Girls' Education- Barriers and Solutions - 2013 VOF Week 3
In a country like India, where female foeticide is prevalent even today, there are many obstacles in convincing parents that a girl-child needs to be educated. With a high illiteracy rate, the vicious cycle continues where parents want to their girls married immediately. Poverty is the main cause and many are labourers who are migrating due to lack of employment opportunities.
I have visited schools run by Non-Governmental Organisations, wherein fewer girls attended and whoever did, had to take care of their younger siblings as well. With education comes child rearing grooming at such a tender age. The fact is in Indian society even today, the role behaviour is more dominating, with girls having to do domestic chores and apart from that if there is time and convenient to the family, is the girl sent to school. This is the real situation for a majority in 1 billion.
This may seem ironical, because the role model for all is a social reformist, Savitribai Phule. A daughter of a farmer, Savitri was born in Naigaum in Satara District of my state Maharashtra, she was married at the age of 9, to Jyotiba Phule. She went on to study along side of her husband and became India’s first female teacher in the first female’s school.
Today, however in my city, Mumbai, too many poor and middle-class families have sold their small houses and moved away to more distant suburbs. As a result, many of the Municipal schools are now emptied. In fact there are villages and city government schools that have one, two or handful girls in schools. Although the Indian government is committed to educating girl child, the census figures show alarming low levels of literacy. 40 percent of 330 million girls from 7 years and above are illiterate.
Interestingly, the campaign for girl child is ‘You teach a boy, it is educating an individual; Teach a girl and you educate a family.’ That is the essence of the India’s situation even today. The boy is provided with the best of infrastructure and given all opportunities, while in many families even the rich and elite, education is often treated as a tool for getting a good groom. Hence most poor who do send their girls, give basic education, while the rich send them to more lucrative professions.
The right to education and government of India’s policy for compulsory education free for girls till school level. In 1994, the government passed a Universal female education bill to offer parents incentives to send their girls to school and punishment for keeping them away. However, such policies are fabulous on paper. The lacunae is seen at the grass root level, where forget the impact of the policy, there will be no sign of the existence of any policy.
A well intentioned policy is not enough, as it reflects on the trickle down syndrome and like a trickle it may just take too long or never to see the results at the lowest levels. Thankfully the activists and NGOs are tackling a lot at the grass root levels. We need more than good intentions. The penalization of parents is a ridiculous part of the policy that needs to be removed. Instead the officials at village and district levels need to be penalized. Even the school managements in case they shut classes.
Families who don’t sent their girls to school are mainly handicapped, due to economic reasons. Firstly the government’s intention to eradicate poverty needs to step up else penalties need to be introduced therein and secondly, mobile schools need to be though of. NGOs run similar type of informal mobile or part-time schools. But we need more inclusive such experiments for formal education so that migrant labourers can at least give basic education to their children. The policies need to be re-looked and suggestions by educationists need to be incorporated. The results are seen in such experiments run by NGOs and the govern of India can try this with a specific period of five years.
Sure, impact of change to be seen takes a while. Now that it has been 50 odd years since India’s freedom, we need to reassess which policies are not working and why. The ground realities have to be considered seriously, internal migration and poverty which are the biggest challenges.
May be more than educating the girl, educating the family is the need of the hour.