Consider these eye opening statistics: nearly 6 crore children are out of school in India. That is the highest number of out of school children of any country in the world. Out of these nearly 40% of the girls in the age group 15-18 are not attending any attending any educational institutions. Almost 30% of girls from the poorest families have never set foot inside a class -room as per the data provided by different government and international agencies(UNESCO 2013).
Gender based discrimination against girl child are common phenomenon worldwide and India is no better. It is visible in all the sections of the society in various forms. The gender equality and women empowerment in spite of being important components of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are still a mirage. The education of the girl child in India is an important social indicator to measure the status of gender equality. According to 2011 census, the female literacy stands at 65% to 83% of male literacy rate. Out of 30.76 crore population between the age -group of 7-18 years, 3.60 crore population (11.7%) are illiterate. Women (1.9crore) of this age bracket shares 53% of total illiterate population. In the adolescent population (10-19 years), 9.9% (2.52 crore) adolescents are illiterate out of which 56% (1.42 crore) are girls. The 78.23-lakh adolescent girls in the age -group 15-19 years are found to be illiterate and vulnerable whereas 63.57 lakh adolescent girls in the age -group 10- 14 years are illiterate out of total adolescent girls.
The National Survey on Estimation of out of school children, 2014 reveals that out of an estimated 20.41 crore children in the age-group 6-13 years, 60.41 lakh children are out of school. At a national level, a higher proportion of girls (3.23%) are out of school than boys (2.77%). Also more rural children (3.13%) are out of school than the urban areas (2.54%). About 1.12 crore urban children live in slums out of which 2.14% are out of school. At the national level 4.34% children drop out at the primary level whereas it is 17.86% at the secondary level. According to Ministry of Human Resource Development statistics the average drop out rate for girls at primary,upper primary and secondary levels are 4.1,4.5 and 17.8 % in comparison to 4.5,3.1 and 17.9 % for boys. During 2014-15 the Gross Enrolment Ratio at primary level for girls and boys are 101.4 and 98.9 respectively; at middle class level the figures stand at 95.3 and 87.7; at higher secondary level, the status is at 65.8 and 63.8 respectively. According to UDISE data the 8.95-lakh girls did not continue education in Class IX or dropped out. According to NFHS 4 data only 35% women completed 10 or more years of schooling in India out of which only 27% of rural women completed 10 or more years of schooling. It is a matter for concern when 9 out of every 10 girls ever enrolled in school do not complete schooling and only 1 out of every 100 girls enrolled in Class I completes Class XII in rural areas.
If we look at the statistics related to child marriage in India as per 2011 census, 10.26 crore girls got married before the age of 17. Out of which 6.05 crore girls were illiterate and 2.78crore were literate but not even completed primary education. Out of 10.26 crore girls,1.90 crore girls got married before the age of 13 years whereas 8.36 crore girls got married between the age -group of 14-17 years. 7.66 crore cases of child marriage happened in rural India.
The situation of drop out of girls from the rural and marginalized sections of the society continues to be severe. Once the girl crosses the primary level and sets out to complete her middle and secondary schooling there are number of socio-economic factors which act as barriers making access to education difficult for her. Poverty and reluctance of parents to educate the girls over boys are major deterrents to girls' education. The distances of the schools from the home and parents insistence on learning household skills for the marriage market once crossing puberty prevents girls especially in the rural areas from seeking secondary education.
India's Right to Education Act 2009 guarantees every child between 6 and 14 the right to free and compulsory schooling. However, the act is not widely implemented and it excludes secondary school children between 15 and 18 years of age, leaving many children, and girls in particular, without the education they need to build a better future for their families, communities and country. ? Data from the Annual Status on Education Report (ASER) 2017 shows that secondary school children's foundational reading and math abilities are poor and average achievement scores of Class V students have declined in all subjects between 2011 and 2014. Right of every child especially girl child to free and compulsory education is still a dream.
The Union Government's emphasis on education is limited which is reflected on the percentage of expenditure on education in the budget allocation. The Government is only spending 2.7% of GDP on education. This represents a drop from 2012-13 when education expenditure was 3.1% of GDP and remains a significant distance from the 2015 Incheon Declaration and Kothari Commission recommendations of allocating at least 6% of GDP to education.
The benefits of educating girl child are manifold and can contribute to healthy and progressive society. Education, particularly formal secondary education, is the most effective way to develop the skills needed for work and life. As such, it is widely considered one of the best investments to expand prospects of skilled and adequately paid employment. Those with access to quality upper secondary education are significantly less likely than workers with lower secondary to be in vulnerable employment or to work informally without a contract or social benefits. Quality education can counteract the social factors that hinder women's labour market participation. Education increases women's wages later in life by 15- 25%.1% increase in female education raises the average level of GDP by 0.37%.
Empowerment serves as an important tool to change perceptions and belief system from human rights perspective. Education prevents child marriage and early pregnancy while builidng stable communities. Womenfs vulnerability to domestic violence significantly decreases as their role in household decision making increases.
What is required to improve the education status of girls is that government needs to take some solid actions both at the policy and ground level.It is important to reverse declining expenditure on education by increasing expenditure to atleast 6% of GDP with specific allocation dedicated to senior secondary education. The provisions of RTE Act are required to implemented with the inclusion of higher secondary education for the children especially girls up to 18 years. It is also required to improve the education and learning outcomes of children and particularly girls by investing in the trained teachers in the schools. At the ground level the government should make the schools and communities safe and conducive to the girls education. The laws against child marriage should be enforced to deter people from marrying their underage daughters.