The enrolment of girls at elementary level has increased in the recent years, gender disparities still persists and the drop-out rate is higher among girls as compared to that of boys at the primary and upper primary stage. Government has implemented various schemes for the education of girls making special provisions and incentives to promote girls’ participation in education such as through SSA, NPEGEL, EGS/AIE, ECCE, Mahila Samakhya, etc. The effective implementation of these programmes requires effective decentralization. Community participation has much scope in improving the educational status of girls. The present paper highlights the current educational status of girls in India and focuses on the importance of community interventions in elementary education for improving the education status of girls. The paper discusses the effective community participation strategies for promoting girls’ education.
Education is an important instrument for human resource development. Human resource development for the progress of country requires the capacity building of both the genders. In the Sixth Five Year Plan, women are recognized as partner as well as stakeholder in the development of the country. The Ninth Five Year Plan took up ‘empowering women as an agent of socio-economic change and development’ as a major commitment. The Ninth Five Year Plan aimed to improve the status of the women in the country by shifting the concern from ‘welfare’ and ‘development’ to ‘empowerment’. Education is the only important tool that can result in bringing the welfare, development and empowerment of women. An educated and empowered woman can have much to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. If the education of the girls and women remain ignored in a country, about half of the human resource would remain unprepared and unutilized. Therefore, education of girls and women holds top priority amongst various measures to improve the status of the female citizens of the country, so that they can also participate and avail the benefits of development.
The National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986, envisaged that education will be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women. NPE states that the removal of women illiteracy and obstacles inhibiting their access to, and retention in elementary education will receive overriding priority, through provisions of special support services, setting of time targets, and effective monitoring. High priority has been accorded to primary school education in the various Five Years Plans to fulfill the requirements under Article 45 of the Constitution for universal, free and compulsory education up to the age of 14 years.
Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) has been accepted as a national goal since 1950. In order to achieve the goal, concerted efforts have been made and as a result the elementary education system in India has become one of the largest in the world. Universal access, retention and universal achievement are the broad parameters to achieve UEE. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the Government’s EFA progarmme is being implemented all over the country with an aim of providing quality elementary education to all children in the 6-14 age group by 2010. It aims to bridge the social, regional and gender gap in elementary education.
In the Indian society, the education of male child holds preference and the education of girls is considered as of secondary importance. However, the enrolment of girls at elementary level has increased in the recent years, gender disparities still persists and the drop-out rate is higher among girls as compared to that of boys at the primary and upper primary stages. Government has implemented a large number of schemes for the education of girls making special provisions and incentives to promote girls’ participation in education. SSA, an umbrella scheme to promote the Universalization of Elementary Education, gives special emphasis to the education of girls and aims to bridge the gender gap in elementary education. There are many gender specific educational equity programmes under the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) to promote girls’ education such as National Programme of Education for Girls at the Elementary Level (NPEGEL), Kasturba Gandhi Bailka Vidyalaya (KGBV), and Mahila Samakhya. Other schemes of MHRD such as Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), Mid-Day Meal Scheme, and Education Guarantee Scheme/ Alternative and Innovative Education (EGS/A&IE) benefit girls in general. The Ministry of Women and Child Development have also implemented some schemes for girls’ education. These are Balika Samriddhi Yojana, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and Kishori Shakti Yojana.
Gender gap in enrolment, retention, completion and achievement has been reduced consistently as an effort of several programmes for girls’ education. However, in several parts of the country, the gender gap is still high and is not declining rapidly. The need of the hour is to introduce an effective strategy for the successful implementation of the centrally sponsored and state sponsored schemes.
Decentralized efforts have been required for the better implementation of the government schemes of education. The Eleventh Five Year Plan envisages the importance of greater decentralization for effective implementation and monitoring of programmes. The Eleventh Plan focuses on the importance of community involvement and participation in the school management and programme implementation. It suggests for strengthening the community structures to promote the elementary education. Effective community participation can be an important strategy to promote the education of girls at elementary level and thus, to achieve UEE.
