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Education in the margins and the marginalised

Updated: Jan 19

India is a land of paradoxes. It is a land of dichotomies and inexplicable

contortions. A rich culture that respects and mandates the upliftment of women

and the girl-child. Yet, there is a stark contrast that emerges between these

preachings and the reality on the ground which is alarming and requires

magnanimous improvement. United nations Population Fund (UNFPA) titled

“The State of World Population report 2020”, brings forth the disturbing reality

of gender disparity in the country. The report states are 46 million “missing

girls” in India due to sex-selective abortions and female foeticide, rampant in

urban and rural India alike. And for those girls who survive, things turn more

and more terrible with every passing year of their lives.

It is apparent that this marginalisation in society transcends into the sphere of

education as well. In a country where the literacy rate is 74.37%, the female

literacy rate continues to lag behind significantly, at 53.7%. Roughly one in

every five girls enrolled dropped out after class 8. The girl child faces

multifarious hindrances in their quest for receiving a good standard of

education, and especially post Covid-19, the situation has been exacerbated.

The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 seems to be a faint glimmer of hope to

overcome these shortcomings in the existing educational system, especially for

girl children. The new education policy, wholly updated after 34 years, is

proclaimed to be geared “towards the demands of the 21st century”, it endorses

the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, of free universal access to quality

education, and promises to transform the Indian education system such that, by

2040, it will be “second to none in the world."

The policy recognises teachers as the centre of the education system and

promotes teacher welfare and on-the-job training as central to a vibrant and

well-rounded schooling experience for children. The policy admits the

additional barriers in education that beset female education, particularly at

the primary level. Four distinct Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups

(SEDGs) are identified within the policy. It is acknowledged that girls within

each segment – approximately 50% of each group – face additional

disadvantages exclusively due to gender. Important measures have been

enlisted towards reducing the disparity of female dropouts in school –

specifically by reinforcing the infrastructural credibility of government schools

that will ensure the availability of safe, hygienic, and fully functioning toilets.

Furthermore, the broadening of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas, which

provides boarding facilities and food for girls throughout their schooling, has

also been recommended for this end.

But these ‘broad policy ideas’ lacking specificity for girl children might turn out

to be too little, too late. Despite some progressive provisions in the policy, such

as a Gender Inclusion Fund for equitable education for girls and transgender

students and a substantial increase in public investment to bring education

spending to 6% of gross domestic product, there are growing concerns about

its implications on girls’ education.

In more specific terms, two crucial issues have been neglected altogether from

being mentioned – the issue of sex education, as well as health and nutritional

concerns for the girl child. Sex education emphasising menstrual awareness

can lead to a revolutionary improvement in the overall socio-economic

position of young girls – many of whom become victims of child marriage,

abuse and unintended pregnancies at a tender age, causing them to drop out

of school. Additionally, instruction and awareness regarding menstrual health

can equip girls to deal with this integral but inevitably difficult aspect of

femininity more effectively. As for the issue of nutrition, the broadening of the

midday meal system to include a simple and nutritious breakfast has been

mentioned in the policy. Still, yet again there is no specificity in regards to the

girl child.

In conclusion, it can be said that the NEP is a step in the right direction but one

that lacks specificity, especially for the improvement of the girl-child. The

policy must include specific provisions and protocols. Additionally, along with

academic, menstrual, and nutritional education, the policy must try to enable

“legal education” for the girl child, as knowing their rights, would significantly

help them in avoiding exploitation. Ultimately education is the only bridge of

hope for most of these marginalised groups and any policy must ensure it

provides what it promises.

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