The committee on women empowerment, in its report presented during the winter session of Parliament in December, called for urgent measures to prevent girls from poor families, impacted by closure of schools and lack of digital access, from dropping out of school.
On a specific question about the effect of the pandemic on enrolment and retention of girls in schools, especially from among the socially and economically backward groups in schools, the education ministry submitted before the panel that “school closure in India affected 320 million children enrolled from pre-primary to tertiary levels of education. It has been estimated that of these, about 158 million are female students”.
This is another worrying example of the socially disastrous fall-outs of the pandemic. Authorities must take suitable steps to ensure that girls aren’t forced to drop out. In the long term, it would gravely hurt the nation’s interests
The submissions and recommendations are part of the report on ‘Empowerment of Women Through Education with Special Reference to Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao Scheme’. The committee has observed that in the post-pandemic scenario, the probability of more adolescent girls dropping out of school permanently to help with household tasks and childcare due to the economic hardships of their families is very high.
The panel has recommended incentivising participation that can help more girls continue their schooling and learning with measures like targeted scholarships, conditional cash transfers, provision of bicycles, access to smartphones and hostel facilities.
The 31-panel, led by BJP MP Heena Vijaykumar Gavit, observed that as per the ‘unified district information system for education (UDISE )’ data for 2018-19, the gross enrolment ratio of girls decreased from 96.72 in elementary classes to 76.93 in secondary classes and to 50.84 in higher secondary classes. It also pointed out that the dropout ratio of girls during 2019-20 was 15.1.
“The committee understand that the enrolment and retention of girls in schools in rural areas is still a great challenge despite having a plethora of efforts under RTE, Samagra Siksha etc. Further, lack of digital access to learning, poor family background, closure of schools and hostels facilities for girls, the uncertainty of re-opening of schools pose serious challenges in girls’ retention in schools,” said the report.
It suggested urgent and concerted efforts to mobilise the return of girls students to schools and sustain their regular attendance.
The panel lauded the step by the Centre asking every state to map ‘out of school’ children through household surveys and preparing guidelines to reach out to the last girl child to resolve her problems.