Girls as a Disadvantaged Group
Enshrined under Article 46 of the Indian Constitution are the provisions for general and specific welfare of the weaker sections, the deprived and the disadvantaged of India’s population. The Article states, “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”. The gender issue runs through this.
Girls form a disadvantaged section due to the cultural prejudice attached to them. A girl becomes multiple disadvantaged when the gender gets compounded with the other disadvantages like poverty, scheduled caste and scheduled tribes, minorities, or disability. Among girls, those belonging to Scheduled castes or Scheduled tribes or belong to Muslim community becomes highly disadvantaged. Girls with disabilities also become a highly vulnerable group. SSA identifies the disadvantaged girls and aims to provide special provisions and incentives to promote their elementary education. Because of SSA, there has been an impressive growth in the enrolment of girls and reduction in gender gaps in enrolment and dropouts between boys and girls, still girls’ enrolment, transition and completion varies across regions and social groups.
Girls are disadvantaged because they have not been able to take the full advantage of the available opportunities and facilities due to several socio-cultural and economic factors. There is a general indifference to education of girls mainly due to gender bias. There is high prevalence of child labour among girls belonging to weaker section of the society. There is also some social resistance arising out of fears and misconceptions that education might alienate girls from tradition and social values. Society also assigns stereotyped roles to girls like doing household chores and looking after siblings.
Some school related barriers prevent girls to attend school. These include: unsuitable and inflexible timings of school; lack of toilet and sanitary facilities in schools; inadequate provisions of female teachers in schools; non-involvement of community and people’s institutions in school management; irrelevant curriculum and teaching; lack of gender sensitivity of teacher in recognizing girl’s educational needs.
There are five main challenges that make it difficult for girls in accessing education. These include: Cost of girls’ education– The education of girls is economically and socially costly. It includes direct costs as tuition costs, indirect costs such as transportation and uniforms etc, opportunity costs such as lost household or paid labour; Poor school environment– A school environment that may be acceptable to boys may be hostile to girls. These include lack of female teachers, physical and sexual violence, discrimination in classroom, inadequate facilities like separate toilets and sanitary facilities etc.; Weaker position of females in society– Girls often have limited control over their families. Early marriages, adolescent pregnancy, sibling care, domestic responsibilities are some examples of women’s weaker position in society; Conflict situation in states– Girls are more vulnerable in fragile states. States can be fragile for a range of reasons including conflict, lack of resources and people, epidemic, disasters, high level of corruption, terrorist activities and political and economic instability. Girls’ education is largely hampered in these states; Social exclusion– Social exclusion is an additional barriers to girls going to school. Certain groups of girls are more likely to be excluded from school on the basis of caste, ethnicity, religion, or disability. Among these socially excluded groups girls with disabilities form the most vulnerable group.
Current Educational Status of Girls at Elementary Level
DISE data suggests the Gender Parity Index (GPI) and percentage of girls’ enrolment in Primary and Upper Primary classes presented for the period 2005-06 to 2008-09 reveal that there is consistent improvement in the GPI and girls’ share in enrolment. The average of 35 States/UTs in 2008-09 indicates a GPI of 0.94 in Primary classes and 0.91 in the case of enrolment in Upper Primary classes. The respective figures in 2007-08 were 0.93 and 0.89. However, no significant difference is noticed in the GPI in Primary enrolment in rural areas (0.94) and in urban areas (0.91) for the year 2008-09 which is quite similar to the situation in the previous year (DISE, 2010).
