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Economic benefits of educating girls

Author: Kulwant Singh
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 16, 2016
URL:   http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/economic-benefits-of-educating-girls.html

Educating a girl child can boost the economy. We must, therefore, not just send them to school, but ensure they make the most of it, writes KULWANT SINGH

Payal Bhatti, a young district-level gold medallist from Greater Noida, was unaware of her exceptional sporting abilities. This, until her parents enrolled her into a Government school that had proper sanitation facilities. For a long time, her parents did not let her go to school simply because their daughter would either be compelled to use the same toilet as the boys or go out to urinate in an open space. Payal was losing out on an opportunity to study and pursue her sport because her school had unhygienic toilets with no access to water.

India is a signatory to many international conventions for education and is also committed to the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal, one of which is to ensure free primary education to all children by 2015. Taking this initiative a step further, the Government launched several programmes which include the National Program for Education of Girls at Elementary Level and the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Scheme that was launched in 2004. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was meant to provide education to a girl child.

However, the focus should be on the barriers that stop young girls from enrolling in schools. So, while SSA has ensured that the enrollment of girls in schools has risen significantly, retention rates and attendance are still abysmal. As per 2011 census, literacy rate in our country has shown an improvement of almost nine per cent in the last decade, but female literacy rate is still at 65.46 per cent as compared to male literacy rate of 82.14 per cent.

The proportion of girls not enrolled in schools or are drop-outs is much higher than that of boys. Besides the socio-cultural context that is one of the biggest challenges that keep young girls away from schools, are infrastructural loopholes. Lack of sanitation facilities and drinking water in schools raises concerns among parents about their daughter's safety and dignity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachch Bharat Abhiyan and Coca-Cola's ‘Support My School’ campaign are good steps in this direction. Construction of toilets is the key focus area of the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan. Having basic sanitation facilities can help retain girls in school.

Getting girls back to school calls for concerted efforts from all stakeholders including the gram panchayat representatives, community self-help groups, Government and non-Government organisations as well as institutional partners. School enrollments can also be promoted through conditional incentives. Rewarding students based on their attendance and participation can arrest high drop-out rates. The problem needs to be addressed at the grass root level where people are made aware about the declining child sex-ratio, gender discrimination, and reproductive rights of women, pre-natal diagnostic and termination-of-pregnancy laws.

The State of Kerala has the highest level of human development and gender development index. With the highest overall literacy rate of 93.91 per cent, as per Census 2011, Kerala ranks first in female literacy rate with 91.98 per cent. Over 94 per cent of the rural population has access to a primary school within one km, while 98 per cent of population benefits one school within a distance of two km.

Besides access to higher educational institutions in cities, rural students are facilitated with widely subsidised transport fares. Access to education has also reduced the infant mortality rate in Kerala, bringing it down to seven deaths per 1,000 births in 2012. There is greater awareness among people about approaching health centres for deliveries. Studies suggest that as many as 98 per cent of deliveries in Kerala take place in hospitals, compared to 70 per cent in other States.

Women's education can play a significant role in driving the economic growth of the country. A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute titled, The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth, points out that if participation of women is on par with that of men, it can help to boost the gross domestic product anywhere between 16 per cent to 60 per cent, by 2025. India has a long way to go in order to establish gender balance. Women account for 23 per cent to 24 per cent of the entire work force of the nation, but generate only 17 per cent of the share of GDP.

Educating and empowering women have shown multiplier effects. The World Bank states that educated women are healthier, actively participate in the workforce, earn more and are likely to provide better healthcare and education to their children. It's simple: If we are looking at economic growth, it is time we get serious about not just getting girls back to school but ensure that they make the most of that opportunity.

- (The writer is advisor at the United Nation Human Settlements Programme)


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