In 2009, India enacted the Right to Education Act, which guarantees free and compulsory education for all children in India between ages 6 and 14. Today, eight years later, there are still many Indian girls who are out of school without having achieved literacy. In India, where improving and ensuring girls’ education is not a priority, many of these girls are simply left behind by the national government. Therefore, private volunteers and non-governmental organizations are spearheading the movement to provide education for Indian girls. They have found that poverty is the true contributor to this lack of education and that no amount of government mandates will be able to solve this issue.
According to an article from The Atlantic, one of the volunteer groups that works to bring education to India’s female population is led by history lecturer Vijay Kumar Ballani, who, with his colleagues, encourages parents to send their students to government-run schools that provide free education, lunch, books, and sanitary napkins for girls. According to Ballani, it is easier to get boys to attend school because poor families generally need girls to stay home to tend fields in rural areas and take care of younger children.
The result that most girls will not finish school, despite the compulsory education guaranteed by the Right to Education Act. In fact, in some areas such as Rajasthan in northwestern India, only 52.66 percent of girls are literate, and 350,000 are out of school. Fewer than 50 percent of the girls in this area complete tenth grade. In rural India in general, almost three-quarters of students cannot subtract two-digit numbers by third grade, and only half of fifth grade students can read at a second-grade level, according to a World Bank report.
The issue is that the government schools Ballani and other volunteers are working with are poorly financed, and they are always wanting in space, bathrooms, running water and technology. They also lack facilities such as playgrounds and gymnasiums. Without the ability to provide more resources and staffing to teach children, and with their families calling them back to the farm or the household, it is all too easy for children to pass up education at government schools.
Larger NGO groups like Pratham and Round Table India are trying to start efforts to build new private schools and start new programs like a summer coding camp to provide girls with access to education they might not otherwise receive. However, 65 percent of Indian students currently attend government schools like Ballani’s, and it would be near impossible to provide new private institutions for all of these students. Therefore, it is imperative that India also works toward the improvement of the government schools it already has.
In order to do this, the Indian government must consider female education a top priority. This goes beyond mandating education for students of ages 6 to 14. Instead, the responsibility extends to countering financial and social barriers that girls face when they attempt to attend school. Different gender expectations, religious traditions, and a deeply ingrained caste system must all be addressed before girls have equal educational opportunities. Services such as the free sanitary napkins at Ballani’s school must also be provided, as some girls are forced to skip school for a week at a time due to their menstrual cycle.
In addition to this, the Indian government must help provide the educational resources that these schools need. They have begun to provide methods of transportation such as bicycles for students to attend schools and have supported some resources and programs, but a much larger focus must be placed upon teaching staff. According to an estimate from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, India will need three million new primary school teachers and eight million secondary school teachers by the year 2030. The national government needs to become more involved with the training of teachers, provision of resources, and the addressment of social issues on the local level instead of neglecting these issues with distant mandates.
Alex Oliveira is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.