In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' (BBBP) scheme – considered to be one of the flagship policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. The scheme aimed at creating large-scale awareness to reduce male-child preference and to empower girls through education.
India’s gender inequality gap has been wide on most metrics – birth rate, health, economic and political participation – placing the country in 2015 at 105 of 140 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index.
Thus, the government combining political will, public visibility, and multi-ministry collaboration, through BBBP, to reduce gender inequality on two fronts, provided reason for celebration at that time.
But seven years on, it is time to rethink how we measure the 'success' of the scheme.
Where Are We With Girls' Education Today?
The impact for the ‘Beti Padhao’ appendage of the scheme has been measurement of enrolment. On this front, data serves well – as girls' enrolment has increased along the decade-long trajectory of increasing female enrolment in schools. This was witnessed across all ages, including higher secondary.
Further, there has also been a consistent drop in the percentage of children, especially girls who are out of school. The gap between out of school girls and boys has also continued to decline.
The BBBP, so far, has been primarily an awareness campaign to bring national attention to girl-child issues, with 79 percent of the Rs 446 crore budget spent on media and advocacy alone.
The shift in focus for the next phase of BBBP has been succinctly highlighted in the Parliamentary Committee report tabled in the Lok Sabha in December 2021: “Now, it is time to achieve measurable outcomes related to education and health envisaged under the scheme.”
As these “measurable outcomes” get defined, it would serve this tri-ministerial initiative well to embrace the progress demonstrated by India’s recently released National Education Policy that has gone beyond goals of enrolment, to highlighting the need to provide quality education – with a focus on building basic foundational skills of students.
India has achieved the remarkable feat of near-universal primary enrolment, and quality has to be the crux of any subsequent initiatives. That is, ensuring learning 'output', and not just the 'input' of student enrolment.
Yet, as ASER 2018 indicates, learning levels are far from as impressive as enrolment numbers, with one in every eight students of eighth grade unable to read even a second grade text book, one in two unable to solve division problems. These deficits in learning continue to persist as students move to higher grades, and gender gaps in learning between girls and boys become prominent in later years.
Even beyond numeric abilities, low awareness and access cause other gaps, including only 36 percent girls being able to point their state of residence on a map of India, compared to 48.7 percent boys.
Addressing Access to Technology, Limited Mobility
Girls and women already have the following disadvantages when it comes to learning:
Lower access to technology and devices – 33.9 percent rural women indicated using the Internet, as against 55.6 percent men
Increased burden of household responsibilities – 366 minutes of unpaid work per day for women compared to 55 minutes for men
Limited mobility – 45 percent women need permission from a family member to go to the local market
As we move forward, with the aim to ‘empower girls through education,’ it is important to look beyond to eliminate the hindrances, from all sides, from providing access to technology, to strengthening their means of mobility.
Several factors have potentially contributed to increase in female enrolment – while broader policies like Right To Education (RTE) played a role, specific initiatives targeted at girls, including building of separate toilets for girls, ensuring availability of water, increasing security through the construction of boundary walls, made a sea of difference on ground.
Acknowledging the Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic
The impact of the pandemic and one of the world’s longest school closures is yet to be fully understood – however, all past evidence of girls and women’s access and experiences indicate disproportionate impact can be expected.
The pandemic blurred the lines of schools and homes. Focus should be shifted to those girls whose schooling has suffered due to the pandemic.
The scheme needs to go beyond the academic premise too – to track, follow up, and catch up with those left behind.
Focus on 'Early Abilities'
‘Early abilities’ need to be measured and be built on to ensure that girls get an equal start – ensuring limited gaps from emerging and increasing. Those who are 'left behind' need to be tracked strongly. Studies continue to indicate learning level and performance are the strongest indicators of whether students transition to higher grades.
Finally, unless girls are shown pathways for their future, no incentive to turn schooling to learning and learning to livelihoods will emerge.
As India’s women workforce participation continues to plummet, with less than 20 percent women in India in paid employment, girls need to be shown aspirations of a future, so they can build on their abilities in the present.
(Medha Uniyal is the co-head of Girls and Women Programs, Pratham Education Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)