Recently I got an opportunity to visit Jharkhand, which made me nostalgic of my school days. The state is known for its exclusive reservoir of mineral resources, picturesque landscape and of course home to a high concentration of tribal population. Though industrialization started in this area even before independence and contributed to the economy of the nation, the tribal population of Jharkhand remained untouched by the industrial revolution. Resulting in unequal distribution of resources, poverty and low literacy rates. Even after being carved out as a separate state in the year 2000, it remains far behind in the literacy rate and women are the hardest hit due to lack of educational opportunities in remote areas, naxalism, trafficking and early marriage. If we look into the statistics the national average for female literacy was 68.4%, whereas for the state of Jharkhand it was 59%, only slightly higher than Bihar and Rajasthan. Percentage of women having 10 or more years of schooling has also been at its lowest, i.e., 28.7%.
Importance of female education as the key for a nation’s development has been recognized by the global community. According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), “when girls receive education, they increase their ability to gain access to higher-paying jobs. This benefits their family’s income, adds to a nation’s economy and increases a woman’s involvement in politics. Investing in girls’ education provides a boost to a developing country’s progress, and acts as a catalyst for gender equality on multiple levels”. With this view the Indian government has taken several initiatives for girls’ education- one of them being the KGBV (Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas), residential schools for girls of marginalized section. The schools are funded by the central government and in Jharkhand, the state government provides additional funds to meet the dearth of quality education in remote areas.
The KGBVs in Jharkhand have also been upgraded to the senior secondary level, but the implementation of the program to its full potential remains a challenge. Apathy of the community towards female education is one of the challenges which has to be overcome. Traditional practice of child marriage or early marriage, scarcity of qualified teachers in rural areas adds to this problem. Cultural roots of gender defined roles propagates absence of educational and professional aspiration among girls. Attitude of people especially parents towards girls education has to change to bring about change in the situation. A vital component, i.e., vocational training, in the school curriculum is still lacking which also deters the pursuance of higher education especially in the economically weaker sections. With trafficking, naxalism, and early marriage existing in the state, strategies need to be strengthened to fight with these phenomena. Participation of civil society in advocacy and awareness generation is the need of the hour along with strengthening of the system. It is also imperative that focus should also be on quality and not merely enrollment.
It is only with the combined effort of the government, non-government and the community can the educational uplift of women be realized.