RTE Forum and thousands of CSOs start a nationwide #BacktoSchool Campaign in view of Risk to Girls’ Education from Covid-19

Releases a ‘National Factsheet: Building Back Better: Gender- responsive strategies to address the impact of COVID- 19 on girls’

Among the Covid-19 pandemic affected children, round 320 million are in India according to UNESCO.  And it is estimated that as many as 20 million secondary school-aged girls around the world may never return to the classroom.  Increased rates of poverty, household responsibilities, child labour, and teenage pregnancy could be the major reasons. The economic impact of this could be increase in the risk of early dropout, as girls become more vulnerable to child marriage, child labour, trafficking, violence or sexual abuse.

Also, female teachers may face the additional burden of childcare and managing household chores during and after the pandemic, increasing their chance of leaving the profession

Right to Education (RTE) Forum along with its affiliate CSOs on September 22, discussed the impact of COVID 19 on girls’ education in India in detail in a virtual webinar and appealed all stakeholders including the government to take all necessary steps to address this situation on priority basis.

“Children from marginalized communities, especially girls are facing an acute crisis. Most of these girls, who have no access to online education, are compelled to engage not only in domestic work but are becoming victims of child labour, trafficking and child marriage. News coming from all over country indicates a very bleak scenario ahead with the increasing cases of mental trauma and depression. These children are under threat of discontinuing their education. The number of Out of School children may increase manifolds as more than 25 per cent of them may never return to school,” said Ambarish Rai, National Convener of the RTE Forum.

The civil society advocacy alliance also used the occasion to un veil a factsheet on Risk to Girls’ Education in India and it was released by Priyank Kanoongo, Chairperson, NCPCR.

Kanoongo while welcoming the initiative also appealed the alliance of CSO to give wide publicity to its recently launched mental health Helpline, Samvedhna ( Toll free  phone facility 18001212830). The NCPCR chairman also expressed his eagerness to take up complaints of children and address them and cited a few examples where the intervention of the commission has helped in easing situation for many children. “When we discuss on real data, we also prepare for solutions. I am prepared to sit with you one by one and discuss and see how best we can gel our energies in mapping the problem areas,” he remarked.

According to the factsheet, the central and state governments must: Establish systems to monitor girls’ re-enrolment as mandated by the National Education Policy (NEP) and make this data publicly available; Provide scholarships, targeted cash transfers and other entitlements; Make secondary education free for girls with immediate effect; Develop mass community outreach programmes with civil society and youth leaders; Keep finances flowing into education systems and ensure it benefits girls and boys equally; Ensure education’s share of national and state budgets reaches 6% of GDP as mandated by the NEP.  Further, the governments must:

Continue essential care services — like Iron Folic Acid and sanitary pad, psychosocial support, and school feeding; Develop diverse distance learning material — using radio, TV, SMS, printed material, peer-to-peer and parent resources; Ensure strong child protection safety net as mandated by Integrated Child Protection Scheme; Ensure home visits and telephone communication between teachers and students; Promote alliance between local women’s groups, civil society organisations (CSOs) and VLCPCs (Village level Child Protection Committees); Create safe spaces for girls within the community for social and emotional wellbeing as well as recreational and educational activities in small groups; Resume and strengthen day care and early childhood care services under Integrated Child Development Scheme with extended hours; Ensure functional WASH facilities in all schools and train teachers; Incorporate comprehensive sexuality education into the curriculum to mitigate risks of rising sexual violence and abuse during emergencies; Hire and train more female teachers to promote increased girls’ enrolment and retention; Scale up and expand access to digital learning and other alternative education provision and Build gender-responsive contingency plans for education.

In the panel discussion that followed the panelists called upon government to urgently address the issue. “In this critical situation, the government must take urgent call to address various infrastructural issues, recruitment of well- trained teachers, providing separate and functional toilets for boys and girls, safe drinking water and WASH facilities. The government should ensure health, hygiene and education taking steps at war-footing level before reopening the schools,” said Rai.

The factsheet emphasizes the need for proactive steps by the government and recommends a multi-pronged gender-responsive strategies: Response, Recovery and Resilience. The strategies recommended include developing diverse distant learning materials, making secondary education free through extension of RTE Act 2009, ensuring budget allocation for education reaches minimum 6% of GDP at the earliest, ensuring WASH facilities in schools, and building gender responsive contingency plans. 

Reeta Kaushik, Director, Samudayik Kalyan and Vikas Sansthan (SKVS) discussed challenges of girls from Dalit communities from Uttar Pradesh and Renuka Gupta, CEO, Pardada Pardadi Educational Society shared her own experience of the covid period.

The development and dissemination of the factsheet is an initiative of  India Champions for Girls education represented by eleven experts and leaders who are making collective efforts to ensure that gains towards girls education is not lost due to the pandemic.