While the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural), 2018 – or ASER – shows that the percentage of girls out of school is shrinking, it reports a gender divide in basic Math learning levels across age categories, which steadily increases as the children grow older.
According to the report, 36.4 per cent boys surveyed could do at least subtraction by age 8-10, with the number only marginally lower for girls at 35.7 per cent. The difference grew in 11-13 age category, with boys at 61.1 per cent and girls at 58.4 per cent, and went past 5 percentage points in the 14-16 age bracket: 69.6 and 64.4, respectively, for boys and girls, the survey shows.
This gap among older children is accentuated by the “Beyond Basics” survey, which is part of ASER. While 50.1 per cent boys in 14-16 age group could do basic division, the figure for girls was reported at 44.1 per cent. Those who could do division were then given some everyday tasks, which involved computation.
Here, too, the survey found stark gender differences: while 33.8 per cent boys could calculate the price of a shirt on discount, only 25.5 per cent girls could solve the problem.
Wilima Wadhwa, director, ASER Centre, said it is possible that the gender gap in Mathematics is reinforced by existing perceptions on mathematical ability of girls.
“What we cannot see is how much attention girls are getting within the classroom itself. Maths is generally considered a difficult subject, and the stereotypes could play into them being neglected and not receiving the attention they need,” she said.
Why the gap widens with age
ASER has found that the gap between boys and girls in arithmetic learning levels grows wider as the schoolchildren grow older. The reason for this consistently widening gap could lie in numbers that are not on record. ASER does not compute gender-disaggregated data for attendance levels or look at the amount of time that girls – especially the older ones – get outside of school hours to dedicate to studying. Undocumented factors like increasing household responsibilities and the onset of menstruation could also be keeping older girls out of the classroom and out of touch with the curriculum. This is regardless of whether they are enrolled in school or not.
But all is not bleak for girl students. The national numbers show that girls “read better” than boys. Girls between 8 and 10 years start off with an edge over boys in basic reading, the report states – only 33.2 per cent boys surveyed in this age group could read a Class II textbook, compared to 36.8 per cent girls.
But boys soon caught up — in the 14-16 age bracket, 76.9 per cent of both boy and girl students were found to be able to read a Class II textbook.
ASER also found some states show a greater percentage of girls at 14-16 years being able to solve basic sums. Among these are Maharashtra, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Mizoram.
Wadhwa pointed out another unrecorded dynamic observed during the data-collection process — an ostensible lack of confidence among girls. “
While conducting ‘Beyond Basics’, a large number of volunteers reported that the proportion of girls who choose to not respond at all is much larger than boys,” she said. “We calculated the percentages only through those who responded correctly or incorrectly, but the large numbers of girls who were ‘non-respondents’ is significant. They could have been able to solve the problems (but) we don’t know. It speaks of a deficit of confidence.”