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Are Indian Educational Policies Ignoring Meaningful Gender Concerns? – OpEd

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In an era of great hope for social, economical and educational transformation from 1947 to 2015, India committed itself to create an integrated school system free from the issues of equity, equality and social justice in education, but this commitment has not bring the expected change even after 67 years of independence. There still exist sharp disparities across social and economic groups; there is a negative relationship between girls’ enrollment and retention in schools and the household income and social status of families.

It has been estimated that at the current rate of progress, India will attain universal literacy only until 2060, the 2011 census reveals an effective literacy rate for men at 82.14%, whereas for women it is 65.46%, and the overall literacy rate stands at 74.04 %. Though there has been a substantial increase in the number of literate women, and this gap is narrowing, it still persists and is more visible in the rural areas.

In India there are almost forty percent of girls/women who are not literate and most of them have never been to school (the majority of them belong to socially backward communities). In fact there are numerous hurdles prohibiting girls from actually getting an education in rural areas, figures show that a very small percentage of girls, as well as women are attending schools and this enrollment is hardly sustained as the poorest and the most disadvantaged among them drop out. Therefore the major concern for both the government and the civil society must be to realize the goal of universal educational access for girls and women.

Needless to mention, to bring an improvement in girl’s education India passed the 93rd Constitution Amendment Act in 2005 which makes education for all children aged 6-14 a fundamental right (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) and for promoting enrollment of girls in the age group of 14-18 at secondary stage the Centrally Sponsored Scheme called National Scheme of Incentives to Girls for Secondary Education launched in May, 2008. While, all the government programs are committed to bridge the gender-gap, the focus is often lost while implementing them. These programs have not been successful in bringing any big change; this is evident from the survey reports that came after the total literacy campaign. It is indeed the literacy rate of the country that counts as basic indicator of economic growth and the level of development achieved by a society.

Therefore the prerequisite, to actualize education for girls and their participation in national development should be making a gender specific curriculum that can help in increasing their levels of literacy. Some basic hidden facts responsible for the low levels of access to education, healthcare, maternal mortality, and economic, social, and political opportunities for girls are the prejudices that families have about girls; considering them as slow learners, as not rational and to be confined to domestic work. Therefore, what is required today is to overlook the impact of macro-level factors and discuss education for girls as a social aspect at the micro-level, using the phenomenological and ethno-methodological prism.

Policies and Programs for Education of Girls in India

The persistent gender gap in education reflects poorly on Indian policies. The educational policies are somewhat distant from serious or meaningful gender concerns. The First Five Year Plan (1951-56) in India gave attention to women as a subject of welfare. The National Committee on Women’s Education (1956) was set up to scrutinize the special problems of women’s education, on the one hand emphasized the need to bridge the gap between the education of men and women and on the other reiterated the traditional gender roles in society. The report of the committee on the status of women, in 1974 also provided a broader perspective which led to a shift from a welfare approach to making women active partners in the development process.

Though the Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-79) talked of women’s education, it did not stress the need for any planned programs to ensure women’s participation in science or technology.

The Sixth Plan (1980-85), for the first time included a chapter on “Women and Development,” but there was neglect on the issue of equity in access to higher education.

The Seventh and Eighth Five Year Plan (1985-90) documents recognized that national developmental and demographic goals cannot be achieved unless women’s education is taken up on a priority basis. The National Policy on Education (1986, revised in 1992) is the most lucid document on Women’s education. The chapter titled “Education for Women’s Equality” states: “Education will be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women. It will foster the development of new values through redesigned curricula, textbooks, the training and orientation of teachers, decision-makers and administrators, and the active involvement of educational institutions. The other national initiative to promote basic education, with a focus on greater participation of girls and women is Operation Blackboard (1987) that focused on construction of school buildings and appointment of a second teacher in single teacher schools.” Unfortunately these key policy recommendations have remained unimplemented or half implemented and despite well-intentioned policies and plans, girls from disadvantaged groups and communities are not able to access quality education that can enable them to break out of existing stereotypes.

Major Issues with Education of Girls

It would not be wrong to mention that India lacks a larger perspective with respect to the education of girls; the major hindrance that affects the education of girls is social, economic and cultural deprivation. Schools can act as agents of progressive social transformation.

Not surprisingly, there is a large presence of girls from disadvantaged groups and communities in government schools of India, but many such schools are dysfunctional with unstable management conditions, inappropriate or lack of leadership, lack of vision, an unhealthy school climate and culture, and low staff and learner morale. Besides, the education policies have faced multiple accidents in the case of its implementation due to a lack of political will, human resources, human expertise, funding and spending.

Although the government of India has a well-established system for monitoring policies and programs by submitting regular reports to State Assemblies and the Parliament, successful monitoring is not just about generating information. It is also about creating an institutional mechanism through which monitoring can inform development and implementation of policy. The problem is that there are crisis with the policy framework and background which has meant a lack of being materialized to basic realities and success has not materialized in larger perspectives. Further, overall public opinion has not been mobilized nor has a gender specific curriculum been framed, and public discourses on the policies with regard to the education of girls has been the victim of political discourses.

Additionally, women’s confidence in state-led reforms has been diminished further with centralized educational planning in India that does not allow for the comparing of diverse perspectives. The reach out programs towards girls is not autonomous and reaching out to masses by the government is missing, government reports show only quantitative improvements ignoring the qualitative changes. The invisibility of women still persists and they feel that the educational structure or apparatus does not satisfy them.

In India the commitments to gender mainstreaming is missing, there is more politicization in the mainstream of women education. The fact remains that even after 67 years of independence there is very little representation of women on the ground and they are still not emancipated — to make women emancipated there is a dire need for a change in the perspective.

A perfect example to prove this point is the state of Meghalaya in the North East of India. Meghalaya, which separated from Assam on the grounds of being a Matriarchal society, only has one female Member of Parliament out of the 128 MPs in the state Assembly. When such is the situation of a Matriarchal society then forget about the ground realities of a Patriarchal society that exists in the major states of India.

Conclusion

Since independence the Indian Government has been trying to improve the situation of girls. But what the government fails to realize is that the policies with respect to the education of girls cannot be seen in isolation. Instead, this issue and policies must be seen in a larger perspective with larger inclusivity and in totality.

In India the main factor responsible for lack of education for girls is social, economic and cultural deprivation and not a lack of proper infrastructure facilities in schools. The problem of generality is proving to be the biggest curse in India, which follows a single model of education, whereas the country has diverse socio-economic issues. The 29 states in India have 29 cultures, with every state being a distinct world in itself. What India need is multiple policies with multiple implementations, especially with respect to policies for the education of girls. Unfortunately there are few signals of a serious effort to implement this vision or to have a holistic planning process. The Indian government has to rethink the overall gender justice perspectives and policies that are currently in place.

Dr. Swaleha Sindhi

Dr. Swaleha Sindhi currently teaches at the Department of Educational Administration, in The M.S. University of Baroda, Gujarat, India, she has a long Teaching and Administration experience in School Education and has received the Best Teacher Award in the year 2007 for Excellence in Teaching. Her doctorate is in the area of Quality Assurance Systems in Secondary Schools. Her current research follows two core themes: Quality Assurance in Education and Policies in Secondary Schools besides other areas like Comparative and International Education, Girls Education, Educational Management and Economics of Education. Dr.Sindhi has also been writing columns on education theme in newspapers and journals and has more than thirty two research articles to her credit. She is the Vice President of Indian Ocean Comparative Education Society (IOCES) and a Life Member of Comparative Education Society of India (CESI).

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