By Oxfam India
Education is important for holistic development of girls and the society as a whole. 59 million children and 65 million adolescents are out of school, across the world, and more than 120 million children do not complete primary education.
Education is a human right and policy makers must ensure that each child, especially girl child, is given the education they deserve. Education helps an individual think critically, understand their environment and the people around them.
Education gives women and girls a chance to lead a healthier and happier life. An educated girl is aware of her rights, has the ability to make informed decision for herself, and can stand up against violence and discrimination. She can enter the labour force and contribute towards the development of the country.
Girl child education is also the key to control India’s ever-growing population. Almost a third of India’s population is the result of adolescent pregnancies. As stated above, educating girls delays child birth, which could reduce India’s projected 2050 population of 1.7 billion by more than a quarter.
For example, an educated woman is more likely to marry at a later age and have fewer children as compared to an uneducated woman. In India, 12 years or more of education for girls reduces the chances of teenage pregnancy and shorter intervals between children.
According to the National Family Health Survey, 2015-16 (NFHS-4), a woman with 12 years or more of education has her first child at an approximate at of 24.7 years. Studies show that educated mothers are usually healthier, give birth to healthier babies and later on provide better healthcare to their children. Their children also usually healthier, fare better in life than those of uneducated mothers. Education directly impacts infant mortality.
In the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Assam, the percentage of women with more than 10 years of schooling is less than the national average of 35.7%, thus resulting in the highest under-five mortality* rates.(5)
On the other hand, the percent of women with more than 10 years of schooling in the states of Kerala, Goa, Manipur, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra is much higher than the national average, thus resulting in the lowest under-five mortality rate in India.(6)
Women, who have at least received middle schooling are nearly eight times more likely to receive pregnancy care than illiterate women, and women with less than middle schooling are three times more likely to receive care. Further, just one per cent increase in female literacy can reduce infant mortality rate by 23 per cent.(7) Thus, educating girls must be a priority for policy makers and the community to reduce infant mortality rate.
Moreover, girls who receive education have a chance to pursue a profession of their choice, discover their skills, and become economically independent. Cross-country studies have suggested that an extra year of schooling for a girl will increase her future income by approximately 15%, as compared to that of a man, which is 11%. (8)
Economic independence, henceforth, gives women the freedom and ability to make her own decisions. An educated and economically independent woman can stand up against early and forced marriages. She has the freedom to choose her partner and decide whether to marry or not.
Further, as more and more women participate in India’s workforce, the country’s economic growth spurs. At present, women contribute only 18% to the country’s GDP, one of the lowest in the world. By educating girls and giving women equal opportunities, India could add almost $770 billion — more than 18% — to its GDP by 2025.(9)
Despite all the evidence about the importance of girl child education and its benefits for girls, their families and the economy, girl child education in India still lags. Over 28 lakh girls, in the age group of 6 to 13 years, are out of school in India.(10)
Deep-rooted social norms discriminate against girls and create hurdles in their education. Families who face financial restrictions prefer to spend money on their sons’ education and make their daughters stay at home. Many girls are forced to drop out of school due to household responsibilities and to take care of sick family members or siblings. They are denied education and forced to marry at an early age, often to a much older man.
Certain physical barriers also hinder girl child education in India. In rural areas, children have to walk long distances to school, often alone, through forests, rivers, or deserted areas. Due to increased risk of violence against girls, parents usually prefer they stay safe at home.
There are several government schemes which aim to tackle the problems of girl child education in India. Many non-governmental organizations and civil society groups are also working to educate girls in India.
Oxfam India is one such NGO, which works to tackle these issues so more girls can get educated. It works in five states in India – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh to ensure girl child education. It works with a network of grassroots organizations, community members, and local authorities, to raise awareness about girl child education and Right to Education Act (RTE). It counsels parents and family members of girl children on the value of education. It works with the local authorities and school management committees to ensure effective implementation of the RTE Act. It also campaigns for policy reforms to ensure no girl is left behind in the current education system.
We must work together to ensure every child in India, especially the girl child, is sent to school. She must have the freedom to discover her talents and fulfill her dream. Educating our girls is the first step towards a developed nation.