Where are the girl children?? The cause and consequences of school drop outs in India.


By Sheel Chandra

UC Berkeley.                                                                               

                     India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65%below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan; and, by 2030, India’s dependency ratio should be just over 0.4.Ideally speaking this itself should propel us to become one of the most productive and prosperous countries in the world, with so many working hands and abundance of man power work force. But in reality, how many of them would be educated and skilled, providing meaningful contribution to society?


The country needs to raise its labour productivity growth to 7.3 per cent to attain a GDP growth rate of 9 per cent, India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra).Only then we can achieve our ambitious target of eradication of poverty and economic prosperity with per capita incomes comparable with that of developed nations.

“As the long-term average annual increase of labour force in India is 1.7 per cent, India will have to raise its labour productivity growth to 7.3 per cent to attain the GDP growth of 9 per cent,” the rating agency said in a report. For this quality school education is a key factor. Studies reveal that special focus on girls’ education and concerted efforts by Government and NGOs in populous and less developed states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar etc.is required.

A fourth of Uttar Pradesh (UP’s) 200 million people are aged between five and 14 years – India’s largest child population – but the state has the fewest teachers per student, the poorest transition rate from primary to upper primary school and amongst the lowest learning outcomes in the country.

In UP, few attend school regularly. UP has the lowest transition rate from primary to upper primary level in the country, at 79.1%, according to U-DISE Flash Statistics ’15-16.More children are doing menial work in UP than any other state, according to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, based on Census 2011 data: 624,000 children, or 8.4% of the 5-14 age group.


Interestingly, in 2014-15, UP spent Rs 13,102 per elementary school student, including both primary school students (grade I to V) and upper primary school students (grade VI to VIII), as per the Economic and Political Weekly. This is higher than the all India spending of Rs 11,252 per student.

Similarly, state expenditure on primary education has gone up 47% between 2011 and 2015, according to UP government’s  Economic Survey 2014-15, but learning levels remain among the lowest in India.


Based on the data from NFHS-3, (National Family Health Survey held by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) it was found that only 75 percent of the children in the age group 6 to 16 years were attending school. About 14 percent of the children never attended the school in India and 11 percent dropped out of school for various reasons. As expected, the gender differentials were still persisting in school education. The dropout was higher among girls (15 percent) than boys (11 percent). With regard to rural- urban differences, more girls dropped out in rural areas (17 percent) than in urban areas. The dropout was higher at the middle school level (18 percent) and also at high school level (16 percent), where as the dropout at primary school level was around 9 percent in India. Those states with better educational attainment, the dropout rate was low at primary school level and more at high school level. The study also examined the household and parental characteristics which were possibly influence the school dropouts. In general, it was observed that the dropout was high among the children belonging to Muslim, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe families. With the increase in the land holdings of the households, there

was a decline in the school dropouts. The standard of living index also shows that children belonging to low SLI families were more likely to dropout. Parental characteristics also play a significant role in determining school

education. The dropouts among the children belonging to illiterate parents were four times higher than that of the literate parents. It was also observed that if parents were not working, the possibility of dropout among their

children was relatively high. Therefore it appears that the household size, number of living children, and parental education were the most important predictors of school dropouts in India.  



Nearly 6 percent of the girls dropped out of school when they got married. School related factors, like poor infrastructure, lack of teachers, etc, were contributing for 15 percent dropout among girls and 4 percent among boys. It is important to emphasis here that improving the school infrastructure, quality of education and huge investment in school education can only reduce the extent of dropout to a limited extent. Unless and until there is considerable improvement in the economic status of households and change in the social attitudes of parents, achieving the goal of universalisation of school education will remain a major challenge for India.


