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Why female education suffers

B. Naga Trinadh | Updated on February 25, 2013

Availability of basic facilities would check dropout rates. — A. Muralitharan



Finally, it seemed that the Right to Education Act had taken a major step. Minimum required school infrastructure has been defined, including separate toilets for boys and girls, safe and adequate drinking water for all children, with barrier-free access for children with special needs.

Further, RTE Act insists that “no school shall be established or organised under section 18, unless it fulfils the norms and standards specified in the schedule”. The abovementioned norm, however, is “just” a norm!

Lakshmi, 13 year old, is a class 7 student of Zilla Parishad high school in Pervali village of Kurnool district. She aspires to become a teacher, but confesses that she is unable to concentrate on studies because of the absence of drinking water in the school.

This statement puzzled me and upon further interaction, the young girl said, “I drink only a glass of water every morning before I come to school and then again after I go back to home; I do not even take water during the lunch break and I have to be thirsty throughout the classes. Most of the other girls do not take water for fear of having to use a toilet”. Sadly, there are no toilets for either boys or girls in the school premises, and it became a very serious problem, especially for girl students.

SANITATION FACTOR

To my shock, the school has strength of 522 students, including 265 girls. Merely imagining the condition of these students (read girls) is frightening enough. Often, illiteracy and dropout from schools is attributed to lack of teachers, lack of textbooks and the financial and social status of families. Sanitation, especially for girl students, has never been given its due and toilets in schools are a very critical factor in reducing the female illiteracy.

The Annual Status of Education Report developed by Pratham, a NGO working towards providing quality education to the under privileged conducted a survey in 2010 reaching to 522 districts, over 14,000 villages, 3,00,000 households, 13,000 government schools and almost 7,00,000 children. The report states that only 36.8 per cent schools have functional toilets for girls and 18 per cent of rural schools in India are without drinking water.

Another study on well-being of children and women conducted by UNICEF in 2005, had shown that only 47 per cent of rural children in the age group 5-14 years wash hands after defecation, and after close to a decade these statistics have not really improved.

The habit of hand-washing with soap before eating and after defecation is still an alien concept in many rural schools.

With the girl child already losing out on health, nutrition and education what is further disturbing is to see her getting married. Child marriages in India are still prevalent. About 16 per cent of girls in the age group of 15-19 years have begun child bearing (either have had a live birth or pregnant with first child). The poor status of child bearing adolescents, coupled with physiological immaturity, elevates the risk of maternal and prenatal death.

The “lost years” of adolescence can be harnessed fruitfully, and women can be equipped for a better and more productive life if they are addressed by a special target category of developmental programmes. India needs policies that are working on the ground, not mere expressions of pious intent.

The author is an alumnus of IRMA and works in the development sector.

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Published on February 25, 2013
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