The Delhi Government’s latest Economic Survey has revealed two interesting trends in the sex ratio in city schools. It found that 8.10 lakh girls were enrolled in government schools in 2016-17, outnumbering boys, who stood at 7.18 lakh. In private schools, however, the case is the exact opposite. During the same period, the survey shows that 6.28 lakh girl students were enrolled in private schools, while for boys the figure was 9.37 lakh.
DU professor Anita Rampal tells Indian Express, that this trend – where the gender-positive scales are tipped in favour of government schools – has been seen in states like Haryana and Rajasthan, it was largely unexpected in the national capital.
Since 2011, it was mandated that government schools provide education for free to students from economically weaker sections (EWS), up till class XII. The move was seen as a bold step up from the Right to Education mandate that free education would be provided till Class VIII. It made education accessible for those who could not afford private schools.
Affordability has always been an issue. Even though 25% of private school seats are reserved for EWS students, they are constantly kept out thanks to certificate-fudging richer students. This is where government schools (and schemes aimed at retaining EWS students) can make a real difference. What’s interesting, though, is that these schools are outperforming private schools in terms of sex ratio. What gives?
The findings seem to indicate son-preference in private school enrolments. Could this challenge the widely held belief that economically weaker people carry more patriarchal prejudices than more privileged classes?
As far as the sex ratios between government and private schools goes, it is necessary to investigate the relationship between the following three axes: one’s economic and cultural advantage/disadvantage; the inherent sexism of not ensuring girls get the same opportunities as boys; and whether or not school systems are equipped to meet the education needs of children of all genders.
While Delhi’s government schools are still a long way from solving the gender gap in education, it does seem to be achieving more than private schools. It appears that government schools have a better success rate with girls’ education, because they do not place an economic burden on parents that forces them to choose one child over the other. Given that a private school education (not to mention an English-medium one!) is a coveted status symbol in India, and the quality of materials and faculty is of a particularly desirable grade, many parents would choose it over a more affordable government school. And it’s understandable. But at the same time, patriarchy is at play when families go a few extra miles to put their sons in private schools, but not their daughters.