Only one in every 100 girls enrolled in any Indian school completes class 12th. The Right to Education Act was implemented on 4 August 2009 to allow free and compulsory education for children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. Still, India has the largest population of informally educated people in the world.
As per the 2011 census, the female literacy rate in the country was 74%, whereas when the country got independence in 1947 and roots of patriarchy were deeply enrooted in the minds of the nation builders, the literacy rate was a mere 12%.
It took not only 70 long years to make it from 12% to 74% female literacy rate but also the constant efforts of many governments and social workers to break down the backward mindsets of different strata of the society.
Coronavirus made the world stand still and maybe pushed it several steps backwards even. It forced 90% of the schools around the world to shut down in order to curb the spread of the virus. Before Covid-19, out of 30 million children not going to any school, 40% were adolescent girls.
And the stats are likely to increase as it is projected that approximately 10 million secondary school girls might dropout of schools around the world. This will not only affect their education but will also make them prone to risks of child labour, child trafficking or child marriage, followed by early pregnancy, poverty, and domestic violence.
Covid-19 has caused the loss of domestic income in many households, forcing girls to grab any income-surging jobs, making them prone to early marriages, pregnancies, exploitation, violence, dropouts. When parents belonging to socioeconomically backward societies cannot afford a proper education for their girl child, can we expect them to buy digital infrastructures?
Only 28% of girls living in rural areas have access to digital technology, and 33% of girls in urban areas. Even if they have access to smart devices, aren’t girls supposed to handle domestic chores? In April & May 2020, 9 million women in rural areas and 3 million women in urban areas lost their jobs, making it to 30% female unemployment rate.
Not being able to cope up with the prolonged gap, they will be forced to drop out of schools. Only 3.3% of the 2020-21 Union Budget was dedicated to the education sector. Funding has shifted from midday meals to pandemic recovery, so the girls who used to attend school just for food are likely to stop getting an education as well. Unemployment rates are likely to increase harshly. Given the current crisis, one can imagine the dilemma of girls wanting a proper education for themselves.
Being an engineering student in a well-established college myself, I am facing problems with my classes and practicals, despite having the proper infrastructure and family background. One can wonder the difficulties even a girl having a smartphone in rural areas might face.
The problems faced by girls with zero access to any infrastructure is the talk of another universe itself. The government has made some online education provisions available, but what use will they be of if only 14.9% of rural households have internet access? What exactly do we need?
The first thing we need to focus on is how Covid-19 adversely affected the poor households in the country.
Secondly, education for girls under the age of 18 should be free in government/assisted schools. Funds from Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme, can be utilised. For the women who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, free skill training should be arranged.
Thirdly, governments should set up structures to keep track of re-enrolments, create safe spaces, distribute free books & digital devices, and make available access to free internet. Government expenditure on education should increase from 4.4% to 6% of GDP, as required by the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.
Educational rights have been mandated for over a decade now, and girls still seem to hesitate to claim their rights to education. Is corona the first big problem we are facing, or has it always been the same? The world has experienced social and economic hits again & again, but it has always ensured successful delivery of comprehensive and equitable access to education to its young force. India needs to do the same.