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Education of Adolescent Girls in the Knowledge Society of India: Issues and Interventions

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Globalization in its wake has introduced the concept of a knowledge society. Knowledge economy is the foundation of a knowledge society. Adolescent population is expected to take the stewardship of the emerging knowledge society. Adolescent population of the world is growing in a phenomenal way. Today there are 1.2 billion adolescents, worldwide making up 18 per cent of the world’s population1.  There are currently 581 million adolescent girls in the world aged 10-19 years, comprising 8.4% of the global population2. This invisible population has enough potentiality to provide a shape to knowledge society.  However, till today the adolescent girls are not properly mainstreamed in the system of education which has a vital role to play in the knowledge economy. Against this backdrop, the present paper tries to identify the issues that paralyse the education of the adolescent girls in the country and initiatives taken and interventions needed to be introduced to make the adolescent girls the main agents of transformation and driving force for the knowledge society.

Knowledge Society: A Conceptual Analysis

Since late 1990s, a large segment of economists have been insisting upon the emergence and growing predominance of ‘Knowledge Economy’ in the developing countries.  Knowledge Societies are identified as societies based on the creation, dissemination and utilization of information and knowledge. It is a society in which knowledge is acquired, created, disseminated and applied to enhance economic and social development (Gesci) 3. Knowledge societies are about capabilities to identify, produce, process, transform, disseminate and use information to build and apply knowledge for human development. As emphasized by UNESCO during the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the concept of knowledge societies is all-embracing and conducive to empowerment (UNESCO, 2005)4. Knowledge Society is characterised by recognition of knowledge as main source of efficiency, competitiveness, and economic growth.  Knowledge societies aim at generating knowledge capital which in turn can become the driver of human capital and development.

The Kothari Commission’s recommendations came into force in the form of education policy, known as the National Policy of Education, 1968. On the issue of women education, the policy document clearly mentioned… “The education of girls should receive emphasis, not only on grounds of social justice, but also because it accelerates social transformation…” The National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986 revised in 1992, focussed on education for women’s equality and empowerment. In 2005, the government of India set up the CABE Committee on Girls Education and Common School System to examine existing schemes, incentives and special measures aimed at reducing gender disparity and increasing the participation and retention of girls, in all sectors of education. It recommended free and compulsory education for girls up to the age of 18 years almost till the end of their period of adolescence and emphasized that there should be ‘no hidden costs’ in girls’ education. The committee gave thrust to initiate measures to promote adolescent girls’ education of such nature, force and magnitude that will enable girls to overcome the obstacles posed by factors such as poverty, domestic/ sibling care responsibilities, girl child labour, low preference to girls’ education, preference to marriage over education etc.

 

Adolescent Girls in India and their Stake in the Knowledge Society

Adolescent girls are one among the deprived groups. Their access to education is limited, and thereby they are outside the ambit of the system of information which has a critical role to play in the establishment of the knowledge society. They are underrepresented not only in the system of education, but are educationally neglected and marginalised. Their educational impoverishment keeps them in the shadow regions and outside the margins of the knowledge society. Even if they are a demographically potential group, their contribution to the knowledge society and their benefit sharing from the knowledge society remains almost nominal.

There are more than 500 million girls in the developing world. India alone has 105 million adolescent girls7. Girls below 19 years of age constitute one-fourth of India’s fast growing population. Thus, viewed from their bulk share in the population, these adolescent girls are the vital contributors to the knowledge society.  But, in India these adolescent girls are not socialized in a manner to become the fuelling resources for knowledge society. The economic data available suggests that India loses US$ 56 billion a year in lost potential earnings because of adolescent pregnancy, higher secondary school dropout rates, and joblessness among the young girls.

There about 1, 41, 78,974 adolescent illiterate girls in the country. A decadal analysis of adolescent girls’ literacy in the country indicates a growth exhibited in Table no.1

Issues that Paralyse Adolescent Girls’ Participation in Education:

 

Girls’ education in India is still in a dismal state. Infrastructural deficiencies, deficit of teachers, non-yielding curriculum, poverty stricken households, cultural barriers, gender role stereotypes, social stigmas and practices, growing insecurities are some of the principal reasons that ail girls’ education in the country. Here I want to highlight some critical issues that paralyse adolescent girl’s education in the country.

Till the date, there are many inaccessible areas which lack a primary school in the vicinity. So, parents hesitate to send their daughters to schools taking into consideration the far off nature of the school which causes security concerns, concerns about physical exertion. There are areas where physical barriers like streams, forests and hills also prevent parents to enrol their daughters in schools. There many schools in the country which lack adequate number of class rooms and special toilet for girls.  72.16 percent of all schools in India have girl’s toilet according to DISE 2011-12 which causes inconvenience for the adolescent girls to spend lingering hours in the schools. Lack of required number of class rooms makes school education irregular and messy.