Over a period of time, girls’ share in Primary and Upper Primary classes has shown improvement. However, it is lower than the share of boys’ enrolment, both at Primary (48.38 percent) and Upper Primary (47.58 percent) levels of education in 2008-09. Only a little improvement in the girls’ share in the total enrolment in Primary and Upper Primary classes is observed during 2007-08 and 2008-09. The share of girls’ enrolment in Primary classes in 2008-09 was 48.38 percent compared to 48.09 percent in the previous year. Girls share in the total enrolment in Upper Primary classes has been 47.58 percent; it was 46.99 percent in 2007-08. Girls’ share in Upper Primary enrolment was found to be slightly lower in rural areas (47.50 percent) than in urban areas (47.79 percent) but the same in the case of Elementary classes, that is, Classes I-VII/VIII is found to be higher in rural (48.27 percent) areas than in urban (47.71 percent) areas (DISE, 2010). For the year 2009-10, the percentage of girls’ enrolment to total enrolment in elementary classes was 48.46 for primary level and 48.12 for upper primary level. There has been the slight increase in the enrolment of girls both at the primary and upper primary level which goes up to 48.46 in 2009-10 from 48.38 percent in 2008-09 (primary level), and 48.12 percent in 2009-2010 from 47. 58. This shows that the growth of enrolment of girls to the total enrolment was comparatively more at the upper primary level in 2009-10 as compared to the previous year. The gender-parity index for the primary level in 2009-2010 was 0.94 whereas for upper primary level it was 0.93 (DISE, 2011).
This shows that the rate of growth of enrolment of girls has been higher than that of the boys at the primary and upper primary stages. However, the disparities still persist. Although over a period, percentage of female students to total number of students increased but the gap is still wide between boys and girls.
School wise information collected through DISE suggests that only 39.50% of the primary schools, 62.55 % of primary with upper primary schools, 69.80% of primary with upper primary and secondary/higher secondary schools, 40.82% of upper primary schools, and 72.01% of upper primary and secondary/higher secondary schools have boundary walls. This shows that still a good number of schools especially the primary and upper primary schools are without boundary walls. The DISE data shows that in 2008-09, 66.84% of schools (all primary only- 62.81, primary with upper primary-73.98, primary with upper primary and secondary/higher secondary- 75.04, upper primary only-74.31, upper primary and secondary/higher secondary-71.33) have common toilet, whereas only 53.60 % of schools have separate toilet for girls. The DISE data also shows that in the year 2008-09, only 40.39% of schools have ramps (DISE, 2010). Selected Education Statistics (SES), MHRD, data for 2007-08 shows that there were 80 female teachers per 1000 male teachers at the primary level where as 67 female teachers per 100 male teachers at the middle level and 61 female teachers per 1000 male teachers at the secondary level (MHRD, 2009). It is obvious that parents might be wary of sending their daughters to school without female teachers.
This picture of school related indicators is dismal. Not having boundary walls, separate toilets and ramps in schools would mean that girls (or girls with disabilities) would become reluctant in attending school.
Community Participation for Girls’ Education
Girls’ education can be improved through community participation in school planning. Community participation can have various forms. It can be done effectively when more women are trained to participate in school planning processes because women empowerment is a vital component of any planning process and because women as a group can better understand the gender issues in education. So, one of the best form of community participation in the education of girls can be the participation of women and mother groups in the community. This can ensure both the girls’ education as well as the women empowerment in the community. Community participation is particularly important to address local obstacles to girls’ enrolment that are created by social norms as well as economic conditions. The development literatures argues that more female participation is needed to truly address the gender based obstacles in education.
Education of girls especially belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes is the primary focus in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It recognizes the need for special efforts to bring the out-of-school girls, especially from disadvantaged sections, to school. SSA has an aim to bridge the social, regional and gender gaps with the active participation of the community. Community can play a major role in the effective implementation and monitoring of SSA and its other integrated programmes with a special focus on gender issues. Reaching out to the girls is central to the efforts to universalize elementary education. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan recognizes that ensuring girls’ education requires changes not only in the education system but also in the societal norms and attitudes and that could be better achieved through community-based interventions. The need is to generate community demand for girls’ education through the training of community leaders and community mobilization.
The targeted provisions for girls under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan include : free textbooks to all girls upto class VIII; separate toilets for girls; back to school camps for out of school girls; bridge courses for older girls; recruitment of 50% women teachers; early childhood care and education centers in/near schools, convergence with ICDS programme etc; teachers’ sensitization programmes to promote equitable learning opportunities; gender-sensitive teaching learning materials including textbooks; intensive community mobilization efforts; innovation fund’ per district for need based interventions to ensure girls’ attendance and retention; and girls only schools at upper primary level within the State policy.
