Given that the patriarchy in vivid as well as in subtle way has been ingrained in the functioning of society since time immemorial – women have to struggle harder for anything and everything. Every gender has their own share of struggle to keep trudging forward, however, given the limited scope of time and resources, the article attempts to understand the impact of pandemic on school’s education on girls, precisely adolescent girls.
The Pandemic has not only ruined the very fabric of health but also has ravaged every sector and sections of society. One of the most impacted sectors of importance is the Education sector. According to the United Nation’s report, about 24 million children are at risk of not returning to school. Further, more than 1.6 billion learners across the world have been affected and the condition is worse in low-income countries. For instance, as reported by The Hindu (2020), ‘during the second quarter of 2020, 86% of children at the primary level have been effectively out of school in poor countries, compared to 20% in highly developed countries.’ Moreover, UNESCO has estimated that about 23.8 million children and youth might have to drop out of the school next year because of the pandemic. Out of these, 5.95 million are from South and West Asia as compared to the other regions. The pandemic has also increased the disparities in the imparting of education across the world. The low and middle-income countries have resorted to cut in funding to deal with the crisis.
In India, the pre-pandemic statistics weren’t already promising – as per NSS 75th Round Household Survey 2017-18, around 3.22 crore children in the age group of 6-17 years were out of school and about 31 percent never attended one (Sonawane, 2020). The pandemic has only worsened it. UNESCO reports that the school closures have affected about 30 million students in India. However, only 37.6 million children across 16 states are continuing education through various online sources, UNICEF states. This school closure has not affected every section with the same intensity. The worst bearer again here are the girls especially those of poor households and so-called lower castes. In India, various social processes and factors already deter girls from completing their education successfully – for instance, as per the NSS, 30.2 percent girls reported that they discontinued education due to their engagement in domestic activities. The number is higher in rural areas (31.9%) than in the urban areas (26.7%). Moreover, U-DISE Flash Statistics for 2016-17 estimate that adolescent girls are more likely to dropout from secondary education (19.8%) than primary education (6.3%) and this figure is higher for government schools (26.8%). Given such dire situation already, the Malala Fund estimates that 10 million more secondary school age girls could be out of school after the COVID-19 crisis has passed especially from developing countries like India (Sonawane, 2020).
These numbers do not show the entire picture, if we would delve a bit deeper, it will be noticed that the disparities are only growing wider. However, given the limits, this section of article focuses on the reasons behind the estimation of school dropout by the girls. One of the most common reason cited is the increasing involvement of the girls in domestic work. During lockdown, the time spent doing the household-chorus has increased leading to ultimate tiredness and missing out on classes. The foremost decision of a family to fight increasing financial instability is to cut off the funds invested on the education of the girl child – prioritizing the education of the male child, as per the gender norms.
The switch to online classes has only brought out the ‘gender digital divide’, which has become another hurdle in female education. Though the gap is narrowing, the gender gap in mobile internet use in low-and middle-income countries remains substantial, with over 300 million fewer women than men accessing the internet on a mobile. This gender gap is still the widest in the South Asia (51%). Study has revealed that in India, in 2020, 79% of the males were mobile owners as compared to 63% of female mobile owners. Furthermore, with respect to mobile internet users, 42% of males had access to internet on mobile while just 21% of women had access to internet on mobile (GSMA, 2020). Such disparities are sharper in poor households, wherein girls always have to give up their education and during this pandemic, when everything has turned online – girls are ultimately bound to struggle. The statistics have brought into light that most dropout are expected to be from government schools – this only shows that poverty and financial instability are one of the main causes of dropouts.
Another important factor in play is the consideration of girl as the ‘burden’ on the family and this thinking is still prevalent – one of the consequences of which is the Child Marriage. Though, the practice has been lawfully banned, it has not vanished entirely. During and after lockdown, a surge in child marriage cases have been reported. Childline in India claims to have compiled reports of 5214 child marriages reported between March to June (National Herald, 2020). These are the just the reported cases, it is likely that there must be a number of such cases which are going unreported. Such prevalent practices pose another major hurdle in the completion of education of the girl child.
The Pandemic has hit the jobs of many but it has been widely reported that the women has been worse hit. The situation of women in the labor market is already dire – there is huge disparity in terms of opportunity of work, wages etc., and pandemic has only added to their woes. Given the drop in source of income, mothers too find themselves incapable of standing or supporting their girl child, in most cases.
Thus, it is necessary that NGOs should involve into different such issues at the very grassroot level – channeling the help to lower level. The involvement of community to spread the reach and help can be quite impactful. The co-operation between local government, local community and the NGOs can be a powerful force against the odds we are in.
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