NEW DELHI: In order to build the nation's capacity to provide quality and equitable education to girls, the draft National Education Policy (NEP) recommends setting up of a gender inclusion fund. Apart from ensuring 100 per cent participation of girls in the schooling system the fund, according to the policy draft, would aim to close gender gaps in educational attainment at all levels.
The fund would also enable in "changing mindsets and halting harmful practices to foster gender equity and inclusion; inculcating girls' capacity for leadership to help develop current and future role models; and improving dialogue with civil society to exchange best practices and lessons learned", the draft policy stated.
The draft policy prepared by a panel headed by eminent space scientist K Kasturirangan, has been placed in the public domain by the ministry of Human Resource Development inviting suggestions till July 31.
Expounding on the fund, the policy stated that it will authorise two funding streams - formula and discretionary grants. Formula grants will be available to States to implement priorities determined by the central government and critical for assisting women and girls in gaining access to education (such as the provision of sanitation and toilets, bicycles, conditional cash transfers etc.), it explained.
The second component - discretionary funds "will enable States to support and scale effective community based interventions that address localised and context-specific barriers to girls' access to and participation in quality education."
"Discretionary funds will be directed towards underfunded educational challenges facing women and girls at the community level based on a comprehensive independent-needs assessment. A portion of discretionary funds will be used to conduct due diligence on community-based organisations and to provide them with targeted technical assistance to enhance their capacity to deliver programming. States that receive resources through the fund will detail out their plan to consult civil society as a component of its efforts to close the gender gap in education," it stated.
Educationists while welcoming the creation of a fund to close gender specific gaps in the schooling system said that a host of interventions are needed to check the dropout rate of girls after the primary level of education.
"Though the country has been able to achieve universal enrolment at the primary level, the girls start dropping out of school after fifth grade or eighth standard due to accessibility issues. It has also been observed that a lot of girls drop out of schools when they hit puberty, since the school infrastructure is not conducive for their menstrual hygiene," said Shikha Jain, an educationist.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), over 20 percent of girls drop out of school completely after reaching puberty in India.
Jain also asserted that the government should specify the amount available as part of the fund and lay down clear guidelines on how the corpus would be spent to address gender specific issues.
"Gender should be used as a lens to look at initiatives such as digitisation of classrooms, increasing numeracy and literacy (since many girls are discouraged by the families to study maths and science from the beginning), rather than being treated as a standalone issue," she said.
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Stressing on providing a safe environment for the girls in school, the policy also advocates laying down guidelines for ensuring school safety and security of girls. These guidelines will be developed and made a part of the eligibility conditions for institutional accreditation.
"This framework will include mandatory training for educators and administrators on efforts to prevent and respond to school-related gender-based violence. Working female-only toilets with a regular stock of menstrual hygiene products will be constructed and made available," it stated.
The policy recommends that schools develop credible mechanisms to ensure that they remain free of discrimination, harassment and intimidation especially for women and girls.
It also emphasises upon providing a safe environment outside the premises of the schools for attainment of education of girls. "Girls' safety outside of school is also recognised as critical to their attendance and overall educational attainment; unfortunately, transportation to and from school can sometimes infringe on their personal safety in some areas. Efforts will be made to ensure girls benefit from initiatives that promote access to safe and reliable transportation, including bicycle access programmes," it stated.
Realising that gender stereotypes play a crucial role in girls withdrawing from school, the policy calls for participation from social workers to "hold regular discussions with parents, e.g. on social issues like child marriage, not sending girls to high school or for further studies, placing financial expectations on boys pre-maturely, forming negative perceptions around women employment, involving school-going children in the family profession or household work, and in general, according external factors precedence over formal education."
As part of the gender inclusive efforts, the policy also mandates that all educational institutions and affiliated offices conduct gender sensitisation programmes to raise teachers' and educational administrators' awareness of gender-sensitive and inclusive classroom management.
This would include awareness sessions on gender issues to break stereotyped gender roles, on the importance of harassment-free environment and equal treatment of genders, and on legal protections and entitlements for girls and women including the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), Prohibition of Child Marriage Act,the Maternity Benefit Act (along with its amendment), and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.
The policy also emphasises on fostering women's participation and leadership in education and such women could in turn act as strong role models for the girls to attend school regularly.
"Resources will be made available to increase the number of women in positions of leadership in schools, including but not limited to institutional heads, teachers, hostel wardens, health workers, security guards and sports instructors. To facilitate the hiring and retention of women in education, the amended Maternity Benefit Act will be implemented to provide creche facilities for educators. By focusing on leadership development, incentive programmes, teacher education, recruitment and retention efforts, these initiatives will ensure women play a leading role in children's education," it stated.
"To address the gender imbalance among school teachers (especially in some rural schools), alternate pathways for female teacher recruitment will be developed, without compromising on merit and qualification, both educational and professional," it added.