Education is a fundamental right granted to every human being under Article-21A of the Constitution of India. Education and growth are seen as key indicators for the development of the country. Education enables girls to participate in the growth of the society and the family, as educated girls can participate in the political and economic decision-making at home as well as at the community level.
But due to COVID-19, educational institutions are severely impacted leading to the closure of nearly all institutes worldwide. The objective of the article is to analyze the impact of COVID-19 on the education of girls in the Dariya Betalghat Block in the Nainital District of Uttarakhand. It also seeks to find out the discrimination against the girl child in terms of education and to understand the short and long-term consequences of COVID-19 for the education of girls.
The Education System in India
Education in India is provided by public and private institutions. Public institutions are run by the government of India. Private institutions are independent entities owned by a non-state entity such as a firm, individual, or business enterprise. There are four levels of the school system in India-
- Lower primary age 6-10
- Upper primary age 11-12
- High school age 13-16
- Higher secondary age 17-18
The majority of students study in government schools where students from vulnerable communities study for free until the age of 14 as they can’t afford the high fee structure of private schools. According to the 2011 Census, the enrollment rate of primary education is 93% but high school and higher secondary enrollment rates gradually decrease because half of them dropped out at the age of 14.
According to the Ministry of Finance –
- Number of Primary Schools in India: 0.664 million (2001-02)
- Number Upper Primary Schools in India: 0.219 million
- Population in the age group of 6-14 years: 193 Million
- Secondary and Senior Secondary Schools: 0.133 million; Enrollment: 30.5 million
Schooling has been shown to increase productivity, well being and minimizes the detriments to child welfare, such as child labour and early marriage. In the meantime, there have been reports that disparities in access to education, performance, and high degrees of absolute education deprivation, particularly among children, are increasing worldwide (Subramanian, 2002). Until now, girls are the largest illiterate child population in the world (Olive, 2006).
The government of India has taken the initiative to upgrade the education system in India by passing the Right to Education Act (RTE). It is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted on 4 August 2009, which describes the modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 in India under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. The Act makes the Right to Education a fundamental right of every child between the age of 6 and 14.
Education for Girls in India
Education enables girls to take a part in the growth of society and the family since girls who are educated exercise personal rights to participate both at home and in the community in political and economic decision-making. Qualified women make a greater contribution to economic growth in a nation as they are more likely to become part of the organized labour market and earn higher wages (UNESCO, 2000).
When we look at India, the situation is adverse because in many parts of the country – attending schools for girls is not an option. The gross enrollment ratio in pre-primary schools for girls for the period 2008-2012 was merely 55.9%. The female literacy rate for the age group 15-24 years during 2008-2012 was 74.4%. 47% of girls are married before the legal age of 18. Dropout rates increase alarmingly in classes III to V = 50% for boys and 58% for girls.
The reasons for the lack of education for girls can be attributed to the following:
- Socio-cultural view: People (increased likelihood in rural India) believe that educating a girl child is of no use. They think that girls should stay at home and take care of the household and then get married at a ‘suitable’ age. They think that educating a girl child is a waste of time and money.
- Financial status: The financially backward families who earn enough to feed their children can’t afford a girl child’s education. In their view, a girl is ultimately destined to be married off.
- The distance to school: Many girls do not continue schooling because of the long distance between school and home. Long-distance creates various problems. It threatens the security of the girl due to which parents do not allow her to attend school.
A World Bank Report (2018) states that globally nine in ten girls complete their primary education (till class 5) but only three in four complete their lower secondary education (till class 10). In India, the highest drop-out rates are seen in classes 8 and 9 — around the age when a girl hits puberty.
Education for Girls and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected educational systems worldwide, leading to the near-total closures of schools, universities, and colleges. The disruptions caused by it affect children across all countries but their impact is more severe for disadvantaged children, especially the girl child. The COVID-19 crisis is disrupting early learning and formal education for them. Due to their lower level of education, they will get fewer opportunities in their social life. The girls are facing extreme stress and more inequalities at every point in their lives.