Community demand for girls’ education can be created by enabling conditions for people’s and community participation for creating the push factors necessary to guarantee girls’ education. Motivation and mobilization of the community at large, enhancing the role of women and mothers in school related activities and participation in school committees, and strengthening the linkages between the school, teachers and communities are some of the ways in which enabling conditions can be created.
The National Programme for Education of Girls at an Elementary Level was started in September 2003 as an integral component of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It sought to distribute free textbooks for girls till Class VIII, construct separate toilets for girls and to conduct bridge camps for older out-of-school girls. The NPEGEL aimed at ensuring that 50% of the newly recruited teachers were female and that learning materials would be gender sensitive. NPEGEL also intends to mobilise intensive community efforts and institute an innovation fund (for better enrolment and retention) per district. As such, the NPEGEL provides additional provisions for enhancing the education of underprivileged/disadvantaged girls at an elementary level through more intense community mobilisation, development of model schools in clusters and the provision of need based incentives like textbooks and uniforms.
The NPEGEL Scheme is essentially for the girl child only. The idea behind free textbooks and uniforms is to reduce the costs of schooling for the girl child. It is generally seen that when there are economic constraints, the girl child is the first of the children in a family, to be taken out of school. This is because the opportunity cost of educating a girl is generally high. In case of economic constraints, the daughter of the house must do the housework (as her mother must work) and various odd jobs (as a domestic servant for example). The sons are kept at school since they can be counted upon as a future investment while the girls are to be married off. The NPEGEL should focus on doing more than increasing enrolment. It should increase retention as well. NPEGEL should focus on more permanent facilities like the construction of girls’ toilets and spreading awareness about the need for girls’ education.
Mobilizing community organisations to maintain effective checks on teacher training exercises and service delivery is important. In Orissa, there has been an initiative in which Mother Teacher Associations maintain a check on the attendance of teachers and children, the regularity of classes and the cleanliness of the school compound. Designated mothers are also required to bring out of school children in the neighbourhood by motivating parents. While NGOs and charity organisations can mobilise the community, the community itself can do a better job as it has more of an incentive to. The question is how will the government enable illiterate villagers, slum dwellers etcetera to come together, send their daughters to school and ensure that the benefits of schooling their daughters exceed the costs? To start with, there is a very low value attached to girls’ education anyway. For this, community must spread awareness through publicity campaigns in addition to its other operations.
Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) is a scheme launched in July 2004, for setting up residential schools at upper primary level for girls belonging predominantly to the SC, ST, OBC and minority communities. The scheme is being implemented in educationally backward blocks of the country where the female rural literacy is below the national average and gender gap in literacy is above the national average. The scheme provides for a minimum reservation of 75% of the seats for girls belonging to SC, ST, OBC or minority communities and priority for the remaining 25%, is accorded to girls from families below poverty line. The scheme is being implemented in 24 States namely: Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Manipur, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and West Bengal and the Union Territory of Dadar & Nagar Haveli.
2180 KGBVs were sanctioned by Government of India upto March 2007. Of these, 1226 KGBVs are reported to have been made operational in the States and 80,853 girls enrolled in them. (19823 SC girls (25%); 23298 ST girls (29%); 20137 OBC girls (25%); 13417 BPL girls (17%); 4178 Minority girls (5%). The total amount released by Government of India till 31.3.2007 is Rs. 43552.54 lakhs. The Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya scheme is merged with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in the XIth Plan with effect from 1st April, 2007.
