First International Day of Education: Safety, Sensitivity & System—all challenges for Girl Education in India

January 24, 2019 is a historic day as this day marks the first UN-designated International Day of Education. In India, the day was also celebrated as the National Girl Child Day as it is also the fourth anniversary of the girl child empowerment initiative.

On this occasion the alliance of three voluntary group networks –Right to Education Forum, Campaign Against Child Labor (CACL) and Alliance for the Right to Early Education Development, who together are pushing a public manifesto of education before the upcoming national elections, presented a group of girls before the press to highlight the issues of girl education in the country.

Among girls, the marginalized and those with disability still constitute the most disadvantaged segment and call for special intervention. According to Anchal (13) who is suffering from cerebral palsy and is a student of class VI, the struggle from home to school hasn’t been easy. “My family, neighbors were against my joining school as it was ‘useless’ in their view. But then I persisted and when my young sister joined, I walked with her assistance to the school. But the fear of being pushed around is still there. Now the thing is our class and library on above floors and it is very precarious situation for me,” says she while making it clear that she won’t give up studies.

Another girl, who is enrolled in remedial education centre and is pursing schooling through open schooling narrates how she had to give up school to take care of her younger siblings after her parents passed away. “Initially I tried, but them household work occupied my mind and I couldn’t follow lessons. So I quit. Now after seven years, my siblings are grown up and I wanted to go back to school and complete those lost years, but there is no way a 22 year old can go to school,” adds Lalita from Adarsh Nagar of Delhi.

Stalking is the ugly truth of home to school distance. Lewd comments and stalking is common, which prevents many a girls and their families from continuing education. Safety issues within schools and sexual abuse only adds to this menace.

Another facet of this continuous struggle is that of taking back the drop outs in the system. “I failed twice in a class and after that I was not allowed to continue in school despite my pleas,” says another girl.  

According to Ambarish Rai of the RTE Forum, the issue of girl education is a challenge owing to several factors including the traditional patriarchy, long distances between school and home, gaps in primary and secondary education provision and importantly lack of resources. “As per data 10% of primary schools in the country are single teacher schools, only 12% are RTE compliant and education budget is largely drawn from education cess. Unless you address these issues, how can you do justice to girl population of this country,” adds Rai.

Meanwhile, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as International Day of Education in celebration of the role of education for peace and development. A statement by UNESCO said that without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.

Today, 262 million children and youth still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school. Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable.