With more than one billion people living in India, providing education to everyone has proven to be an everlasting challenge, particularly to girls. There are more than 26 million children in India, of which nearly 18 million are literate. Even though this rate is high, there is still a 20 percent disparity between boys’ and girls’ literacy.
In 2008, 62 percent of children out of school were girls, numbering 2.3 million, and girls comprised two-thirds of illiterate children between 15 and 24. The Right to Education Act, enacted in 2010, provides free education for all children between six and 14. This act has brought primary school enrollment to 98 percent.
The Act also promotes government intervention, sanitary schools, proper teacher training and teacher-to-student ratios, as well as policies to prevent and deal with discrimination and harassment. Since its passage, Indian schools have still had to grapple with overcrowded classrooms, absent teachers and unsanitary conditions, which “can lead parents to decide it is not worth their child going to school”, as reported in 2013.
While urban children benefit from this act, those in the lower castes do not have equal opportunities. In 2015, PBS traveled to India to visit Neeraj Gujar, a nine-year-old living in a rural area of India, where “staying in school remains a challenge, and literacy rates have not improved”.
Another woman explained that for many girls similar to Gujar, rural girls’ education in India is useless because there are not enough jobs, and the household duties will soon become more important than work. A local school teacher said these children do not necessarily see the importance of education.
Even young girls who want to attend school could be hindered by their environment. Gujar described how, after a drought, she was not able to attend school for several months. When she was able to return, she was behind in her studies and was placed in a classroom “with much younger children”. Although she was thankful for this opportunity and wanted “to go to a big school to study”, her father decided marriage was more important.
Cases such as Gujar’s illuminate the need to educate communities as a whole on the benefits of educating their daughters. Organizations like Project Nanhi Kali, the K.C. Mahindra Education Trust and the Naandi Foundation have helped girls like Gujar and continue to do so.
Nanhi Kali was established in 2005 and “provides academic, material and social support that allows a girl child to access quality education, attend school with dignity and reduces the chances of her dropping out.” Nanhi Kali collaborates with 19 NGOs to ensure all appropriate and required resources are distributed to those in need, helping entire families to promote a stable, flourishing environment.
As the World Bank states, “the benefits associated with girls’ education include reduction of child and maternal mortality, improvement of child nutrition and health, lower fertility rates and improvement in economic production”. Although there has been progress for girls’ education in India, there is still much room for improvement. Reaching those in the rural areas with education will strengthen the outlook for India and its people.
– Kristen Guyler