Gender Parity in Indian Schools

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Education for girls and women has been an important focus area for governments and policy makers in many developing nations, in the last few decades. Starting in the mid-1980s, especially after the framing of the National Policy of Education, 1986, the Indian government too initiated a number of measures to improve girls education in the country. This paper reviews the present status of the participation of children in school education in India, focusing specifically on two often-reported parameters of gender parity index and drop-out rates. Presenting an analysis of national and state level data from 1990-91 to 2010-11, it highlights how the situation on the ground has changed considerably in the last two decades, and is now far more complex than is commonly acknowledged. On the one hand, girls in some states and communities continue to face challenges in access to education; and on the other hand, the gender parity ratios and drop-out percentages are now skewed against the boys in a significant number of states and union territories. Parallels with international trends are drawn; and implications for educators and administrators are discussed.

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  • Gender Parity in Indian Schools:

    Changing Equations

    Working Paper Version 1.0

    June 2014

    Avinash Kumar

  • Abstract: Education for girls and women has been an important focus area for governments

    and policy makers in many developing nations, in the last few decades. Starting in the mid-

    1980s, especially after the framing of the National Policy of Education, 1986, the Indian

    government too initiated a number of measures to improve girls education in the country. This

    paper reviews the present status of the participation of children in school education in India,

    focusing specifically on two often-reported parameters of gender parity index and drop-out

    rates. Presenting an analysis of national and state level data from 1990-91 to 2010-11, it

    highlights how the situation on the ground has changed considerably in the last two decades,

    and is now far more complex than is commonly acknowledged. On the one hand, girls in some

    states and communities continue to face challenges in access to education; and on the other

    hand, the gender parity ratios and drop-out percentages are now skewed against the boys in a

    significant number of states and union territories. Parallels with international trends are drawn;

    and implications for educators and administrators are discussed.

    Key words: gender parity, drop-out rates, intersectional theory, gender equality, girls education

    Key Points:

    India achieved gender parity in primary education in 2007-08. At the level of States and UTs, however, we now have disparities not only against girls (in 6 states and UTs) but also against boys (in 5 states and UTs).

    The national level gender parity index for the secondary and senior secondary classes stand at 0.88 and 0.86 respectively, indicating a bias against girls. Interestingly however, 13 states & UTs now show substantial bias against male children even at these higher levels.

    Historically, the drop-out rates of girls have been higher than that of the boys. The gap in the drop-out rates of the two genders began to reduce significantly in the 1980s; and in the 2000s the drop-out rates of boys became higher in all grade-ranges starting from the primary section (I-V) in 2002-03, to elementary section (I-VIII) in 2006-07, and secondary section (I-X) in 2009-10. The drop-out rates are steepest for girls between 5th and 8th, and steepest for boys between 8th and 10th. Between 1st and 10th standard a larger percentage of boys drop out as compared to girls.

    The data analysis reveals a need for continued focus on girls access to education in a number of states. Underling micro-trends, however, also hint at the need for specific attention and measures around boys education (such as studies to understand the peculiar challenges faced by boys, state or national level policy interventions to improve their retention and enrolment esp. in higher classes etc.) International trends suggest that ignoring this need may cause the pendulum of gender parity to swing far on to the other side in the coming decade, placing many states and UTs once more in a difficult situation, this time with respect to boys education.

  • 1. Introduction

    Education for girls and women has been one of the key focus areas for policy planners and

    governments in many countries in the last few decades (see, for instance, SADEV, 2010;

    UNICEF, 2009, p.6). In 1990, representatives from about 150 governmental, non-governmental

    and intergovernmental organizations met at the World Conference on Education for All in

    Jomtien, Thailand; to discuss the universalization of adequate basic education. The declaration

    adopted by the conference stated that, Basic education should be provided to all children,

    youth and adults (UNESCO, 1990) and then went on to note, The most urgent priority is to

    ensure access to, and improve the quality of, education for girls and women, and to remove

    every obstacle that hampers their active participation. All gender stereotyping in education

    should be eliminated (ibid.) A decade later, the Dakar Declaration on Education for All (EFA) by

    2015, and the Millennium Declaration, urged national governments to pursue more focused

    action and set concrete targets and a time frame for achieving the goal of gender equality in

    education (UNICEF, 2009). Two of the six goals that the attendees of Dakar World Education

    Forum, including India, committed themselves to, relate specifically to girls access to education

    and eliminating gender disparity in education (UNESCO, 2000) [a].

