Wheels of Change: Bicycles improve girls’ enrollment in Bihar

Wheels of Change: Bicycles improve girls’ enrollment in Bihar

Bihar Government's programme of distributing bicycles to school girls may be a modest intervention but is leading to big changes. A new research-based paper, brought out in August 2013, corroborates the success of the programme and testifies that it is leading to improved school enrollment of girls and arresting their dropout rates (See links below to read full paper and earlier studies on the subject).

Based on econometric and statistical models, a recent BREAD Working Paper titled Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India by Karthik Muralidharan and Nishith Prakash shows that the Cycle programme of the Chief Minister increased the probability of a girl aged 14 or 15 being enrolled in or having completed grade 9 by 30% (a 5.2 percentage point increase on a base age-appropriate enrollment rate of 17.2 percent), and also bridged the pre-existing gender gap in age-appropriate secondary school enrollment between boys and girls (of 13 percentage points) by 40%. BREAD or the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development is an initiative to promote economic development and is primarily run by faculty and researchers of top US Universities including Harvard, MIT, Duke, Brown and Princeton, among many others.

In short, bicycles proved to be wheels of change for women's emancipation. The only caution here is that the improved enrollments may not have translated into learning improvements, an all India trend which requires more work and imagination.

In addition to the District Level Health Survey (DLHS-3) in India, which was conducted in 2007-08, the paper used two other data sets-official secondary school enrollment data by gender for both Bihar and Jharkhand, and official data on the number of students who appeared in and passed the secondary school exit examination (known as the tenth-grade 'board' exam) in both Bihar and Jharkhand.

So far the most prominent category of demand-side interventions had been conditional cash transfers (CCTs) to households for keeping girls enrolled in school and the most common supply side measure to improve school access is construction of more schools that reduces the distance cost of attending school. The Cycle programme of the Bihar Government was a 'conditional kind transfer' (CKT) and had features of both demand and supply-side interventions. The enrollment conditionality is analogous to demand-side CCT programs, while the bicycle mimics the characteristics of a supply-side intervention by reducing the time, distance, and safety cost of attending school, argues the paper.

The leakage rates of the Cycle programme was as low as 3% and it was a unique effort to effectively provide a non-fungible transfer to girls that was not captured by either households or officials. The Cycle programme, introduced by the Government of Bihar in 2006, was effective in reducing the time and safety cost of school attendance. The paper shows that the Cycle program was much more cost effective at increasing girls' enrolment than comparable conditional cash transfer programs in South Asia, suggesting that the coordinated provision of bicycles to girls may have generated externalities beyond the cash value of the program, including improved safety from girls cycling to school in groups, and changes in patriarchal social norms that prohibited female mobility outside the village, which inhibited female secondary school participation.

How the bicycle programme worked?

The bicycle programme had the personal backing of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and provided Rs. 2,000 ($40) to every eligible female student to purchase a bicycle (later raised to Rs. 2,500 or ($50). The government did not directly procure the bicycles, but distributed the funds to eligible girls through their schools (in public ceremonies attended by local officials as well as elected representatives), and required the school principal to collect the receipts and provide a utilization certificate showing that the funds were used to purchase a bicycle. Households therefore had some flexibility in the specific type of bicycle they bought, but the program was explicitly designed to be a conditional kind transfer (CKT) of a bicycle to be used by the eligible girl, as opposed to the more typical conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs used to reward parents and households for sending their daughters to school. The program has played a highly visible and transformative role in increasing the mobility and confidence of young girls, argues the research.


Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India by Karthik Muralidharan and Nishith Prakash, BREAD Working Paper No. 397 (please click here to access the paper)

Cash versus Kind: Understanding the Preferences of the Bicycle-Programme Beneficiaries in Bihar by Maitreesh Ghatak (LSE), Chinmaya Kumar (IGC Bihar) and Sandip Mitra (ISI Kolkata), July 2013, South Asia Conference, Delhi, International Growth Centre,

Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojna by Nitish Kumar (2010),

Giving Kids Bikes Can Reduce Drop-Out Rates- Olga Khazan, The Atlantic, 29 August, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/g

Centre eyes Bihar CM Nitish's free bicycle scheme, Associated Press, CNN-IBN, 21 May, 2012, http://ibnlive.in.com/news/centre-eyes-bihar-cm-nitishs-fr

After Nitish, Naveen plans free cycles for girl students, The Indian Express, 5 January, 2011, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/after-nitish-naveen-plan

Moving Up A Gear, IGC, 16 March, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nG63ISt_Ek

Image Courtesy:

Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojna by Nitish Kumar (2010),


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