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Why education of girls must be a strategic priority

Why education of girls must be a strategic priority

Since educated girls and women’s empowerment go hand in hand, their education merits sustained efforts. A UNICEF survey showed that around 60% of the girls in developing countries do not go to schools. In India, early child marriage, negative parental attitude, perception of girls as unworthy ‘investments’ further compounds this issue. Increasingly, girls’ education is being seen as a strategic development priority that goes much beyond getting girls into school.

Debashis Chatterjee, director, IIM Kozhikode, says that despite the plethora of initiatives, such as innovative scholarships schemes, mid-day meals programmes, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Right to Education that have all periodically ensured that girl child education is not considered a financial liability, a lot more needs to be done to remove remaining biases. “Higher education statistics are still a matter of concern even if institutional innovations like introduction of supernumerary seats do give a progressive push to adopt gender parity.”

“The discrimination which starts with an unequal sharing of a bowl of rice has got a lot more to do with prevailing mind sets than the dearth of opportunities. India is still far from achieving gender equality and its skewed sex ratio of 940 females per 1000 males bears witness to this fact. States showing better sex ratios are also the ones that are able to break gender divides and show higher percentage of girl students. To counter the larger menace of discrimination we should focus on sustained communication and information dissemination which will result in mass awareness amongst the section of the society which still views education as a privilege and not as necessity,” he adds.

Higher educational institutes like the IIMs, IITs, Central Universities have a crucial role to play in terms of being model institutions. “A start has been made by missions like ‘Unnat Bharat Abhiyan’ of the Ministry of Education, with the vision to involve professional and higher educational institutions in the development process of rural areas in the country to achieve sustainable development and better quality of life,” Chatterjee says, adding, IIM Kozhikode, for instance, has adopted 5 nearby villages under this scheme wherein student volunteers from the flagship PGP will use their skillsets for activities like coaching classes for competitive exams, career counselling, internships and mentoring programmes specifically focussing on women students and the marginalised sections. The institute is known to have 39% women candidates for this academic year in its PGP programme and the batch of 2021 is a record high of 53% women for its full-time PhD programme.

Soumya Jose, head, Dept of Humanities and Management, NIT Andhra Pradesh, also calls for similar handholding initiatives by premier institutions. “They can provide coaching centres in rural areas to help girls qualify entrance examinations and awareness regarding the scholarships and reservations.”

Retention of qualified women

“But scholarships alone cannot address gender disparity – though they will not hurt. Higher educational institutions have a responsibility to not only improve the percentage of women in their various programmes, but also facilitate absorption and retention of the highly qualified women into the work force,” says Preeti Aghalayam, professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Madras, where, apart from the mandatory supernumerary seats at the undergraduate level, scholarships and awards, gender awareness sessions, mentoring for women students are regularly undertaken.

Women role models

Aghalayam says there are several women who are exemplary and can serve as great role models if time is spent to document their contributions and highlight them. “A look at the statistics from the Nobel Foundation is a case in point. Evidently, the number of women scientists who have captured the attention of the Nobel Prize committee between 1901-2020 are very few since their total number as prize winners is 58 as compared to 876 male prize winners. But this does not mean that the number of accomplished women scientists, who have done seminal work is this small. It only means that their contributions have not been acknowledged. Clearly, we have a long way to go and telling our young women to aim for the skies is not sufficient,” she says.

At UPES, girls hold centre stage under its ‘Shakti’ initiative where iconic women leaders are invited to provide inspiring sessions. “We also celebrate their successes at the university, national or district level. For instance, if there is a girl student who publishes a research paper, we celebrate it on a greater level than we do for the boys,” says Sunil Rai, vice-chancellor, UPES that provides 20% scholarship to all the girls irrespective of their social status.

Mentoring support

“At every step, be it knowledge shaping, right education, family disputes, participation in the family decision, future avenues, there is a need for career guidance. In today’s time, the role of electronic gadgets with internet is also playing an important role in providing mentoring support from open resources,” says Amita Dev, vice-chancellor, Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women (IGDTUW) which in association with Govt of NCT of Delhi has been on a mission to promote STEM education among girls in Delhi. Under this programme, each IGDTUW mentor has guided 5 girls studying in IX-XII grade and helped them clear their doubts about STEM careers, shared strategies for clearing entrance exams, extended support in accessing learning resources and motivated them as they transition out of schools to pursue education and STEM careers.

Dev laments that girls are often unable to exercise their choices in education as much for financial reasons as because of societal pressures. “Due to limited funds, resources and time it is seen that women lose their enthusiasm for career building. They are generally treated as facilitators to ease the life of their family members,” she adds.

Parity counts

At Amity University, the focus is on “an equal opportunities” environment to make girls stand out in their chosen profession. “Reservation per se may not contribute to the upliftment of women, whereas an environment which is non-discriminatory and provides equal opportunity to the talented, irrespective of gender may have the desired effect,” says Major General Bhaskar Chakravarty, director, Admissions, Amity University where the admission intake figures roughly correspond to a 50:50 ratio between boys and girls. As regards faculty, the scale is heavily tilting towards women and even the university is headed by a lady vice chancellor. The university offers a BA (General) programme meant for only the girl students. “The distinguishing feature of this programme is that while pursuing academics, the students are trained to join the Armed Forces as officers. With the portals of National Defence Academy (NDA) opening up for girl cadets, the university is offering coaching for girls, in which a 50% fee concession has also been included,” he adds. The university’s Dubai campus also offers 10% scholarship to all its girl students to encourage more numbers of them to pursue higher education.


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