Education and Gender Equality
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2023 titled “Beyond basics”, a nationwide citizen-led household survey conducted by civil society organisation Pratham, has revealed the status of children’s schooling and learning in rural India. The survey was conducted in 28 districts across 26 states, including Nagaland (Nagaland University, Meriema Campus in Kohima and Kohima Science College, Jotsoma in Kohima) and involved more than 34,000 children aged between 14 and 18. The data showed that digital divide has narrowed over the years with 89% rural youth having access to smartphone at home. However, among females, only 19.8% out of those who knew how to use a smartphone owned one, compared to 43.7% among males, clearly indicating discrimination based on gender. With online learning becoming a part of learning process, this disparity will surely affect young girls. The finding that only 89.8% girls could use the smartphone against 94.7% males, out of the youths surveyed, also shows that girls are underprivileged digitally.
Surprisingly, the ASER 2023 data showed that the proportion of youth enrolled in educational institutions stands at an impressive 86.8% among the 14-18 years old children against 85.6% in 2017 survey, allaying the common fear that the COVID pandemic would result in unprecedented school dropout. However, the finding that about 55% of youth surveyed needed to “catch up” in foundational literacy and numeracy, including tackling everyday simple calculations, is a matter of worry. For a positive result, decrease in school dropout should be complemented by quality education. The exiting gap, as per the study, should be addressed immediately as learning deficits can accumulate and affect students in the long run. The same has been highlighted in the National Education Policy 2020 too, as a good foundation is vital to excel.
The data also showed that the number of young girls dropping out of schools has decreased drastically over the years, and that more girls aspire to pursue higher studies than boys. This is a welcoming trend. However, the main reasons for girls to opt for continuing studies, as per the survey, is to enable them to become better homemakers and to escape from daily household chores, while it is a matter of personal choice for most boys. This exposes the stark reality about gender equality in rural areas. It tells that talks about gender equality and narrowing down of enrolment gap won’t change the status of women but changing the purpose of education can. Nothing will change as long as girls are made to see schools as an escape route from household work.