Gender gap looms large in education

Since the start of the pandemic, the 14-year-old daughter of Tunu Mondal, a housekeeper living in the belly of a posh locality in South Kolkata, has been out of school. Despite the efforts of the West Bengal state government, she could not manage a stable internet connection and a laptop for her daughter. With the pandemic eating away at her husband’s job, Tunu had to accept a new job. While she is still trying to send her youngest son to an online class at a neighbor’s, she has started taking her daughter to work with her. Tunu’s daughter had good grades in school. But Tunu has no way to afford another smartphone and her son is too young to come. Some of his employers have been kind and offered him books and even financial help. But with schools closed for almost two years now, Tunu doesn’t think it will be possible for her daughter to catch up with the other children. Tunu’s daughter is one of thousands of girls who have lost their right to education due to the pandemic. And one of the millions whose financial situation and lack of awareness caused them to drop out of school.

From 1951 to 2011, the female literacy rate increased from 8.86% to 65.46%. The literacy rate for girls increased by 14.87% between 1991 and 2001. Although the numbers look promising, studies show that although a large number of girls are in school, many do not stay in school for long. The difference between male and female literacy rates is most pronounced in states with questionable records when it comes to gender measures. In Rajasthan and Haryana, for example, over 88% of men are literate (according to 2011 census data) compared to just over 55% of women.

A student prepares for her exams at home in Mumbai | Image credit: PTI

Literacy is generally defined as having passed through at least grade 9 or above of an educational institution. In other cases, a population’s literacy is defined as the ability to read and write basic sentences. While India has seen significant growth in increasing primary and elementary school enrolment, a majority of adolescent girls are still out of school. According to data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) report, 71.8% of 6-year-old girls in India were in school in 2019-21 (up from 68.8% in 2015-16). However, only 41% of girls aged 15-49 have been in school for more than 10 years. Among boys, the percentage is 50.2%. According to the survey, the overall literacy gap between men and women is almost 15%. While 71.5% of women in the 15-48 age group are literate, no less than 84.4% of men of the same age are literate.

The gender gap is also corroborated by data from other surveys. The Household Social Consumption Survey: Education conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics between July 2017 and June 2018 revealed that the national literacy rate for married women across all age groups in India was 70 .3%, while that of men was 84.7%. Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand are among the states most marked by gender literacy gaps. In a report released on the occasion of the last National Girl’s Day, the Forum on the Right to Education and the Center for Budget Policy Studies found that only 40% of adolescent girls aged 15 to 18 in school and that 30% of girls in the poorest regions of India have never set foot there.

Although the Right to Education Act (RTE) mandates education for all and political campaigns like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao are used as voting boards by the ruling party, education and literacy women have progressed at a snail’s pace across the country. Experts have often blamed the lack of public spending on education and schools as one of the main reasons why children, especially girls, drop out of school. India’s expenditure on school education increased from 4.15% in 2014-15 to 3.40% in 2019-20.

In some of the worst-performing states in terms of female literacy, data shows a lack or decline in school and per-child spending. For example, the average expenditure per child in the state is only Rs 2,869. In states like Kerala and Himachal Pradesh with high literacy rate and lower gender gap, expenditure per child are respectively Rs 11,574 and Rs 17,921 per child per year.

The pandemic and the resulting shift to online mode of education has also placed an additional burden on girls, especially those from financially unstable families. In a family that can only afford one smartphone or internet device, the service was usually only for boys, not girls. The divide is clear in NHFS data which shows that only 33.3% of girls in the 15-49 age bracket have ever used the internet, while over 57.1% of men in the same age bracket age have access to it.

Policies must focus on secondary education for girls | Image credit: PTI

Discounts aren’t the only problem. Embezzlement and embezzlement of funds intended for women’s education have also been reported recently. A parliamentary committee on women’s empowerment in a December 2021 report found that almost 78% of funds allocated to the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” campaign were used for government advertising.

Launched in 2015, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Andolan was based on two axes: increasing women’s literacy and improving the sex ratio between men and women. Recent NFHS-5 data revealed that the sex ratio, which was 918 girls per 1,000 boys (2011), has increased to 1,020 girls per 1,000 boys. While the victory in reversing the sex ratio is significant, India remains one of the only major countries where more baby boys survive than baby girls. According to UNICEF statistics, there is currently an 11% gender gap in child survival rates between men and women.

While every year, days like National Day of the Girl Child and Women’s Day provide the country’s leaders with an opportunity to express their care and concern for the cause of gender and to speak eloquently about the commitment of their government to protect the girl, the numbers tell a different story. With the pandemic widening the gap between rich and poor, around 20 million girls worldwide are expected to be out of school, the Malala Fund has predicted. Lack of attention to improving girls’ access to education (which includes services such as schools, teachers, tutors, internet, digital devices, safe roads and transport systems , among others) could put many Indian girls at risk of being part of the projected statistic. While India has improved its primary and elementary education targets for girls by increasing enrollment and completion rates, state governments and unions must now focus on secondary education for girls in order to prepare for equal participation in the labor force and emancipation from patriarchal gender. the roles. Focusing on gender-based solutions to address the education crisis is not only helping India achieve its Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) but also redeeming itself as a democracy that is not just responding to needs of half of its population. While welcoming the improved sex ratio, it is important to remember the need for quality education to truly empower women in the country. While the number indicates the success of our efforts to save the girl, perhaps it is time to focus on her education as well.

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