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International Women’s Day 2019: Here’s why educating girls is the need of the hour

(March 8, 2019 )

World Bank estimates show that in low income countries like India, less than two thirds of girls complete their primary education, and only one in three completes lower secondary school.

Various studies have shown that effective education is the key to lead a dignified life. However, we as a nation are far behind in providing equal access and education to our girl children. Despite big ticket initiatives announced by successive governments to tackle this inequality, we still have a long way to go.

Recently released 2018 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), shows that the proportion of girls in the 11 to 14 age group who were out of school fell to 4.1 per cent from 10.3 per cent in 2006, which is a positive trend but more proactive and comprehensive policies are required to ensure that the decline happens at a much faster pace.

World Bank estimates show that in low income countries like India, less than two thirds of girls complete their primary education, and only one in three completes lower secondary school.

High dropout rate of girls in India:

The biggest challenge is dropping out of girls from schools which is propelled by multiple social circumstances. These include early marriage, poverty, lack of safety in schools, lower expectations of girls’ education and traditional gender norms.

A 2017 National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR report), also echoes similar worries that around 39.4 percent of adolescent girls in the 15-18 age group are not attending any educational institution, and a huge majority – almost 65 percent – of them are “either tied up in household activities, are dependents (married), or, are forced to beg, etc.”

The cost the country has to bear for this pattern in girl child education is huge, shows a World Bank report. The report estimates the losses in lifetime productivity and earnings for girls of not completing 12 years of education at USD 15 trillion (Rs 15 lac crore) to $30 trillion dollars (Rs 30 lac crore) globally.

This is because on average, women with secondary education earn almost double of those with meager or no education.

Benefits of education girls:

We as a nation need to think of the benefits around educating our girls. Once we started strategizing towards ensuring lower dropout rates among adolescent girls, we could automatically tackle the problem of child marriage (under 18 for girls), which would naturally translate into reduction in early child bearing, which would further impact both maternal mortality rates and child mortality. This would have a bigger impact on the health of children as well as mothers. Healthy mothers would mean healthy families.

Government policies:

To ensure this happens, the government policies must tackle social practices that keep girls out of school. While the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao initiative launched in 2015 has been an excellent step in the direction. Here, the government is advocating the need to educate and empower the girl child by raising awareness among the communities.

However, more efforts are required to support a quality education system to enable a woman to become self-sufficient, self-reliant and independent.

The immediate objective should be to ensure lesser or no gender based gap in the secondary education and higher education. The school enrollments must be clocked, report cards should be monitored and a focus must be on putting in place a mechanism to identify the girls who are at a risk of dropping out.

Bridge courses for to address the quality education needs of the dropped out girls. Teachers should be capacitated with innovative teaching techniques to create an effective learning environment to cater to each student in the classroom.

Need for vocational training:

To ensure, quality education is provided, there is a need for close monitoring and tabulating results.

Inculcating entrepreneurship skills among the young women will help them drive an economically stable life. Special vocational training in beauty courses, retail, data processing, tailoring etc., along with secondary education, which can get them job ready soon after school, is a good option for urban slums.

This kind of vocational training backed by regular education will help take care of household expenses, and this girl whose education or upbringing, which has been viewed as a “burden” will then be seen as an “investment.”

Moreover, we need to understand that these girls who are educated and financially independent will be more armed to fight against the existing ‘abusive’ patriarchal structure.

Push towards supporting the women to strengthen their self-esteem and leadership, can play a big role in fighting the gender bias.

At the very foundation level, schools and families both need to become more receptive and appreciative of girls and their need to study and be empowered. Teachers and families both must be trained and sensitised to this fact that only when the girl child is educated, she will ensure that her progeny are educated, leading to a change in society on the whole.

(Authored article by Santanu Misra, Trustee and Co-founder, Smile Foundation)

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