    The importance of female education has been clearly acknowledged in Indian policy documents

    since the 1960s (see for instance, the report of the Kothari Commission, 1964-66); however, it is

    the National Policy on Education (NPE, 1986) and the Programme of Action (POA) (NPE revised

    in 1992) which is often considered a landmark, with regard to girls education in the country. In

    a chapter titled Education for Womens Equality, it says, Education will be used as an agent of

    basic change in the status of women. In order to neutralize the accumulated distortions of the

    past, there will be a well-conceived edge in favor of womenIt will foster the development of

    new values through redesigned curricula, textbooks, the training and orientation of teachers,

    decision-makers and administrators, and the active involvement of educational institutions.

    (GoI 1986, 1992)

    Following the Jomtien declaration, there was an increase in investment in education

    internationally; and a number of projects and programs focused on improving the access and

    quality of education were started in India as well. The District Primary Education Project (DPEP)

    was started in 1993, as part of the Social Safety Net Credit Adjustment Loan to India under the

    Structural Adjustment Programme of the World Bank in 1991. The project made gender an

    integral part of strategies to tackle problems of access, retention and achievement levels and

    for reaching out to children from the most disadvantaged groups/communities

    (Ramachandran, 2003) and incorporated a gender perspective in all aspects of the planning

    and implementation process (GoI 1995). One of the key objectives of the project was to

    increase coverage of girls, improve their academic achievements and reduce gender disparities

  • in respect to enrolment, retention and learning achievements. (DPEP, MHRD, GoI, 2000; as

    cited in Ramachandran, 2003)

    Following recommendations from the state education ministers conference in 1998, the Sarva

    Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) was launched in 2001. And with the 86th constitutional amendment

    enacted in 2002 (which mandated that the State shall provide free and compulsory education

    to all children of the age of six to fourteen years), SSA also became the primary vehicle for the

    achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner.

    Education of girls was one of the principal concerns of SSA as it was conceptualized in 2000-01

    (GoI, 2000) and it continues to be one of its key focus areas even in 2014.

    As will be clearer through our discussion in the following sections, it appears that the well-

    conceived edge in favor of women reflected in the various programs and provisions of the

    Central and some State governments over the last two decades (including but not limited to

    DPEP and SSA; for a more detailed list of policies and programs see additional notes [f]; also

    Ramachandran, 1998), has had a gradual but significant positive impact on girls education in the

    country. As the report of the 12th Planning Commission notes, Girls account for the majority

    (73.5%) of the additional enrolment of children between 200607 and 200910. Three

    initiatives of the Eleventh Plan helped to increase the enrolment of girls. These included (i)

    setting up of 3,600 Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas in 27 States and Union Territories (UTs)

    (ii) establishment of 7,000 Early Childhood Care Centres in EBBs and (iii) implementation of

    Mahila Samakhya programme in ten States. (GoI, 2013)

    1.1 Explaining the Policy Focus

    In domains such as sociology, gender and cultural studies, the intersectional approach is often

    used by researchers and academics to understand and explain the ways in which different

    forms and dimensions of discriminations and inequality interact with each other. The term was

    made popular by Kimberl Crenshaw (1989) to highlight the fact that the experiences and

    struggles of women of colour were addressed neither by the feminist nor by the anti-racist

    discourses independently. The approach instead suggests that the traditional axes of inequality

    and discrimination such as gender, race, class or caste do not act independently of one other;

    but rather interact and reciprocate on multiple levels and often simultaneously - creating a

    system of exclusion and/or subordination which shapes the identity and experiences of the

    person who finds himself at the intersection of these axes. (Winker & Degele, 2011)

    One finds the intersectional approach informing a number of official Indian documents. The

    position paper of the national focus group on gender issues in education, which was

    developed under the aegis of National Curriculum Framework, 2005; for instance, notes in a

    section titled Diversity and Intersectionality that, Feminist scholarship argues that the

