India became independent in 1947, yet it took several governments over six decades to make education a fundamental right. In April 2010, India became one of the 135 countries to make education the fundamental right of every child. After the 86 Constitutional Amendment, every child aged 6 to 14 years had the lawful right to pursue education, irrespective of their financial background, Caste, colour and gender. Several schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao were implemented to ensure that girls, as always, are not the most disadvantaged group when it comes to education.
The State Of Education In India
Education also forms the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), therefore, demanding the allocation of the proper funding. Central and state governments started providing mid-day meals and bicycles and scooters to girl students to allure them for coming to school every day. There is no denying that in recent years, the percentage of girl students pursuing education has significantly increased. However, one cannot refuse that even as late as 2006, more than 10 per cent of the total girl child population in the country aged 11 to 14 years did not attend school, and the number dropped significantly to 4.1 per cent in 2018.
How Kamaraj Became The Torch-bearer Of Education
Looking back on the pages of history, one notable entity that envisioned eradicating illiteracy and transforming education in the country was Kumarasami Kamaraj Nadar. Kamaraj was only in Class 6 when the barbaric Jallianwala Bagh incident in 1919 shook him to the core. He assisted his uncle in a textile shop, which he left and joined the National Freedom Movement. The young Kamaraj had to take up all kinds of jobs to support his family after his father, the sole breadwinner, died due to a massive heart attack, thus bringing an untimely halt to the bright adolescent's future.
He went on to play an essential role in the Quit India Movement, the Home Rule Movement and the Satyagraha movement, among a host of other pre-independence struggles and boycotts. He was imprisoned close to six times, accumulating more than 3000 days, over eight years in jail. After the independence, he was made the Chief Minister of the Southern state of Tamil Nadu after defeating Rajaji's candidate after Rajaji was forced to resign due to his infamous Caste (family) work-based education policy. Critics briefly opposed Kamaraj's appointment owing to his poor educational background.
Kamaraj may not have had formal education, and he may not have had a college degree. Nonetheless, he was instrumental in revolutionary reforms and infrastructure for the education in Tamil Nadu. Primary, secondary, tertiary and higher education registered phenomenal growth thanks to the strong foundation. Even though Tamil Nadu became the torch-bearer in providing quality education in the early 1950s, it took the rest of the country several decades to implement the same in all the states.
After the pandemic hit the world, it pushed the governments to reassess the health emergency's impact on children's education. COVID crises put forth the glaring reality of how girls' education had been more adversely affected than the boys. In the Winter Session of the Parliament, the women empowerment committee called for an urgent need to address the issue of girls from low-income families dropping out of schools because of a lack of proper digital access to online educational mediums. The Committee had identified that in the post-pandemic world, the probability of adolescent girls permanently dropping out of education to contribute to household tasks is very high.
Incentivising Girls' Education In India
The Times of India reported that over 320 million children in the country were impacted due to sudden school closures from primary to higher secondary levels. Over 158 million students out of the total are expected to be girls. The Committee understands that girls' enrolment and retention in schools in rural areas is still a great challenge despite having a plethora of efforts under RTE, Samagra Siksha etc. Further, lack of digital access to learning, low-income family background, closure of schools and hostels facilities for girls, the uncertainty of re-opening of schools pose severe challenges in girls' retention in schools", BJP MP Heena Vijaykumar Gavit said in the report in the December Session.
Therefore, the government panel also recommended incentivizing education for girls to help them continue their education. Targeted scholarships, conditional cash transfers, provision of bicycles, access to smartphones and hostel facilities could be the alternatives that the governments might venture into to ensure equal education for students from all sections of the society.
Challenges To Avail Government Schemes
Better educated girls would mean skilled hands at work and a better performing economy. According to Bloomberg, higher female literacy rates can "yield a growth premium in GDP." There are still barriers preventing universal female education in India. The majority have reflected on the need to simplify the schemes to enhance their usefulness further and reach. For example, procedures such as Dhan Lakshmi and Bhagyalakshmi can be simplified for operational purposes by cutting down on the number of conditionalities attached with various levels of immunization and school attendance. With every conditionality, the beneficiaries must fulfil the documentation and certification formalities to provide proof of fulfilment.
Domicile certificate is mandatory for many schemes, and poor migrant families are likely to be excluded from these schemes. Inflexibility in the timing of joining the scheme is also a significant deterrent for availing benefits among illiterate families. Barring Ladli Scheme (Delhi), all the other procedures insist on the registration of the girl child within a year of birth.