For the first time in India’s history, girls are enrolling in higher number than boys in schools, despite a shortage of teachers, unsanitary conditions and overcrowded classrooms.
According to How India Lives, a report which analyzed government statistics, the surge in enrollment rates of girls is most dramatic at the Grade 1 to Grade 8 level.
The report says that if there is a gap it is in high school grades 11 and 12 but even there girls are catching up rapidly with the gap now just 0.8 percentage point, compared to 5.60 in 2008-09.
Education experts in India say this goes completely against the grain because traditionally girls have dropped out of school after puberty due to various factors, including lack of separate toilet facilities and early marriage.
The study found that which schools girls attend is often based on toilet availability rather than higher standards of education. It cites a cluster of slums in Saket, New Delhi where parents prefer sending their daughters to study at certain schools that offer not just toilets for females, but toilets in general.
To cater for increasing student numbers, and to ensure the lack of separate toilets doesn’t hinder girls from attending, some Indian schools are running two shifts – one for boys and the other for girls.
Meeta Sengupta, founder of Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Education Strategy, says the increase in girls enrolling and staying in schools has also been aided by well publicized stories of the academic achievements of female students. She cites the case of 15-year-old Sushma Verma, the daughter of a Lucknow sanitation worker, who is India’s youngest PhD student; and 13-year-old Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai of Odisha, who just won an award at the Google science fair for a project which used corn cob waste to purify water.
“The stories of these role models are widely reported and are inspiring girls across the country,” says Sengupta.
“Girls want to fly,” says Neelam Raisinghani, senior manager at Educate Girls in Rajasthan. “As a Non Government Organization it is our job to kindle that flame within local communities and make them realize that they have a stake in the school; they can take decisions and ask questions in a manner that no government department can.”