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It’s Government Schools For Girls, A Private Education For Boys

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

I score higher marks than my brother in exams, but still, his education is prioritized over mine, although I find it unfair, but I can’t do anything about it“, says Durga.

Durga is a 14-year-old girl who lives in the Kalkaji slums in South Delhi with her parents and a younger brother. During the pandemic, she couldn’t attend classes because there was only one mobile at home, and her brother attended his classes on it.

Durga’s name is ironic to her situation, as it refers to Goddess Durga. She is worshipped and revered in the Indian culture and is considered the epitome of power and strength. On the other hand, the girl is made to feel weak, helpless and powerless, and is discriminated against. Hence, a rigid dichotomy between society’s beliefs and actions victimizes poor girls like her.

A school boy working on a laptop with two girls looking
Representational image

Government School For Girls, Private School For Boys

She studies in a government school, but her brother studies in a private school. Thus, from the beginning, they were on an unequal footing. She will have to work harder to reduce that disadvantage and prove her worth.

It is not only her case, but it is a trend to send girls to a government school and boys to a private school. The ASER report reveals that among 4 to 5-year-old children, 56.8% of girls and 50.4% of boys are enrolled in government schools, while 43.2% of girls and 49.6% boys are enrolled in private schools. For 6 to 8-year-olds, 61.1% of girls versus 52.1% of boys go to a government institution. This difference grows larger as children get older.

Why Is Private Education Considered Prestigious?

Private education is preferred because of its commitment to provide quality education and its modernized approach towards education. In addition, factors like advanced infrastructure, well-trained and dedicated teachers, English medium teaching, progressive environment, better results, extracurricular activities, and enriching academic opportunities make private education better off than government schools.

Thus, private education has become a matter of status and prestige in society. Government schools, on the other hand, are looked down upon and are considered backward and regressive. Hence, children in private schools are considered to have a bright future, whereas government school students are seen as ‘failures’ with a bleak future.

The Gender Digital Divide

Durga says, “During the pandemic, we had only one phone at home, so my brother used to attend his classes because my parents used to give him the phone. So, I couldn’t attend the class and give my exams. I self-study myself from the notes in the Whatsapp group. I also can’t take the tuitions as my brother because it is an expensive one, and we can’t afford it for two.” She further adds, “My brother is allowed to go for a painting class, meet his friends outside, play games on the phone, or call his friend, but I can’t.” Thus, girls are not even allowed to unwind and vent out their frustration caused by gender bigotry. This is not just unfair but unjustified.

In addition to her, many other girls can’t access the device. The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019 reveals that Indian women are 15% less likely to own a mobile phone and 33% less likely to use mobile internet services than men. One reason behind this can be that parents fear that with mobiles, girls will talk to boys, elope, and not focus on studies. But why is talking to boys considered an ‘immoral act’ for girls?

“I Conform Now”

I asked Durga if she had ever rebelled against this. She says, “I used to earlier question about why my brother is favoured over me, but I was thrashed and silenced. So now I don’t object and have accepted it.” The helplessness and hopelessness in her words say it all. Many other girls like her have become silent victims of mental trauma and are even ripped off the right to protest against injustice.

Their grim situation leads us to think that if a calamity strikes, why is it only the women of the family who have to bear the brunt and sacrifice for the sake of others? Why are girls the least priority? Why are boys seen as an asset and girls as a burden? Why is it considered profitable to invest in a son’s education and a loss in girls’ education?

Two school girls smiling in front of a blackboard
Representational image

The Problem Is Patriarchy

The answer can be pretty summed up in a single word that is patriarchy. The son is seen as an asset who will take the lineage, bring glory to his family, and look after his parents in their old age. Whereas, the daughters are perceived as a ‘burden’, who will marry into other households, so what’s the need of spending valuable resources on them. Thus, the entire thought process is motivated by profit and loss perception, and they invest where they see more returns in the future.

And it becomes even worse in a pandemic when the families have suffered through unemployment and economic downfall. They only spend on ‘necessity’ like the son’s education, not on ‘luxury’ like the daughter’s education. Now, when the law has mandated education for girls, they have enrolled them as a formality, but they don’t want them to get ‘too educated’ as then they will go on the ‘wrong path’. They fear that they will be distracted from caregiving duties after being educated and rebel against patriarchal mindsets and oppression. Thus, girls are deprived of quality education so that their chances to succeed lessen.

Way Forward

We must understand that patriarchal and stereotypical mindsets are products of years of conditioning and are deeply ingrained in society. So, it will take a very long time to get fully rid of it. But, for now, the situation isn’t equal, so there is a need for differential treatment to be given to girls at all levels to bridge the unequal gap in education.

The government has the onus to properly implement reservations at the school level, higher education, and jobs and execute various schemes for subsidized education for girls. Also, digital infrastructure and technology investment is needed to make online education accessible and affordable to poor girls. Finally, anything that gives an incentive to the parents to let their daughters continue their education is needed.

For a paradigm shift, it is imperative to create a societal impact at the ground level. For this, we need collaboration between the government and the NGOs, launch social intervention programs and campaigns in rural areas, educate and sensitize people regarding girls’ education, and burst the taboos regarding the same.

Also, investing in free and compulsory education for all children is indispensable. Through this, we can only eliminate stereotypical thinking and ensure that the future generation is gender-inclusive, open-minded, and sensitive to each other.

Lastly, girls themselves need to own themselves, unapologetically voice their concerns, and confront society, to attain their basic rights. Because if they do not, then no one else will do it for them. And if they rise, then they don’t need anyone else to stand for their rights.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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