KGBV also has much scope for community participation. Mahila samoohs can ensure proper service delivery in terms of free uniforms, textbooks, and mid day meals. Educated community members can offer their voluntary services for bridge courses. For example, community can identify a computer literate person or a physical trainer who can offer their voluntary services to provide training to the girls at KGBV. Community can also address various other needs of the girls at KGBV like extra uniforms, study materials, and things of daily use to support the education of girls. Proper inspection of the teaching-learning process, other activities, meals, toilet facilities and sanitation, medical facilities and safety of girls at residential KGBVs can be done by the group of community women. Community can help in identifying the girls from educationally backward blocks to be enrolled in KGBVs and remove the fear of parents who are reluctant to send their daughters to hostels.
The ECCE was an optional component of the District Primary Education Programme while it was still in operation. Currently, the ECCE is still being carried out, though in a small way, under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. The ECCE aims at setting up pre schools to prepare children for schooling. It has an indirect bearing on education for girls as with her siblings in school, the girl child need not assume sibling care responsibilities during school hours and can therefore, attend school.
ECCE is run with innovation funds from the MHRD through School Management Committees, Village Education Committees and Education Guarantee Centres. To avoid duplication of efforts, ECCE Centres are instituted in areas with no Integrated Child Development Services Centres for pre-school children run by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Regarding ECCE programme, women in the community an extend their additional support for providing care to the younger children. Elderly women can give their valuable suggestions for taking care of younger children at aganwadis. Community people can also provide resources for innovative teachings such as play way kits, maintenance of aganwadi buildings, etc. They can also identify the areas where aganwadi workers need extra training. Community can ensure the construction of crèches in the proximity of each and every co-ed and girls’ schools-primary as well as secondary. This will enable the elder daughters of households to leave the younger siblings in the care of trained personnel. Community should see it that the personnel in ECCE crèches and pre-schools are trained and effectively performing their roles.
The schemes like NPEGEL and KGBV may cause a girl child to get enrolled into school, they are not likely to ensure that they will not drop out. Therefore, community support and participation is important to ensure the retention of girls in schools. Community can organize massive publicity campaigns extolling the virtues of educating a girl child and benefit that might accrue her family in the form of monetary gain once she starts earning and status and prestige in the community. Education is sensitive to interpersonal motivation. If one family sends girls to schools, its neighbours are likely to do so well. This kind of publicity at community level should invite parents to form an association and register with the district authority. They should be informed of the benefits of organizing themselves to protest against the low teaching standards and to ensure teacher regularity and service delivery.
Community mobilization is very important in form of VEC, Women’s Self Help Groups, PTAs, MTAs and SMCs. These bodies can play a major role for the promotion of girls’ education. The need is to strengthen and provide adequate training to these formal bodies of community participation. The school related factors that result in non enrolment and drop outs of the girls such as distance of school, inadequate infrastructure like separate toilets, water facilities, sanitation, availability of female teachers, teacher’s attitude towards girl child, architectural barriers for girls with disabilities etc can be effectively checked by these bodies. A group of mothers or other women in the community can form an association to facilitate the schooling of girls like escorting girls in their way to and from school. This can reduce the parents’ fear of girls’ safety in their way to school.
Mobilizing community organizations to maintain effective checks on teacher presence and service delivery is important. The formal bodies of community participation like VECs, PTAs, MTAs, and SMCs should be given training by NGOs hired by the State Government or District authorities to insist upon doing proper micro planning and monitoring and evaluating the government’s programmes. The local bodies must be provided with more funds through state and district channels. With these funds, these local bodies can ensure the construction and renovation of schooling infrastructure and provisions of teaching learning materials. The SMCs must be given delegated powers to hire, pay and fire the school teachers so that the accountability of teachers can be directly submitted to the school management committee.
Lessons from earlier programmes
There are some good examples of projects and programmes that reflect the community participation in planning and management of elementary education at grass roots level in our country.
