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Multiple benefit schemes have helped increase girls’ enrollment in school but has the quality of education improved?
“In my village most parents have started enrolling their daughters in school but they hardly ever go to school since there are not enough teachers to teach all of them, let alone qualified and competent ones”, said a young college student I met, from a rural background.
In recent years both the Central and various state governments have launched various benefit schemes to provide financial and infrastructural support to girls and both enrol them in school and help them stay there longer.
Yet, there are still multiple factors hampering the very access to schooling as well as the quality of our education system, especially for girls in rural areas. Policymakers and academicians frame policies for ensuring enrollment of students and upgradation in facilities in schools but hardly any benefits seem to be reaching the actual stakeholders, i.e. the children.
Much is still left lacking for girl children who are compelled to drop out of school even before they complete class eight, due to multiple interlinked factors like social taboos and stigmas, poverty, safety in commuting and also lack of competent teachers and proper infrastructure in schools.
To discuss and tackle various vulnerabilities affecting girl children, Plan India, a child focused non-profit organization providing children, specially girls with access to healthcare, protection, education and livelihood opportunities organized a series of debatathons in six cities involving youth from across the country, in association with another NGO Pravah which also works to impact issues of social justice through youth citizenship action.
I had the privilege of attending the debatathon at Delhi (from 23rd to 25th October) as a representative of Women’s Web. 23 young people from various colleges and universities in Delhi and neighbouring states gathered to debate on gender vulnerabilities especially for girl children and finding solutions in a transparent and democratic manner. Resource persons from Pravaah and Plan India conducted sensitization sessions for the participants, guided the conversation to determine the themes for the debate and also hosted the debatathon under the watchful eyes of the senior functionaries of both organizations and eminent jury members from different professional spheres.
Quoting the US Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, “Economic prosperity and quality education for our children are inexorably linked”, a young girl stated that in India the quality of teachers is extremely poor, especially in rural areas. Many are not qualified and competent enough to teach, let alone deal with multiple issues affecting a child’s learning abilities. She cited the example of Finland which is renowned globally for its excellent education system and learning outcomes and where only the top 10% among masters degree holders get the opportunity to be appointed as teachers.
It was a heartening experience to interact with a bunch of highly aware and articulate young students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. A majority of them expressed their disappointment at the abysmal student-teacher ratio in most schools, lack of separate and clean toilets for girl students and unavailability of safe drinking water.
They were also dismayed at the distant location of secondary level schools from villages which compels many of the girls to quit studies even before completing class ten. Traditional lecture methods of teaching devoid of the latest audio-visual aids make studies monotonous and boring thus making the students lose interest in studies and drop out of schools, they believe.
“Scholarships for meritorious students, distribution of cycles to ensure girls don’t have problem in commuting to school, free education till class 12th, free books and uniforms have certainly sorted out the basic problem of enrollment to a large extent but they still fail to ensure that the students attend school to full term since the quality of education in our schools is not up-to-the-mark,” a girl from Uttarakhand said ruefully.
Extreme poverty and gender discrimination are other major factors leading to girls not being allowed to study in a proper school. If they can’t afford to send all their children to school, most parents from the poorer sections of society would prefer to send the male child to school leaving the girl child to stay at home, do the household chores and look after the younger siblings while both parents go to work. They would also be required to lend a hand at the farm to earn money. Further, the concept of ‘paraya dhan’ where girls are seen as temporary family members who will eventually ‘marry into’ other families, means that they are perceived as liabilities.
According to a Plan India fact sheet about gender vulnerabilities in Delhi, the female literacy rate in even the national capital Delhi stands at a mere 64.8% as compared to the national average of 70% even though 100% schools reported having separate toilets for female students (the absence of which is a major factor deterring them from attending school regularly.)
Lack of awareness about health, hygiene and sanitation also impacts the attendance of girl students. In the absence of clean and separate toilets at schools, female students either stay at home or return home early when they are menstruating. “Why is health and sex education not a part of school curriculum?” a female student from Jamiya Miliya Islamiya University demanded to know. “Taboos around menstruation and sex need to be part of the conversation if we wish to prevent reproductory system diseases due to lack of hygiene and sanitation awareness and also teenage pregnancies and deaths due to illegal abortions”, she suggested.
To ensure that no girl is left behind from a formal education system, the participants agreed unanimously on the need for the following:
While it’s true that we cannot expect the abysmal condition of our education system, especially for our girls, to miraculously transform overnight, -in my opinion much headway can be made if all stakeholders-girls/children, educators, parents, policymakers, community leaders and NGOs get together as an inclusive society and act on these valuable suggestions given by the immensely sensible, logical and socially conscious youth of today.
When young people are so passionate about creating a better world, we cannot let them down – let’s make sure we #LeaveNoGirlBehind! Learn more about this initiative and you can become a volunteer or donate to support Plan India’s valuable work.
This article is part of the #LeaveNoGirlBehind campaign supported by Plan India, of which Women’s Web is a proud media partner.