Report by Santanu Mishra
The benefits of educating girls and how it can lead to an increase in family income, improvement in family health and better management of resources is no secret. A girl is not responsible for only herself but also for a generation. She is required to take care of the needs and health of her husband and children, manage household resources and make judicious use of available finances. Thus, giving importance to girl’s education is of foremost importance. It is rightly said that by educating a boy, you educate an individual but by educating a girl you educate a whole family.
As per McKinsey’s gender parity report 2018, 770 billion USD will be added to the Indian economy by 2025 if gender equality is achieved, especially in terms of education. In just a decade, the Government has done a remarkable job by reducing the percentage of girls between the ages of 11-14 years out of school, from 10.3% to 4.1%. This is a remarkable achievement in a country where girls are considered liabilities and are often subjected to human rights violations and injustice, early marriages being a glaring example. According to the data by UNICEF, approximately 650 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. Child marriage is a curse as it violates the rights of children, primary being the Right to Education.
On closer evaluation, we see that another big reason that has long prevented parents from sending girls to school was menstruation. Lack of sanitation facilities like clean water, toilets (lack of separate toilets for girls & boys as well) as well as the availability of sanitary napkins have remained major stumbling blocks in girl child education in India.
A 2014 report by a non-profit titled Spot On! found that nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities, which include the availability of sanitary napkins and logical awareness of menstruation. The report also came up with some startling numbers. 70 percent of mothers with menstruating daughters considered menstruation as dirty and 71 percent of adolescent girls remained unaware of menstruation till menarche.
To counter these problems, the government implemented Swachhta Vidyalaya initiative in 2014 under which 417,796 toilets were constructed and made functional in 261,400 government schools in India by 2015.
Another major factor in low numbers of girls attending schools is that, they were considered a liability by their parents. Issues like dowry, lack of secure environment, an association of family honour with a girl, etc. are some made-up reasons why girls are not enrolled in schools.
A person earning a modest income from daily wages usually does not consider it a fruitful investment to educate his/her girl because she will one day leave for her in-law’s house with a hefty amount dowry. An increase in crime against women also deters parents in sending girls to school due to the perception of girls bringing shame to the family if they are harassed or molested by boys in and on way to school.
To tackle this, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao got implemented wherein girls are being awarded sum of 10,000 INR on 100% transition from class V to class VI; 15,000 INR on 100% transition from class VIII to class IX; and 20,000 INR 100% transition from class X to class XI. Additionally, a prize of a sum of 5,000 INR is awarded to the top ten girls at each level of education.
In rural India, only 367 higher education schools are within 1 km distance per 1000 distribution of households. Long-distance to schools and the imposition of a guardian to accompany girls to school also makes it difficult for commuting everyday schools for girls.
In 2006, the government of the Indian state of Bihar introduced an innovative programme that aimed to improve school access and reduce the gender gap in secondary school enrollment by providing girls who continued to secondary school with a bicycle. Researches have shown that being in the Cycle programme increased girls’ age-appropriate enrolment in secondary school by 30% and reduced the gender gap in enrolment by 40%.
As per the World Bank report 2018, three in four girls complete their higher secondary school. The increase in number is due to actions by the government through initiatives like RTE, Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan, and Beti Bachao Beti Padho. Not only have programmes to create awareness about girl education have increased but also efforts to improve infrastructure and environment of the schools have been undertaken that have helped in raising the number of girls going to school.
In a bid to aid the government initiatives to promote girl education, several NGOs and other civil service organizations have been working hard for years, even before the introduction of RTE and BBBP.
Mission Education programme of Smile Foundation is among the leading programmes aimed at promoting and pushing for girl education. With more than 261 centres in 22 states of the country, Mission Education supports more than 37,000 children every year by providing remedial and formal education. Since its inception in 2002, more than 200,000 children have benefitted from the programme. Out of the total students under Mission Education, 51% have been girls. Currently, in 2019, Smile has 25,308 girls supported under the programme, which is a drastic change from the number of girls that studied 5 years ago, which was only 9,476 in 2014.
The Mission Education programme is focused on promoting girl child education and discussions with parents and community are done on educating the girl child at all levels. The programme aims to work on providing an enabling environment for girls which includes separate toilets for girls. Celebratory days like International and National girl child days are also observed at the majority of the centres. Health check-ups are conducted and adolescent education awareness is done regularly. As girls usually have the responsibility of sibling care, to support that many of the centres allow bringing siblings to the centre while girls come to attain their education.
Along with Mission Education, integrated efforts are pulled off with Swabhiman, where Smile reaches out to girls 13 years onwards supporting them in scholarships, and 10 years onwards in adolescent education awareness.
About Author: Mr Santanu Mishra, Co-Founder, and Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation has been involved in making Smile Foundation a structured and successful non-profit organization since 2005. Smile Foundation began its journey formally in 2002, pioneering the principles of good governance in the non-profits and the innovative concept of Social Venture Philanthropy (SVP), with the latter handholding grassroots NGOs to achieve accountability, scalability, sustainability, and leadership