Despite India increasing primary school enrolment (98% of rural Indian children in 2015 from 80-85% in the early 2000s), it is the girls who haven’t matched the pace of education. This high education rate was made possible by the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009, which ensures a free and compulsory education for all children.
However, among the students who drop out of school before completing primary education (UNESCO 2012 data), girl children form the majority. The Right to Education Act sadly lacks the power to help the girl child. It is important to consider this, and other reasons why girls drop out school, or in some cases, never even begin formal education. This understanding can enable civil society, concerned citizens and the government to truly make a difference.
1. They are expected to be housewives in the future
Even in childhood, girls are expected to be contributors to household tasks, much more than boys. This is considered training for a life as a wife, mother and daughter-in-law. Girls also marry younger than boys in India (about 45% girls marry before the age of 18). Married girls are in turn less likely to go for any form of education in the future. With the expectation of being a domestic housewife, a girl’s earning potential is considered useless, making education seem a pointless exercise for girls
2. Lack of safety, compromising girl child education
There is a widespread notion among ignorant masses that educated girls are excessively independent, and may not be interested in marriage immediately – an ‘unsafe’ situation for her and her parents. Further, girls are often taunted and teased on their long journeys to schools hours away from their homes. This can often lead to sexual assault if not checked in time. The idea of protecting a girl’s “honour” therefore forces them to keep her cocooned at home, “safe” from the outside world.
3. Infrastructure issues
According to a 2010 report (National Council for Teacher Education), India needs an additional 1.2 million teachers to actualise the RTE Act requirements. In 2012, the RTE Forum (of 10,000 NGOs) found only 5% of government schools complied with RTE specified standards. Crowded classrooms, poorly trained teachers, no electricity, lack of sanitation for girl students – all these issues compromised education for the girl child.
4. Accountability of officials involved
The success of the government’s ongoing girl child education initiative ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, requires accountability from civic administration. Divisional Commissioners are to be assessed for their ability in showing a 10 point increase in the child sex ratio. But a missing culture of accountability and measurable goals makes this a weak point. According to research, India’s powerful don’t have anything to lose – they often send their own children not to government schools, but to private institutions.
Leading girl child NGO Save the Children works with corporates on CSR programs to empower the girl child. The P&G’s Shiksha project has facilitated education across schools in Jharkhand and imparted training in extra-curricular activities. Additionally, the NGO has mapped out-of-school children, provided gender-sensitive material and reached over 30,000 children, and encouraged families to send their girls to school. Projects are supplemented with mass awareness posters, wall writings, and audio announcements, as well as plays on the Right to Education. These programmes have made many rural girls their family’s first generation learners, eventually excelling in national academic events.