- Girls have been one of the worst impacted groups as the schools remain closed due to Covid-19.
- Increased dropouts might impact girls by putting them at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, trafficking and violence.
- During the pandemic, the access gap became wider for girls due to the predominant use of digital learning mode.
Girls have been one of the worst impacted groups as the schools largely remain closed for an unprecedented span of time across the globe. A policy brief recently released by the National Forum on Right to Education estimates around 10 million girls at risk of dropping out due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Experts argue that the increased dropouts might impact girls by putting them at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, trafficking and violence.
Perhaps, the impact of the pandemic can be best understood in the context of its impact on the trajectory of progress made on some perennials inter-related challenges to girl’s education as described below.
Patriarchal mindset and the economic constraints
Despite the progress made on valuing equal education for girls as a society, patriarchal mind-set and economic constraints affect the choices that parents make regarding the education of girls, as it takes a back seat in the list of priorities in resource-constrained settings. As a result, we observe trends of:
- Spending less on girls’ education – e.g., sending girls to the free public schools, investing on the tuition fees for only the boys, and so on.
- Widening gender gap with decreasing enrolment and increasing dropout rates at higher levels in education.
- More pressure on girls to take on sibling care and household chores.
Multiple assessments, including a rapid assessment conducted by ChildFund, indicate that as parents suffer from resource constraints due to the pandemic, they are considering curtailing education for their girls.
Infrastructure, access, and transit-related challenges
These include infrastructural constraints in schools ranging from unavailability of schools in the neighbourhood (particularly at the secondary, higher secondary levels), lack of teachers and especially female teachers, lack of sanitation facilities and so on, challenges to safety and the social restrictions on the mobility of girls.
In the time of Covid-19, the access gap became wider for girls due to the predominant use of digital learning mode and issues around the digital divide.
Multiple surveys, including ChildFund’s own, indicate that majority of the girls were struggling with the digital divide, leaving them unable to access any form of education.
This has resulted in increased learning gaps for the girls and might ultimately push them out of the education system; this was also confirmed in a recent assessment done by ChildFund which indicates that 45% of the girls (out of 2000 children) interviewed were at risk of dropping out.
Social and emotional aspects of learning
Experts also argue that conventional gender roles are assigned in the school e.g., allotting tasks of cleaning, sweeping, etc. to the girls which further discriminates and reinforces the stereotypes.
This impacts the confidence, self-esteem and aspirations of girls and serves as a discouragement for the continuity of their education.
A shift is required. There is a need for more engagement with children on understanding gender and social inclusion and promoting skills for social and emotional learning needs to support children in developing a positive self-image as well as the ability to cope.
Going forward the following steps might be useful in combating the challenge of increasing drop-out of girls:
- Special financial allocations by the government for preparing the schools for reopening with proper infrastructural arrangements for ensuring that the children, especially the girls feel safe and confident about coming to schools.
- Special economic support for the families in economically challenging situations, there are some schemes present, however, more budgetary allocations are required for these.
- Strengthening the public schooling.
- Special bridge classes for bridging the learning gaps as well as also supporting the required social and emotional learning skills need to be planned when the eventually schools reopen to combat the academic gaps as well as psychosocial impact of the pandemic.
– Article by Aekta Chanda, Senior Specialist Education, ChildFund India