The number of girls enrolling in schools has increased in India, thanks to several schemes and better awareness, however, getting them to finish school continues to be a problem.
Going by the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), the number of out-of-school girls in India has gone down from 10.3 per cent in 2006 to 4.1 per cent in 2019. According to the latest Child Rights and You (CRY) report, however, only one in every three school-going children in the country pass class 12 at an appropriate age.
A World Bank report 2018 states that globally nine in 10 girls complete their primary education (till class 5) but only three in four complete their lower secondary education (till class 10). In India, too, the highest drop-out rates are seen in classes 8 and 9 — around the age when a girl hits puberty.
Talking to indianexpress.com, CEO, CRY, Puja Marwaha said puberty makes a lot of difference for girl students. “Many parents do not feel comfortable sending their daughters to school after they hit puberty. Girls themselves are not comfortable either. This is because of the myths and social perceptions around it. Schools are often far away from home and many schools in rural areas do not have separate toilets for girls.”
Arti Qanungo, a government school teacher in Delhi who holds menstruation awareness drives, said, “Girls first start by avoiding schools during those 4-5 days of menstruation cycle for reasons like unwanted questions and attention. They are not comfortable talking about it as they are often told that menstruation makes them impure. Many households ask their girls to keep away from boys. They do not let them enter temples.”
There is a need to change the mindset, said Qanungo, who is one of India’s nominees for world’s best teacher award in 2018. “When we start with our sessions, girls feel so ashamed that they do not even look us in the eye, they hardly participate. It is only after a few sessions that they raise questions. We need to tell them that menstruation is a blessing to procreate and it only makes them stronger. Though the change will not come in a day, we have observed how confidence has changed girl students,” she said.
The onset of menstruation cycle not only results in school drop-out but also leads to early marriages.
The CRY report states that over 9.2 million children below the age of 19 years are married. Further, 3.7 million girls between 15 and 19 years are married and working, and 3.4 million girls between 15 and 19 years are mothers.
“While many girl students and their parents would feel comfortable if their ward goes to a girls-only school but it often affects the children adversely in a longer run. Co-ed schools make both girls and boys more sensitised and confident to deal with the world,” said Marwaha.
Qanungo said there is a need to sensitise boys as well. “While we have sanitary pads at schools and hold sensitisation workshops too, the atmosphere around menstruation is not as comforting. There is no infrastructure for pad disposal,” she adds.
The latest ASER report also states, “Even though enrollment in the 6-14 year age group was already over 96 per cent in 2010 when the RTE came into effect, there were still large numbers of children out of school in the 11-14 year age group, especially among girls. Today, the overall number has decreased to four per cent and there are only four states where it is more than 5 per cent (drop-out) ratio.” The report adds that the focus needs to “shift from enrollment to learning in education.”