Monday, June 27, 2022

We have to make sure girls don’t drop out of school

By Satyavan Saurabh

Indian women have so far excelled for India in the Olympic Games. As a nation, we cannot ignore half the potential workforce if we aspire to be an economic superpower. As a society, women can be the pivot of bringing about significant and lasting social change. However, we need unprecedented measures to address the problem of girl child dropout and bring more girls into the professionally and financially rewarding areas of higher education.

Healthy, educated girls with equal access to opportunities can grow into strong, smart women who can take on leadership roles in their countries. This will help in better understanding the perspective of women in government policies. Interestingly, private returns for women in higher education are 11 to 17 percent higher than for men according to various estimates. This has clear policy implications. For their empowerment, as well as for the society at large, we should bring more and more women into the ambit of higher education.

As girls progress from primary to secondary to the tertiary school level, their number decreases year by year. Girls in rural India drop out of school because, one, they are engaged in domestic activities, second, they have financial constraints, third, they are not interested in education, and fourth, they get married. The problem lies not only in poverty and poor quality of schooling but also in gender bias and outdated social norms. It should come as no surprise that the states with the highest rates of secondary school dropout among girls are also those where a significant percentage of girls get married before the age of 18.

Deep-rooted gender bias is also reflected in the choice of schools, access to private tuition, and higher education. At the higher secondary level, 28 percent of boys attend private schools, compared to 24 percent of girls. Of the girls who enroll in bachelor’s degrees, a small proportion pursues vocational courses such as engineering (28.5 percent), while many others take courses such as pharmacy (58.7 percent) or opt for a “general bachelor’s”. Teachers should also be trained in all the scholarships and schemes that provide financial assistance to girls and their families to continue their education.

Third, the National Scheme of Incentives for Girls to Secondary Education needs to be revised in areas or states with a high prevalence of drop-outs and early child marriages. The scholarship amount can be increased and tied to the completion of graduation, students are paid an annual scholarship upon successful completion of each year of their undergraduate degree. Fourth, there is a need to establish special education zones in those areas which have traditionally been backward in education. Every Panchayat should have composite schools up to Higher Secondary (Classes I-XII) with drop-out tendency among girls.

There is a provision for Gender Inclusion Fund in the National Education Policy 2020. This fund should be used to support STEM education in these schools as well as all Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas. State governments need to leverage existing schemes to design interventions to promote women in higher education. Fifth and most importantly, behavioral nudges are going to be important in tackling the societal prejudices and stereotypical cultural norms that prevent girls from achieving their innate potential.

Encourage parents to send the child back to school and tell them about the importance of education. Strict laws should be made against those who adopt child labor. Development of infrastructures like sanitation, water, and special rooms for boys and girls. There is a need to change the patriarchal mindset by running a social campaign for girls. Ensuring social inclusion, especially concerning girls and SC/ST children, sensitizing teachers, and making parents of first-generation students about the value of education always make a big difference.

(Author is a research scholar, poet, independent journalist and columnist. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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