakow, Ph.D. (Chair)

Committee Member

Devika Dibya Choudhuri, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Murali Nair, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Linda Williams, Ph.D.


This qualitative dissertation explored the lived worlds and educational experiences of adolescent girls living in poverty in North India. Class, caste, gender, and regionally-based inequalities result in striking disparities leading to restricted, gendered opportunities and individual freedoms. The purpose of this ethnographic study was an in-depth exploration of the lives of 20 girls living in poverty, and how their own educational futures were impacted by educational policy and practices. Illustrative case studies were used to explore the broader question of educational access. In keeping with Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the primary focus of this study was to give voice to the girls by utilizing interviews, daily journals written by the girls, and intense researcher immersion in their lives. Issues of critical reflexivity, positionality, and translation were addressed within a methodological framework shaped by the works of Clifford Geertz and Ruth Behar. Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s work on Human Capabilities provided the theoretical framework for this study. The environment of poverty, shaped by parental education, occupation, health, the absence of reliable social services, as well as the limits placed on girlhood within the patrifocal family structure, posed significant barriers to educational access and success. The impact of poverty and gender on educational aspirations, access, mobility, and individual freedom was explored in the context of agency, resilience, and determination as the girls negotiated obstacles to their education such as: limited access to quality education; heavy reliance on exams and tutoring; vulnerabilities associated with multi-dimensional poverty; and a culture of silence and compliance that limited their capability and freedom to achieve their aspirations.

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