In India nearly 40% girls remain out of school in the age-group of 15-18 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the existing patterns, disproportionately impacting girls more than boys and according to estimates, nearly 10 million secondary school girls in India could drop out of school due to the pandemic, putting them at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, trafficking and violence.
To address the underlying barriers to Girls’ education, Right to Education Forum virtually released a Policy Brief on 22nd January on the occasion of International Day of Education and National Girl Child Day.The policy brief recommends the following measures to ensure girls’ complete their school education:
- Right to Education: the need for a continuum:
- Save & Secure Environment
- Ensure Quality & Equity
- Empowerment and Life skills
- Governance and Financing for equitable and inclusive girls’ education
The policy brief was virtually launched in presence of 300 participants. A key note address was given by Dr. Shantha Sinha, former Chairperson, NCPCR and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, who highlighted the importance of educating girls by mentioning how schools can become “instruments of social change.” “There is a link between school and democracy: we have to ask ourselves are schools inclusive, and how can they be made more inclusive? The tasks boys are made to do in school are clean blackboard, girls are made to sweep. Boys play volley-ball, girls play kho-kho. These small discriminatory practices exist everywhere, and girls accept these without questioning. Issues of sexual exploration, sexual harassment, also compound the issues for girls. These are not benign factors, they are political issues, and they are grounded in ethics of equality and justice….
Girls education needs to be incentivised. There needs to be strengthening of school systems, and safety mechanism. So that they become hubs for democracy, equality, justice.”
Dr Ambarish Rai, National Convener RTE Forum, introduced the proceedings by highlighting how corporatisation and privatisation exacerbate inequalities in the education sector. “The more education is privatised, the less public education, the more difficult it becomes for the thousands of poor and children in our country to access education. The pandemic is only threatening to make things worse, by pushing several thousand children, especially girls, out of education. Estimates suggest it could be 20-30% children. On the occasion of International Education Day and National Girl Child Day (24 January) we want to reiterate our commitment to this issue. Common school system becomes very important, one which addresses issues of migrants, Dalits, backward groups, girls when the return to school is being planned. These cannot be left with private sector, because in private sector, the levels of inequality and discrimination are always high. It must be taken up by the government. This also means that we need more of what we wanted during non-pandemic times. We have requested the Finance Minister to not put Education in the ‘C’ category in the budget. That would be severe injustice to the several crore children on the brink of losing their chance of getting an education. of this country. To that end we are also running a petition.”
This was followed by a panel discussion having representation from the State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights of Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Jaya Singh, member of Uttar Pradesh SCPCR highlighted that along with empowering girls, one should also work with boys and parents to ensure girls can exercise their rights and the role of an empowered SMC groups for taking action.
The second panel discussion had renowned experts on education who discussed and deliberated on the key issues of Girls’ Education. Dr. Sukanya Bose from NIPFP said, “Girls are more dependent on public education and hence reduced resources will disproportionately affect their education.”Shri Ajay Kumar Singh, Joint Director, SSA-SCERT Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, reiterated the need to train teachers to ensure they promote gender equality within classroom.
Nidhi Bansal, CARE India. said. “When speaking of education, it is important to take a systems approach. We cannot address issues in isolation, such as girls, teachers, capacities, attitudes, community, parents. The solution has to be a whole systems approach, with the girl child at the centre of the solution. Any solution starts by building girls’ agency, which helps them become confident, identify inequalities, give them confidence to deal with these within the spaces of school, home and community.”
The policy brief has been prepared through a consultative process and is based on research-based evidence, field experiences by practitioners and real-life experiences of girls and parents around the current status and challenges of girls’ education and gives a concrete recommendation to prioritise and ensure the education of girls in a safe and secure environment.