Make self-reliance your occupation. Exert yourself to gather the wealth of knowledge.” These are the words of Savitribai Phule, who was not only the first female teacher of India but was also the lady who founded the first school for girls. Throughout her life, she advocated equal and quality education for girls. She believed the path towards self-reliance is through the power of knowledge.
Education not only provides girls with the path to self-reliance and prosperity but also helps make the future of their families, community and the nation self-reliant. Following her principles of girls’ equality, much progress has been made in increasing female participation in schools. This could be attributed to the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme’s success. As per U-DISE data in 2018-19, the Gross Enrolment Ratio for girls at the primary stage is 101.78% and 96.72% at the elementary stage.
The increase in GER can be attributed to the instrumentalist approach the Ministry of Education has followed right from the school level to higher education. One of the most important interventions has been the provision of incentives through the National Scheme of Incentives to women for secondary education, opening as well as upgrading the existing Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) from the upper primary level up to the senior secondary level in convergence with the erstwhile women’s hostel scheme, development of women’s toilets and providing self-defence training to girls of Class VI to XII. Further, we have established women’s study centres, including the Swami Vivekananda Fellowship for Single Girl Child for research in Social Sciences.
The UGC will be establishing eight premier women’s universities. To boost women’s enrolment in technical education, AICTE provides a PRAGATI scholarship scheme. Women’s enrolment in B.Tech programmes of IITs, NITs and IIEST increased from 8% in 2016 to 14% in 2018-19, 17% in 2019-20 and 20% in 2020-21 due to the creation of supernumerary seats. A total of 3,503 supernumerary seats have been made for female students during the last two and current academic years. The increased participation of girls in the education system reflects gender equality; however, girls’ participation is now sadly endangered by the crisis of Covid-19. Various reports note that the scenario of school closure has made girls vulnerable to pregnancy, early and forced marriage, and violence.
Addressing the challenges, the Ministry of Education has adopted various measures to safeguard the progress made over girls’ education while ensuring that they continue to learn during the pandemic. I must appreciate the efforts of states to facilitate e-learning through DIKSHA, WhatsApp, YouTube, phone calls, conference calls, video calls, Zoom conferences, etc. Special efforts were undertaken to provide homework and short videos on academic areas to girls and teachers. I understand, given the nature of KGBVs, maintaining contact with the girls in different places of their residences during the pandemic has been difficult, but these schools have been able to manoeuvre around that challenge.
They also organised a regular virtual meeting with the district gender coordinators and guided them to implement and monitor different activities for safeguarding girls. In some states, self-defence training was undertaken to train school teachers as trainers so that it can be provided effectively to girls after reopening schools; I must appreciate their rigour to uphold gender equality. As a step further, I have directed all states and UTs to launch a mission to avoid large-scale dropouts in schools in the coming year; the primary focus will be on preventing girls’ dropouts. The enlisted measures will help maintain continuity of learning for girls while fostering gender equality.
Aligning to the same and as per the National Education Policy’s recommendation, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas will be strengthened and expanded to increase the participation of girls in quality schools (up to Grade 12). The Government of India will also constitute a Gender Inclusion Fund to build the nation’s capacity to provide equitable quality education for all girls. Through this fund, the government will help female children gain access to education, enabling them to be self-reliant.
This echoes the vision of Savitribai Phule and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who believe that education makes one self-reliant. Having said that, it is also imperative for us to realise that girls’ education goes beyond just getting them into school. It is also necessary for us to make sure that they learn and feel safe in schools. We should focus on enriching their socio-emotional and life skills. Girls should be empowered to make decisions about their own lives and be self-reliant.
Ramesh pokhriyal ‘nishank’ (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Union Cabinet Minister for Education