In the latest budget speech, Nirmala Sitharaman did the classic thing that all finance ministers do – exaggerate their most advertised campaigns with misleading statistics. Let’s look at the case of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. On Saturday, Sitharaman said, “I am pleased to inform the House that ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ has yielded tremendous results. Gross enrolment ratio of girls across all levels of education is now higher than boys. At elementary level, it is 94.32% as against 89.28% for boys. At Secondary level, it is 81.32% as compared to 78%, At higher secondary level girls have achieved a level of 59.70% as compared to 57.54% for boys.“
However, the U-DISE data of 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 shows that the gross enrolment ratio (GER) of girls at elementary and higher secondary levels has seen a decline, while at secondary level it rose only by 0.1%. The Hindu reported, “For classes 1-8 the GER for girls in 2015-2016 was 95.90%, which dropped to 95.19% in 2016-2917; for classes 9 and 10 there was a marginal increase from 80.10% to 80.29%. And in classes 11-12 the GER for girls dropped from 56.07% to 55.91%.”
From revision of GDP numbers to inflating data on Digital India, the BJP government is infamous for fudging its numbers to toot its own horn. But the public intellectuals are quick to catch their deceptions. Recently, at a session at Mumbai Collective, one of the world’s leading development economists, Jayati Gosh, said, “Every single number in the Budget is a lie. Every single item of receipts, the revised estimates for what they are spending this year and all what they have received this year is a lie. They have presented the Budget one month early. The year ends at the end of March, we have data only till the end of December, so they have to estimate what’s going to happen in the next three months and that’s where they lie.“
Other metrics such as drop out rates, status of educational infrastructure, and learning outcomes are central to understanding the successes of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, with respect to education.
Assuming the gross enrolment ratio for girls is improving, as claimed by the Finance Minister, it still says little about the empowerment of young girls and or their status in education; Nirmala’s statements are merely a red herring. Other metrics such as drop out rates, status of educational infrastructure, and learning outcomes are central to understanding the successes of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, with respect to education. Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham Education Foundation, reported, “Large numbers of young children are enrolled in anganwadis. But within the anganwadi system, early childhood education is not given the priority it needs.“
Moreover, if we look at drop out rates, we see even more alarming trends in girls’ education; the mean years of schooling for girls is 4.7 years whereas for boys it is 8.2 years. In other words, girls are spending almost half the years on education in comparison to boys. In January this year, the Right to Education (RTE) Forum organised a discussion on the ‘Status of Girls’ Education in India’. As per the data RTE forum provided, 30% of girls from the poorest families have never set foot inside a classroom while 40% of girls aged between 15-18 years do not attend any educational institution. Further, a study conducted last year in 75 districts of UP by Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) found that as many as 5.13 lakh girls in the age group 11-14 years i.e. almost 25 per cent of 19 lakh students currently enrolled in upper primary schools of the state dropped out of schools in 2018-19.
One of the primary reasons for children not attending school is families’ poor financial condition. However, even families that do have resources to send a child to school prefer to spend it on boys’ education than girls’. This is because boys’ education is seen as a better investment than girls’. Owing to patriarchal conditioning, parents believe that the girls and women should remain in domestic sphere, attend to housework, and perform other forms of care-work. Girls are often withdrawn from school after they reach puberty, and in many cases, they are married off in their teenage years. Moreover, schools are often inaccessible to girls; they’re situated far away from their neighbourhoods, or lack basic sanitation facilities. All of these infrastructural issues also discourage parents from sending their girl children to schools.
If one has to measure the successes of any of the government’s efforts, it ought to be done through an intersectional lens. We need to look at intersections of class, gender, caste, and other forms of social stratification to get an authentic measure of progress.
While speaking to The Wire, Alka, a resident of Narela (an urban resettlement colony in Delhi), shared her concerns regarding infrastructural gaps at her school. She said, “There is no clean drinking water in my school, for which it becomes difficult for me and my friends. Even outside school, it is not safe for us.“
If one has to measure the successes of any of the government’s efforts, it ought to be done through an intersectional lens. We need to look at intersections of class, gender, caste, and other forms of social stratification to get an authentic measure of progress. National averages inevitably obscure the reality of people in the margins of society. The reality of India’s unequal education system is this: the poorest quality of schools are provided to India’s poor, and where caste based discrimination thrive to push Dalit and Adivasi children out of school. The highest proportion of drop outs at elementary level consist of Dalit and Adivasi children, especially girls — 38.8 per cent and 48.2 per cent respectively, with Jharkhand having the highest dropout rate for school children in India (only 30 out of 100 finish school). It must be noted that in Budget 2020, the money for post-matric scholarship for ST students has been withdrawn. This will only add more barriers to access to education for boys and girls from scheduled tribes, thereby, exacerbating their post-matric drop out rates.
With the Government spending 56% of its funds for Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao on publicity, the declining sex ratio, and the dismal education outcomes for girls, especially for those from marginalised communities, this campaign is far from being a success. When will the BJP Government stop misleading its citizens?
Feature Image Credits: Hindustan Times