UNESCO reports that over 89 percent of the total population of students worldwide and 320 million students in India are actually out of school due to COVID-19 closures. This is 1.54 billion children and young people, including nearly 743 million girls, enrolled in school or university. In the least-developed countries of the world, over 111 million of these girls still struggle to get an education. About 1.5 billion students had their education interrupted as a result of closures in schools and universities, affecting almost 91 percent of the world’s student population.
There are three major impacts on the girl child’s education due to COVID-19:
Poverty – India’s largest proportion of the population lives under the poverty line and their source of income is on a daily basis. Due to the lockdown, there is no other source of income for the informal sector. This will result in the girl child being made to drop out of school, which will place them at heightened risk of violence in their home. As there is a tradition that if a family has a girl and a boy, they prefer the boy child to continue the education. She is in a constant struggle for survival, growth, and development from the time she is conceived till adulthood.
Gender inequality is a major cause and effect of hunger and poverty: it is estimated that 60 percent of the world’s chronically hungry people are women and girls; 20 percent are children under five. The crisis this year could lead to additional 42-66 million children falling into extreme poverty.
Violence – Girls who are out of school fail to navigate mechanisms for social support and programs – such as sexual and reproductive health. We have experienced a global spike in domestic violence described as the ‘second pandemic.’ Economic declines, unemployment, and school closures are boosting sexual violence, exploitation, trafficking, child labour, child marriage, and other harmful practices. Girls will also face an unequal burden of unpaid care and housework, which will increase as they are at home.
Various studies showed that school closures increased the girl’s vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse. In Sierra Leone, teenage pregnancy increased by up to 65% in some communities during the Ebola crisis and many girls have not returned to their classrooms.
Digital platform – Around 96 percent of children in rural India are enrolled in government schools, where free education is provided to boys and girls. Children attending these schools are generally from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds relying on the few amenities provided by the school infrastructure. They don’t have digital equipment and the requirements to access online classes.
The girls don’t have equal access to online learning. The boys have 1.5 times the probability of owning a phone in low and middle-income countries than girls. The likelihood of owning a smartphone with internet connectivity is 1.8 times higher.
Only 23.8 percent of Indian households had internet access in the 2017-18 National Sample Survey. Only 14.9% had access in rural households (66% of the population), and in urban homes, only 42% had access. Yet men are the biggest users: 16% of women, compared with 36% of men, had access to the internet. Youth have even less access: only 12.5% of students have access to smartphones in a recent news report.
Lack of education promised under Article 21-A has been denied to children from poor families. While rich families can ensure that their children can take online courses or can even graduate from international universities, poor children cannot even attend school. To understand the short and long-term consequences of COVID-19 for girls, we can take the example of the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic and the 2008 global financial crisis. The epidemic reduced funding for education as governments diverted funds to public health and put a strain on the pre-existing teacher shortage.
The above-discussed things are all anecdotal and the main purpose of this research is to find out the reality of the impact on the girl child education due to COVID-19 at the grassroots level. COVID-19 has led to an education crisis across the globe and in India owing to the closure of educational institutions as preventive measures. Is there any impact of COVID-19 response measured on the education of the girl child in India?
Results of Survey conducted in Dariya Betalghat Block, Nainital, Uttarakhand
- Out of 35 families, only 14 families have one smartphone.
- In 35 families, there are a total of 48 girls out of which only 12 are taking the online classes.
- Out of the 48 girls, 4 girls left the study.
- Out of 35 families, 13 families have no expectation from the government regarding initiatives that should be taken for the girl child’s education in the current pandemic.
- Out of 35 families, 11 families have a meager source of income in the current situation. i.e., around 69% of the family in our survey don’t have any source of income.
- Our survey report shows that nearly 75% of girls are out of touch with their studies. Either the government/school hasn’t taken any initiative or they don’t have smart devices or books to study at home.
From the field study, we interpreted that the overall perspective of people towards educating the girl child has changed. Everyone wants to educate their girl child but due to the current pandemic the priority has changed i.e., the primary goal of the people has become to survive in hard times.
Adding to these crises, the government has not taken any constructive approach to help the vulnerable ones and their families. From the field study, I found that there have been no initiatives from the educational department of concerned authorities towards continuing the education of the children from home. This has largely affected the education of the girls as they have no medium to continue their education from home.
