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One crore secondary school girls may have dropped out during pandemic: Report

By Our Representative

In India, nearly 40% girls remain out of school in the age-group of 15-18 years, a new policy brief, prepared by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, an education rights network, has said. The policy brief has been released to mark the International Day of Education and National Girl Child Day, falling on January 24.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the existing situation, disproportionately impacting girls more than boys, and according to estimates, nearly 10 million secondary school girls in India could dropout of school due to the pandemic, putting them at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, trafficking and violence, it underlines.
Among the measures recommended by the policy brief to ensure girls’ complete their school education include: The need for a continuum for RTE, safe and secure environment, ensuring quality and equity, empowerment and life skills, and governance and financing for equitable and inclusive girls’ education.
In her key note address, Dr Shantha Sinha, former chairperson, NCPCR and Ramon Magsaysay awardee at the virtual launch of the policy brief in presence of 300 participants, said, “There is a link between school and democracy: we have to ask ourselves are schools inclusive, and how can they be made more inclusive? The tasks boys are made to do in school are clean blackboard, girls are made to sweep. Boys play volley-ball, girls play kho-kho”, she said.
“These small discriminatory practices exist everywhere, and girls accept these without questioning. Issues of sexual exploration, sexual harassment, also compound the issues for girls. These are not benign factors, they are political issues, and they are grounded in ethics of equality and justice. Girls education needs to be incentivised. There needs to be strengthening of school systems, and safety mechanism. So that they become hubs for democracy, equality, justice”, she added.
Dr Ambarish Rai, national convener, the RTE Forum, highlighting corporatisation and privatisation exacerbate inequalities in the education sector, said, “The more education is privatised, the less public education, the more difficult it becomes for the thousands of poor and children in our country to access education.”
According to him, “The pandemic is only threatening to make things worse by pushing several thousand children, especially girls, out of education. Estimates suggest it could be 20-30% children. Common school system becomes very important, one which addresses issues of migrants, Dalits, backward groups, girls when the return to school is being planned.”
Insisting that these cannot be left with private sector, because in private sector, the levels of inequality and discrimination are always high, he said, “It must be taken up by the government. This also means that we need more of what we wanted during non-pandemic times.”
He added, “We have requested the Finance Minister to not put education in the ‘C’ category in the budget. That would be severe injustice to the several crore children on the brink of losing their chance of getting an education. of this country. To that end we are also running a petition.”
Transition based on gender and social groups
During the panel discussion, Uttar Pradesh Commission for Protection of Child Rights member Jaya Singh, said that along with empowering girls, one should also work with boys and parents to ensure girls can exercise their rights and the role of an empowered school management committees for taking action. 
Anjela Taneja of the Fight Inequality Alliance/Oxfam India said, “While India’s elites embraced digital education and India’s EdTech companies made billions of dollars in profits, girls’ education has suffered with the number of out of school children projected to double. Given that even before the pandemic, the wealth of the 69 top billionaires was more than the national budget, it is time for more progressive taxation to ensure adequate resources for girls’ education.” 
Dr Sukanya Bose of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy said, “Girls are more dependent on public education and hence reduced resources will disproportionately affect their education.” Ajay Kumar Singh, joint director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan-State Council of Educational Research and Training, Uttar Pradesh, underlined the need to train teachers to ensure that they promote gender equality within classroom. 
Nidhi Bansal, representing NGO CARE India, said. “When speaking of education, it is important to take a systems approach. We cannot address issues in isolation, such as girls, teachers, capacities, attitudes, community, parents.”
:The solution has to be a whole systems approach, with the girl child at the centre of the solution. Any solution starts by building girls’ agency, which helps them become confident, identify inequalities, give them confidence to deal with these within the spaces of school, home and community”, Bansal added.

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