According to the ministry of human resource development (MHRD), 62.1 million) children are out of school in India. The 2011 Census estimated the figure at 84 million—nearly 20% of the age group covered under the Right to Education (RTE) Act. At this stage, traditional gender norms push girls into helping with household chores and sibling care, leading to irregular attendance that eventually results in dropouts. Early marriage, lack of safety in schools and low aspirations related to girls’ education also lead to them dropping out. Additional problems arise when the girl reaches secondary education. As the recent Annual Survey of Education Report (Aser) 2017 findings suggest, while on average the difference between enrolment levels of boys and girls at age 14 are declining, by 18, when the state doesn’t enforce compulsory education through the RTE Act, 32% girls are not enrolled—compared to 28% boys. Bridging mechanisms for out-of-school children exist at the elementary stage, but are absent for secondary education. Hence girls find it difficult to re-enter education once they have dropped out. The number of schools also decreases sharply beyond upper primary. In 2015-16, for every 100 elementary schools (classes I to VIII) in rural India, there were 14 offering secondary (classes IX-X) and only six offering higher secondary grades (classes XI-XII.Moreover most of the secondary schools are privately-owned, and therefore costs much more. At the elementary level, only 5% listed in the official statistics are private unaided schools while 40% schools offering secondary or higher secondary grades are private, unaided institutions. This stacks the odds against girls’ education and leads to dropouts.


It is clear that without having a paradigm change leading to enabling circumstances for the girl child to survive and thrive we cannot progress.. A wealth of experience exists on how to keep girls in school and ensure quality of education. The recent recommendation by the Central Advisory Board of Education sub-committee to extend Kasturba Gandhi Vidyalayas till class XII and the plans by MHRD to develop action plans for girls’ education are welcome. The RTE Act appears to be playing its part in helping girls stay in school and it is time to amend it to extend it to include secondary education. The government’s slogan of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao cannot be achieved without a fundamental right to secondary education backed by measures that make free quality public education institutions available and accessible for all, especially girls.


It is critical to have a mechanism to identify girls at risk of dropping out and implement mechanisms to bring those that have dropped out back into school. The new definition of a dropout, 30 days of continuous unexcused absence, is a start, but would be inadequate; more regular touch points are needed to create timely corrective measures to ensure timely regular attendance.


For dropouts, the provision for “special training”, and accelerated learning opportunities for out of school children should be introduced at the secondary level, but the implementation of this provision at the elementary level should also be strengthened. We need to invest heavily in female teachers who are qualified and provide them reasonable remuneration. Many a time absence of funds or delayed release of funds, also contribute to glaring gaps.

Aser suggests that the predominant reason for girls dropping out is family constraints (32.5% at secondary level). Workshops and seminars need to be organised for dialogue with parents and community so as to change social norms towards girls’ education.. Aser 2017 finds that 70.7% out-of-school youth have mothers who have never been to school.Here, teachers can play the role model.


Distance and lack of transportation facilities is a big contributing factor to girls dropping out. Initiatives like distribution of bicycles to girls and the hiring of escorts (Tola Sevaks in Bihar) make schooling safer and enhances retention of girls. Schemes like the former have been shown to increase girls’ age-appropriate enrolment in secondary schools by 30%. School infrastructure needs to improve through availability of usable toilets. Kerala is the first state to provide free sanitary napkins in schools and other states should follow suit given the clear evidence of adolescent girls’ absence during their periods. To put in a nutshell, schools need to become more receptive for girls and deliver education of better quality. It is particularly important to ensure that all teachers are trained and sensitized to gender concerns. Availability of gender-sensitive print- rich environment in schools is important. However, the curriculum itself needs to enable girls to challenge gender stereotypes and become more assertive. Gender sensitisation should begin at the lowest level and boys should be equally sensitised.

Stronger efforts are needed to enhance the agency of girls themselves to strengthen their self-esteem, challenge gender bias and provide leadership. The recent leadership curriculum in Uttar Pradesh is a positive example where the government, with support from civil society, is one step closer to building girls’ confidence, and enabling girls to take decisions for themselves. While it is important to work with and empower girls, it is also critical to engage with boys to create a better, more gender equal tomorrow.

  ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ and other girl child education initiatives will need firm accountability from the civic administration. Authorities at the district level must be graded for their ability in increasing girl child enrolment Law and order reviews must be regularly undertaken to check for other factors that push girls out of school, including harassment, verbal and mental abuses. Civic authorities should be held responsible for sanitation (lack of dedicated toilets for girls is a known factor in pushing girls to drop out), access to a clean and healthy Mid-Day meal, etc. 
Honouring and rewarding girls for their outstanding performances in academic and extracurricular activities etc. is one of the fastest ways to foster pride in the girl child. This will ensure that instead of being pushed down, a girl has equal rights and access to education opportunities, at par with boys.


Educating girls is empowering women and empowering women is empowering the nation.


Jai Hind.






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