“An illiterate person is that much less equipped to defend herself in court, to obtain a bank loan, to enforce her inheritance rights, to take advantage of new technology, to compete for secure employment, to get the right bus, to take part in political activity, in short, to participate successfully in modern economy and society…Basic education is also a catalyst for social change.” _ Dre’ze and Sen, 1995
All developmental experts agree that no country can be developed without educating its girls. More than 573 million women worldwide are illiterate out of which 200 million are Indian. Out of 57 million children who are not at school worldwide 31 million of them are girls (World Bank Report)).
Advantages of Girls’ Education
- It is said that if we educate a man, we educate a man only, but if we educate a woman, we educate the whole family. The advantages of girls’ education are many:
- . The dividend for educational investment is higher for women than for men.
- . Educated women marry later, use more contraceptives, have fewer children and space them better. They also have less sexually transmitted disease like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B.
- . The child of a literate mother has 50% greater chance of survival past age 5 than that of an illiterate mother.
- . Children of an educated mother have 50% more likely to go to school.
- . Research shows that for every extra year of school for girls increases their life time income by 10% to 15%.
- . Educated women have more say in their family affairs and face less domestic violence.
- . Educated women have increase civic participation in voting and holding political office.
- . An educated woman has the skills, knowledge, and self-confidence to be a better parent, worker and citizen (woman’s empowerment).
The History of Women’s Education in India
The history of female education in India has its roots in ancient Vedic age. During the Vedic age, more than 3,000 years ago, women were assigned high place in the society. They shared an equal standing with their men folk. The ancient Hindu philosophical concept of “shakti”, the feminine principle of energy, was also a product of this age. This took the form of worship of the female goddesses ( Durga, Laskhmi, Parvati). Even today in India,”Saraswati’ is worshipped as the Goddess of learning. Famous women Vedic scholars’ were, Ghosa, Lopamudra, Sulabha, Maitrey and Gargi. The Rig-Veda has a long conversation between the sage Agastha and his wife Lopamudra. Later on women were treated as second class citizens by all the major world religions (Judaism, Christain, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) and were not allowed to read and write.
The first boarding school for girls was started by the Church Mission Society in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, in 1821. Jyotiba Phule and his wife Savitri Bai started school for girls in 1848 in Pune. In 1878, the University of Calcutta became one of the first universities to admit female student to its degree programmes, before any of the British universities.
In 1948, the female literacy rate in India was 8.9%. In 1958, a national committee on women’s education was appointed by the government, and most of its recommendations to promote women’s education were accepted. The cruxes of its recommendation were to bring female education on the same footing as offered for boys. In 1968, Government of India’s policy provided increased emphasis on female education. The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2001 was passed. According to this act, elementary education is fundamental right for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) was passed in 2009. The central government has been implementing this act under Sarva Shkisha Abhiyan(SSA).
Status of Girls’ Education in Odisha
According to Odisha Fact Sheet 2011-12, the total literacy rate of the state was 78.1%(Male 86.4%, Female 69.9%). Among the 30 districts, the female literacy rate was highest in Khordha with 85.7%. Some of the districts with very low female literacy rates were Nuapada (53%),Kandhamal (51.7%), Rayagada (49.3%), Kalahandi (48.9%), Koraput (45.1%), Nabarangpur (41.7%) and Malkangiri (40.6%).The same fact sheet shows that, children age 6-17, only 84.75% of them ( Boys 84.8%, Girls 83.7%) are in schools. It means close to 16% of children are not even attending school. According to CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) report 3.06 lakh Oriya children left school after class V, and 3.09 lakh left school after class VII. The audit also found that 33,000 to 50,000 posts of teachers remained vacant during 2009-14.
Hopefully things may be better now in 2017. Who knows? It is very hard to trust all the statements made by the politicians and babus.
Right to primary education by all children was made a fundamental right in 2001. Inspite of that, multiple barriers to educating girls continues in India and especially in Odisha: poverty, cultural practices, lack of schools in walking distance, inadequate school infra structures, lack of qualified teachers, especially female teachers, absentee teachers and high student dropout rate at all levels of schooling. All the above factors are even worse for SC and ST boys and girls.
What Steps Government of Odisha Can Take to Improve Girls’ Education
1- Provide conditional cash transfer to the families for enrolling and keeping their children at school. Depositing few thousand rupees of cash in the bank accounts of the families whose children are attending school, every year will be a good start. This kind of conditional cash transfer has been quite successful in many countries including Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and many African countries.
2- Emphasize primary education and spend most of the State’s educational budget for primary and secondary education. Higher education may be left to the private sector.
3- Provide more girls’ hostels at all levels of schooling.
4- Train and hire more female teachers. They will be the role models for the girls.
5- Improve infrastructures of all the primary and secondary schools – electricity, toilets, safe drinking water, play ground, library and teaching tools.
6- Enforce existing child labour laws and see that all children under 17 attend school.
7- Provide vocational training to girl students in male dominated field like plumbing, electrical repair, operating machines etc.
8- Provide breakfast along with mid-day meals to all children. Odisha’s child stunting (under nutrition) rate is very high. Providing breakfast will reduce the high under nutrition rate over time and improve school attendance and learning.
9- Provide large number of scholarship, stipend and low interest loan to girls to pursue their higher education.
10- Encourage and help girls to pursue male dominated jobs like military, police, construction work, machine operator, priesthood and politics.
Odisha has one of the lowest female literacy rates among the major States in India. The female illiteracy rate among our ST and SC Oriyas is unacceptably high. All experts now agree that without educating its women, no country or state can develop. The benefits of girls’ education are many: better health for the whole family, decreased fertility rate, reduction in poverty and gender equality. The government Odisha should take all possible steps to educate all girls, no matter which part of the state they live or who their parents happened to be. The time to it is NOW!