Janshala (GOI-UN) Programme is a collaborative effort of the Government of India and five UN agencies- UNDP UNICEF, UNESCO, ILO and UNFPA- to provide programme support to the ongoing efforts towards achieving UEE. Janshala, a community based primary education programme aims to make primary education more accessible and effective especially for girls and children in deprived communities, marginalized groups, SC/ST minorities, working children and children with specific needs. The Lok Jumbish Project (LJP) was started in 1992 in Rajasthan. The focus of the project has been on achievement of universalization of elementary education with decentralized planning and community support. The Lok Jumbish process of planning and management is based on authentic grass roots level information, community participation, government-NGO collaboration and gender quality. It has attempted to make education a people’s movement ensuring active and sustained participation of people at every level. The unit of decentralized planning in Lok Jumbish is the village and the unit of decentralized management is the community development block. The project has developed sound techniques of community mobilization through school mapping and micro planning.
The District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) is another good example of community based primary education programme. The DPEP is distinct form of conventional project which has resulted in the constitution of Village Education Committees that started its functions for providing sites for school building, carry out census on children, preparing village education registers, visit to schools, recommending annual budgets, undertaking maintenance and repairing of schools, check attendance of students and teachers, etc.
Mahila Samakhya Programme is a direct outcome of the commitment to affirmative action in support of women’s education mandated in the National Policy on Education. This programme gives emphasis on community participation and collective mobilisation of women in order to change their own lives. The process of mobilisation and organising women is facilitated by a “Sahayogini”. She is the crucial link between the village sangha and the district implementation unit of the proramme. Vibrant and strong “Mahila Sanghas” or women’s collectives have evolved at the village level thereby laying a foundation for women’s empowerment at the grassroots. Women Sangh as have taken an active lead in the area of girl child education.
Strategies of Community Participation for Girls’ Education
Community can participate for the girls’ education in several ways. The strategies include: making girls’ education a community agenda and advocating enrolment and education benefits for girls’ education through awareness campaigns; monitoring and evaluating the implementation of educational equity programmes for girl; checking students and teacher attendance, female teachers, teacher training level, availability of school facilities like separate toilets, effective TLM, gender friendly classroom environment and learning, safe and easy transition of girls to and from schools; improving the home environment of girls for participation in school and proper learning; proper service delivery in form of textbooks, school bags, stationery, uniforms, bicycles, scholarships, and mid day meal; provision of vocational training, health awareness, physical training, life skill training, through community support; providing support to schools in form of manpower, financial, and physical resources to improve girls’ education; checking the training level of teachers in schools as well as anganwadi workers; people’s perceptions about a number of issues related to school education management e.g. time, holiday, curriculum, etc, should receive due consideration; proper service delivery of mid day meal through community support- community can extend its support for the construction and maintenance of kitchen shelves, contribution of food grains, procurement, storage, cooking, serving of food and cleaning of kitchen and utensils. Community can ensure the regularity of mid day meal serving in schools and can also check the students’ attendance for mid day meal; social problems associated with girls that are hampering their education such as early marriage, sexual exploitation, female foeticide and infanticide, dowry, etc to be discussed by Women samoohs/ Women SHGs/Mother Associations and appropriate actions to be taken out to curb these problems through women empowerment strategy; constructing, repairing and improving school facilities and recruiting and providing safety and residential facilities to female teachers in the rural areas; actively attending school meetings to learn about girls’ learning progress and classroom behaviour; regular discussions on girls’ education, enrolment, achievement and retention in PTAs, MTAs and VECs; community support for girls with disabilities like providing special services and arranging home based learning for severely disabled girls and mainstreaming of girls with adjustable disabilities to schools.
Several education programmes have viewed the community as a central participant in determining issues of quantity and quality for girls’ education. Democracy calls for a proactive role for people, rather than a top-down approach where the ‘target group’ is intrinsic to planning and implementation. Education is one of the areas that, by definition, must adopt a democratic ethos in its functioning. Policy documents are replete with references to ‘community participation’, the most basic form of which relates to sharing information and building awareness. Community participation is believed to make schools and teachers more accountable, thus leading to a more efficient school system. Community participation to improve girls’ education requires governance arrangements that support gender based discussions and planning at central level, while granting communities authority and resources to implement innovative strategies. For improving the education of girls, demand side strategies that reduce cost and opportunity costs are the most effective ways to increase girls’ enrolment.
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