During the field survey, I also found that most of the families don’t have smartphones. They have only keypad phones. Those who have smartphones, have to share with all family members. Even if the girl child attended online classes, they can’t afford the extra data pack due to the financial crisis as they don’t have any source of income at this point in time. Those who are attending the online classes are not being provided with quality reading material through the online medium or they are unable to understand things properly.
Those who can’t afford online classes or whose schools haven’t taken any initiative for online classes haven’t been provided with the books or reading material by their school to self-study at home. These hindrances are impacting girls’ education immensely – because either they are totally or partially out of touch with their studies.
The people belonging to vulnerable communities stated that the government didn’t renew their ration cards through which they were getting the food grains at a lower cost, and now they are getting the same quantity of food grains at a much higher cost which they can’t afford. As such, the general enquiry was as to how can the government take initiatives to continue the education of the girl child of the poorer section in the current pandemic. Also from the survey, we found that all the girls are willing to continue their studies but due to the financial situation of their families and lack of resources, they are sacrificing their studies.
Those in vulnerable communities do want to educate their girl child to build their future. They don’t want to see them suffer as they are suffering. They don’t think that educating the girl child is a mere wastage of time and money. The girl child is also willing to study but the government is not taking any initiatives towards her education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All government schools provide cooked mid-day meals (MDMs) with nutritional requirements and age-graded calorific values. As India has the most malnourished children worldwide and considering the gendered nature of the food supply available to girls in households, mid-day meals contribute to the fight against malnutrition and ensure that enrolled girls get at least one healthy meal a day. But due to the pandemic situation, the schools are closed and the girls are not even getting one proper meal a day.
Policymakers should discuss historical crisis lessons to resolve the unique problems that girls face and mitigate the effects of current pandemics and help girls to return to school. Here are some of the recommendations:
- The effective safety and security of the girl child from gender-based violence in all programs, knowledge, and advice at all levels of the response must be underlined and addressed properly. We should collaborate with teachers, parents, health workers, and partners to ensure that girls receive the required help in the current crisis.
- Parents and institutes should coordinate and follow guidelines issued by the national health and education authorities. The authorities should share information with staff, students and provide updated information on preventing and controlling the effects of the current pandemic situation in schools.
- The government should find ways to sustain learning for girls during the pandemic and ensure appropriate funding of education systems in the months and years after the crisis.
- We need to ensure the consistency, including alternative frameworks, of core and quality educational service while preserving our long-term support for strong education systems, to meet the comprehensive needs of the girl child.
- The authorities should provide and coordinate with Community Vigilance Groups along with Self-Help Groups and youth groups to organize awareness programs through online mechanisms in rural areas, particularly in their communities – on girl child rights, on social issues they face and if required, to provide counseling and support during the crisis.
- Educational authorities and schools must ensure that education continues in the event of school closures. It should organize programs in the most vulnerable communities around the world to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and continue to protect and empower girls.
- Girls and other vulnerable children miss out on vital services when schools are closed, specifically school meals and social protection. The authorities should make schools into access points for psycho-social support and food distribution, work across sectors to ensure alternative social services and deliver support over the phone, text, or other forms of media.
- There should be reinforced frequent hand washing and sanitation and procure needed supplies. Prepare and maintain handwashing stations with soap and water, and if possible, place alcohol-based hand rub (hand sanitizers) in each classroom, at entrances and exits, and near lunchrooms and toilets.
- In contexts where digital solutions to distance learning and the internet are accessible, ensure that girls are trained with the necessary digital skills, including the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe online.
- Where digital solutions are less accessible, consider low-tech and gender-responsive approaches. Send reading and writing materials home and use radio and television broadcasts to reach the most marginalized and vulnerable girl child.
- The authorities should ensure that program scheduling and learning structures are flexible and allow self-paced learning so as to not deter girls from attaining an education.
- The institutes should organize remote educational programs through online mechanisms and governments should also work with communities, school officials, and teachers to monitor whether girls are participating in these remote educational programs.
- There should be a need for additional learning financing for girls and the role of local governments in designing appropriate support programs that improve learning for the girl child.
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Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Observer Research Foundation