10 Million Secondary School Girls may Drop out
New Delhi, 24 January, 2021. Nearly 40% girls aged 15-18 years are out of school. And this has happened because COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted girls’ education. The situation will deteriorate further, if immediate attention is not paid. According to estimates, nearly 10 million secondary school girls in India could drop out due to the pandemic, putting them at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, trafficking and violence. These concerns have been raised in a Policy Brief on Girls’ Education released by Right to Education (RTE) Forum on the occasion of International Day of Education and National Girl Child Day (24th January) and as part of the Global Week of Action against Inequality led by the Fight Inequality Alliance in India.
The Policy Brief recommends the need for the extension of the Right to Education Act, 2009 to cover all children in its purview. It also calls for measures to ensure a safe & secure environment for girls. It demands to ensure education is gender responsive in terms of quality and equity and promotes girls’ empowerment and life skills. It also feels the need to ensure that the governance system and financing supports equitable and inclusive girls’ education.
The Policy Brief was virtually launched in presence of more than 300 participants.
A keynote 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 that are schools inclusive, and how can they be made more inclusive? The boys are tasked just to clean blackboard in school, while girls are made to sweep. Such numerous small discriminatory practices exist everywhere which girls accept without questioning. Sexual exploitation and harassment compound the issues for girls. These are political issues that need to be addressed immediately and the schools must become hubs for democracy, equality and justice,” Dr. Sinha expressed.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Ambarish Rai, National Convener, RTE Forum, highlighted how corporatisation and privatisation exacerbate inequalities in education making it difficult for the children of poor families to access education. “In the wake of International Education Day and National Girl Child Day we want to reiterate our commitment towards ensuring an equal education system. Presently, India needs a Common School System to not only addresses issues of migrants, Dalits, backward groups, girls but also realize the constitutional commitment to equality. We have requested the Finance Minister to ensure Education is adequately funded and not placed in ‘C’ category in the budget. We have already started a petition in this regard and we have collected more than 74000 signatures across the country. We have repeatedly demanded that an allocation of not less 6% of the GDP and 10% of the annual budget must be made for education and sincere and immediate attention be paid to augment primary and secondary education,” said Mr. Rai.
Anjela Taneja, Fight Inequality Alliance/Oxfam India said,
“While India’s elites embraced digital education and India’s EdTech companies made billions of dollars in profits, girls’ education has suffered with the number of out of school children projected to be double. Given that even before the pandemic, the wealth of the 69 top billionaires was more than the national budget, it is time for more progressive taxation to ensure adequate resources for girls’ education”.
Jaya Singh, member of Uttar Pradesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) highlighted that the criticality of the work with boys and parents to change gender norms and parents.
Sunanda Pandey, member, Bihar SCPCR emphasized that it is very important to promote girl’s education and this is collective responsibility of parents, community and the government. We have to respect women in true sense to bring them in mainstream.
Dr. Sukanya Bose from National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (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, reiterated the need to train teachers to ensure they promote gender equality within classrooms.
Nidhi Bansal, CARE India said.
“It is important to take a systems approach. We cannot address issues in isolation; the solution has to be part of a whole systems approach, with the girl child at the centre. Any solution starts with building girls’ agency giving them the confidence to deal with any challenges they face in their schools, homes and communities.”
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.