  • experience of gender relations as they are lived, forms a basis for understanding the links

    between gender and other asymmetric systems. It is critical to account for race, class, ethnicity

    and culture as well as gender within social inquiry. This approach also guides our policies and

    plans, as reflected in the 12th planning commission report, which observes at different points

    that, bridging the social and gender gaps in enrolment with regard to SCs, STs and minority

    girls should receive special attention (p.60) and special emphasis should be put on those

    schemes that recognize the intersectional nature of disadvantages to address all dimensions of

    inequality in a holistic manner (p. 103). (Also see examples from DPEP and SSA at [d])

    This paper thus seeks to explore the progress made in this area after close to two decades of

    focused effort to improve girls education; highlights some underlying trends; and discusses

    some implications for future policies and programs. Though gender parity does not necessarily

    and always translate to gender equality (more on this in additional notes [e]), given that the

    parameters of gender parity index and students drop-out rate are important indicators of

    gender equality, the discussions will primarily be based on the analysis of these two parameters

    for the period between 1991-2011. Gender Parity Index (or GPI) is a socioeconomic index

    widely used to measure the relative access to education of males and females. It is calculated as

    the ratio of the female Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) [b] to male Gross Enrolment Ratio in a

    given stage of education (for e.g. primary or senior secondary) such that a GPI of 1 indicates

    parity between sexes. A drop-out, on the other hand, is a student who leaves school before the

    completion of a particular school stage. As an example, drop-out rate at primary level would be

    calculated by subtracting the value which is obtained by dividing the enrolment in Class V

    during 2013-14 by enrolment in Class I during 2009-10, from one; and multiplying it by 100.

    We will start by looking at the historical trends in the overall gender parity numbers in schools

    at the national level. Thereafter, I will present an analysis of the gender parity data

    disaggregated at the level of States and Union Territories (UT) and highlight some of the key

    insights that emerge from this analysis. I will then discuss the drop-out numbers in different

    states and UTs; and will finally conclude with a discussion of relevant international trends and

    some implications for educators and education administrators. All data used in this paper have

    been sourced from reports of Statistics of School Education published by Ministry of Human

    Resource Development, Government of India; which are based on educational statistics

    supplied by all recognized schools of the country (TNS, 2013).

    2. Historical Trends of Gender Parity in Indian Schools

    Fig. 1 summarizes the gender parity numbers at the national level from the year 1990-91 to

    2010-11. The 2nd to 5th column on the left contain the Overall gender parity; columns 6th to 9th

    contain gender parity among students of the Scheduled Castes; and the last four columns on

    the right, gender parity among students of the Scheduled Tribes. The first column in each of

  • these three sets is for grades I-V (primary classes), the second column is for grades VI-VIII

    (upper primary), the third column for IX-X (secondary classes) and the last column in each set

    represent the gender parity among students of standards XI-XII (senior secondary). The cells of

    the table have been colour-coded with the warmer shares of red and orange indicating poor

    gender-parity; and the lighter shades of yellow-green and green indicating comparatively better

    gender-parity numbers. White cells indicate that the data for the relevant classes and years

    were not available.

    Fig. 1: Gender Parity Index between 1990-2011

    Fig. 1 indicates some clear trends - for instance, as we move from top to bottom, for each of the

    three categories of Overall, SC and ST; we see a shift from the red-orange shades to the green-

    yellow shades, representing the gradual improvements in gender parity across all categories as

    we move from 1990-91 to 2010-11.

    Second, within each category, the proportion of green tends to be higher for lower grades and

    lower for higher grades - the primary classes are largely green (i.e. parity numbers above 0.95)

    for all three categories, especially from the year 2007-08 onwards. Third, if we focus on the last

    five years (06-07 to 10-11, the gender-parity in upper-primary classes are inching close to 1 as

    well; though the secondary classes are still in the yellow-green range (i.e. between .85 and .9).

    Fourth, the only cells which are still clearly in the red-zone are those representing the gender

    parity of students of Schedule Tribes in the upper secondary classes. And finally, gender parity

    among the Schedule Caste students is almost at the same level as the overall category for the

    primary and upper primary classes; but perhaps contrary to expectations, in the secondary and

  • senior secondary classes, the SC category students have slightly better gender parity than both

    the other groups.

    Let us now analyze the rate of change in gender parity index in the last two decades. Fig. 2

    shows the improvement in the parity numbers in all four grade-ranges (primary, upper primary,

    secondary and senior secondary), between 90-91 and 10-11 for the overall category.

    Fig. 2: Rate of change in GPI between 199...

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