India has a patriarchal culture. Gender bias and son preference grapple the minds of parents. Boys are always preferred over girls if a choice for an opportunity has to be made. Educating a daughter, especially in a poor family, is perceived not only as an unnecessary luxury but also as a liability.

The practice of child marriage still continues in the country. South Asia is home to almost half (42 per cent) of all child brides worldwide; India alone accounts for one third of the global total. The UNICEF Report (2014) estimates India has the second highest child marriages after Bangladesh. Girls face the highest risk of child marriage.135.8 % of girls in the age group 6-17 years in rural areas dropped out of school as they got married (NFHS 2005-2006)14. According to NHFC-III survey15 47.3% of women aged20-24 were married by18.Of these, 2.6 percent were married before they turned 13, 22.6 percent were married before they were16, and 44.5 percent were married when they were between 16 and 17. In some states the percentage is quite high: Rajasthan 65.2%, Uttar Pradesh 58.6%, Madhya Pradesh 57.3%, Jharkhand 63.2%, Chhattisgarh 55%, Bihar69%and Andhra Pradesh 54.8%. The prevalence of child marriage is low in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Kerala, their share being 12.3%, 19.7% and 15.4% respectively. All these adolescent girls drop school education to bear the burdens of family through marriage.

Trafficking has a negative consequence on adolescent girl’s education. It is a pan-Indian phenomenon. Trafficked girls end up being victims of sexual assault; trafficking for sex work or for employment/labour and in particular, domestic help; begging; for transfer of organs; for pornography including pornographic performances; development of pornographic material, promotion of sex tourism, and sexual exploitation under the guise of bar tending, massage parlours etc.16 It is estimated that there are about 3 million sex workers in the country of whom 40% are children17. Almost 15% of the sex workers enter the profession before the age of 15 and 25% between 15 and 18 years. Around 60% of the sex workers belong to the scheduled castes, tribes and backward classes18. Children are trafficked to and from states such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal. For instance, among the 23 districts of the State of Andhra Pradesh, 16 are identified as sending districts. Similarly, in the State of Bihar, 24 out of 37 districts are highly affected by trafficking in women and children. Rajasthan is also a major source State, where 27 out of 32 districts are found to be affected, sending children to States of Goa, Kerala, and North Karnataka. Nearly 40,000 children are abducted every year of which 11,000 remain untraced according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission of India. Mumbai and Kolkata (Calcutta) have the country’s largest brothel based sex industry, with over 100,000 sex workers in Mumbai.19 According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 3991, 3029 and 2848 cases were reported in the country in 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively, under various crime heads relating to human trafficking such as Procurement of Minor Girls. This alarming rate of trafficking of adolescent girls commodifies them and makes them objects in the market. They are edged out the system of education which reduces their contribution to the knowledge economy.

Insecurities loom large for girls in the schools. The analysis in WINGS20 shows that the onset of adolescence brings a plethora of problems for girls. It is during this period that the girl is most vulnerable, as she does now bear the double burden of childhood and sexuality.  The growing abuses of girls and sexual harassments in schools prevent parents to send their daughters to schools. Thus multiple factors play a role to deny girls school attendance.

Migration of girls from rural to urban areas due to poverty, conflict, communal violence also has a halting effect on adolescent girls’ education. Change of location casts its withdrawal impact on girls’ education. Parents feel shaky to expose the adolescent girls to schools in the new locality. The temporary withdrawal results in permanent resignation from education.

Interventions Needed to Improve Education among Girls in India

No doubt India has a wide range of Constitutional provisions, legal frame-works and a plethora of polices and plans and programmes reflecting the commitment of the government to provide primary/basic education to both boys and girls as well as to promote gender equality in education.

The idea of setting up satellite campuses, feeder schools and recruitment of local female teachers can prove effective in arresting the problem of non enrolment, drop out, non attendance of school problems for adolescent girls to a great extent. The KGVBs are to be vitalized to bring more adolescent girls into the ambit of the system of education.

Visionary infrastructure planning can be made for the schools to address the issues overcoming the lack of essential facilities in the school such as classrooms, latrines, facilities for managing menstruation, drinking water and school wall boundaries also act as barriers to girls’ education.

The private sector and the multinational companies have a vanguard role to play towards improving the status of the adolescent girl and make her a key participant in the national educational system. Under the CSR, it should be made a mandate to mainstream the adolescent girls in the system of education.

The central and state government sponsored “Kishori Shakti Yojana” (Adolescent Girls Scheme)

where adolescent girls are being trained and equipped to improve their home-based and vocational skills is to be strengthened. Such schemes need to be taken up at a larger, nationwide scale to make a meaningful and long-term impact on adolescent girls’ education.

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