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Why are girls more numerous, vocal in long-neglected Rajasthan rural govt schools?

Dr Narendra Gupta in Pratapgarh
By Rosamma Thomas* 
Dr Narendra Gupta of NGO Prayas regularly goes on visits to rural schools in Chittorgarh and Pratapgarh districts of Rajasthan, where he conducts health camps. During a recent visit, he commented on a WhatsApp group to friends that many of the students in the rural schools dominated by tribal communities he visits are girls – the girls outnumber boys in these schools, and are also the more alert and curious students, asking more questions and participating more actively in learning sessions.
What could the reason be for this? The doctor mulled over this and has come up with an explanation too – in the richer families in rural communities, the first preference for a school is an English-medium one.
Since government schools are Hindi medium, although the state government has in its most recent budget made an allocation for starting English-medium schooling within the government sector, the schools in the government system in the state until now are Hindi medium.
Families that can afford to send their boys to the private English medium school would do that, but since schooling is not such a high priority for the girl, she is sent to the government school. What this means is that the boys in the government school system come mostly from families too poor to afford private school – their poverty and the attendant social factors also makes them also meeker in class.
On the International Women’s Day, this might be a situation to mull over and study more deeply. Are families choosing to send boys to private schools and make do with government schools for girls? What then would be the impact of improving the quality of the schooling experience in the government system?
When Vasundhara Raje was chief minister of Rajasthan, there were moves to merge government schools with low enrolment
There is likelihood that a huge vested interest exists by now, to prevent the improvement of the government schools in order that children can be retained in the private schools, which charge neat sums as fees, even when government schools offer free education.
Some years ago, while Vasundhara Raje was chief minister of Rajasthan, there were moves to merge government schools with low enrolment – schools with less than 15 students on the rolls were shut down, and students in such schools were moved to the nearest government school.
This had caused inconvenience to many students, who were then forced to walk longer distances and sometimes cross major roads on their way to school and back. Given that parents are often more fearful of sending girls out across longer distances, many girls dropped out when the local school shut.
Dr Narendra Gupta also pointed out that in the higher classes, 11th and 12th, many government schools in the predominantly tribal areas of the state did not offer the science or commerce streams of education, and offered only the arts subjects as a choice for students. This too could be one reason that boys dropped off from the government system, to join the nearest private school that offered science or commerce options in classes 11 and 12.
These observations deserve some study, and since there is little academic focus on the quality of schooling in tribal areas in the country, it is worthwhile to record the observations of this doctor.
---
*Freelance journalist based in Kerala

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