Dialogue  April-June, 2011, Volume 12 No. 4

Post Independence Indian Perspective on Girls’ Education

Anita Nuna* and Poonam Agrawal**

Girls’education has been an area of special concern for the Government, academicians, social reformers and policy makers in India since independence. The Constitution of India included a number of articles that had a direct or indirect bearing on the education of women. For instance, Article 16 imposed non– discrimination on grounds of sex in public employment, and Article 15 (3) empowered the State to make special provisions for welfare and development of women and children – which was invoked to justify special allocations, personnel and relaxation of procedures/ conditions to expand girls’ access to education at different levels. In pursuance of the Constitutional commitments, the government of India set up various committees and sub- committees to review the status of women’s education and suggest ways and means to enhance their educational status. The foremost among them was the National Committee on Women’s Education (Durgabai Deshmukh Committee) set up in 1959. The committee emphasized the need to recognize women’s education as a major concern in education. It recommended that ‘— girls as well as women should receive not only as good, varied and comprehensive a general education as boys and men but also suitable professional and vocational education that equip them fully for their duties both in the home as well as outside…’. In early seventies came the turning point towards development of women’s education in India when the Education Commission, 1964-66, also known as the Kothari Commission, endorsed the views of Durgabai Deshmukh Committee and Hansa Mehta Committee towards women’s education and clearly stated in their report that… “For full development of our human resources, for improvement of homes and for moulding the character of children during the most impressionable years of infancy, the education of women is of even greater importance than that of men. But in the modern world, the role of women goes much beyond the home and the bringing up of children. She is now adopting of her own and sharing equally with men the responsibility for the development of society in all its aspects. This is the direction in which we shall have to move.…”. The Commission, therefore, emphasised on equalisation of educational opportunities. The Commission’s recommendations came into force in the form of education policy, known as the National Policy of Education, 1968. On the issue of women education, the policy document clearly mentioned… “The education of girls should receive emphasis, not only on grounds of social justice, but also because it accelerates social transformation…”. The most far reaching recommendation of the NPE, 1968, is that of ten years of common curriculum for all children, which resulted in girls also studying science and mathematics up to 10th class. The participation of women in studies and thereafter their contribution in the areas of science, mathematics and technology on various responsible positions that we see today has its roots in this recommendation of the NPE, 1968.

Another landmark report titled the Status of Women in India (1974) for the first time recognised equality of sexes as a major value to be inculcated through the educational process. It underlined the role of education as an agent of empowering women. It noted wide gaps between the enrolments of girls and boys at all levels as the proportion of girls in the relevant age groups covered by the school system remained far below the constitutional target of universal education up to the age of 14 years. It also observed that these gaps were mainly due to ambivalent attitude regarding the purpose of educating girls and inadequate educational facilities for girls. The committee, therefore, recommended sustained campaigns by all types of persons, preferably women-officials and non-officials, social and political workers, to bring every girl child into school in class I preferably at the age of 6 years; free education for all girls up to the end of the secondary stage; and equality of sexes as a major value to be inculcated through the educational process, among others.

Another significant move of the Government of India towards women development has been the setting up of national core group which highlighted that women are not the weaker segment of society or passive beneficiaries of the development process, but they are the source of unique strength for achieving national goals. Education was seen as the most important instrument to improve the status of women in India and, therefore, the forthcoming Plan and policies visualized a strong need to give top priority to the education of women.

The National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986 revised in 1992, focussed on education for women’s equality and empowerment and was hailed as a real turning point in addressing gender issues in government policies. It accorded a high priority to the removal of distortions of the past. It specifically emphasised the necessity of reorienting the education system to promote women’ equality and envisioned a positive and interventionist role of education in the empowerment of women. It strongly advocated for adoption of policy of non – discrimination to eliminate sex stereotyping in educational development of girls/women. The education of girls belonging to socially deprived group and communities received a special emphasis. The Programme of Action (POA), 1992 of the policy document directed all the Bureaus of the Department of Education for preparing a concrete action plan in order to address gender related concerns in their specific areas of work. It also proposed to create a monitoring unit in the planning division of the Department of Education at the national level as well as at the state levels to ensure integration of gender issues into policy programmes and schemes. Another important move towards women’s equality and empowerment is the adoption of the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women in 2001 which focused on equal access to quality education at all levels and the need for career - vocational guidance to girls/women. Apart from this, the policy envisaged introduction of a gender perspective in the budgeting process as an operational strategy.

In 2005, the government of India set up the CABE Committee on Girls Education and Common School System to examine existing schemes, incentives and special measures aimed at reducing gender disparity and increasing the participation and retention of girls, in all sectors of education. It recommended free and compulsory education for girls upto the age of 18 years and emphasized that there should be ‘no hidden costs’ in girls’ education. The committee gave thrust to initiate measures to promote girls’ education of such nature, force and magnitude that enable girls to overcome the obstacles posed by factors such as poverty, domestic/ sibling responsibilities, girl child labour, low preference to girls’ education, preference to marriage over education etc. It also recommended women teachers and women attendants in every institution with provision of suitable working conditions for them so that they can perform their duties effectively, especially in rural areas.

The government of India adopted Five Year Plans as a development strategy as early as in 1950. Women’s education has been placed at the forefront of development programmes in these Plans. The very First Five Year Plan included a chapter on Education in which girls’/ women’s education was given a prominent place. The Second Five-Year Plan (1956-61) recognized girls’ education as a most urgent concern.  It pointed out that public opinion in every part of the country is not equally alive to the importance of girls’ education. The Plan Programmes, therefore, needed to focus on special efforts at educating parents, combined with efforts to make education more closely related to the needs of girls. It also recognized the need to study the situation in each area separately, explore methods for overcoming the difficulties in the acceptance of co-education and alternative to separate schools for girls in some areas. The Third Five – Year Plan (1961-65) focused special attention on the education of girls and reducing the disparities in levels of development in education between boys and girls. The Fourth Five-Year Plan (1969-74) gave utmost priority to the expansion of elementary education and the provision of facilities for backward areas and communities and for girls.  The Sixth Five – Year Plan (1980-85) was committed to achieve a larger measure of equalization of educational opportunities, both in regard to access and achievement. The Seventh Five – Year Plan (1985-90) declared that girls’ education will be free upto the higher secondary stage. The strategies for educational programmes and training and their organizational designs particularly focussed on women. The focus of effort was on promotion of girls’ education through appointment of women teachers, attachment of pre-school centres to primary schools, provision of free uniforms and other incentives. The Eighth Five – Year Plan (1992-97), highlighted for the first time, a gender perspective and the need to ensure a definite flow of funds from the general developmental sectors to women. It stressed on expansion of secondary schools particularly to cater to the needs of deprived sections like girls and SCs / STs and in rural areas. Special programmes were implemented with greater gender sensitivity. The Ninth Five Year Plan (1997-2002) recognized education of girls as a non-negotiable area. The National Agenda for Governance also stated that plans will be instituted for providing free education for girls up to college level i.e., under-graduate level including professional courses. Additional hostel facilities for girls, particularly in tribal and remote areas, to improve attendance were also proposed. Women’s component plan was adopted as one of the major strategies and directed both the Centre and State governments to ensure that not less than 30 percent of funds/benefits are earmarked in all the women’s related sectors. The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002-2007) again viewed girls’ education as a major area seeking attention. The plan proposed to create an enabling environment by providing easy and equal access to educational opportunities, free education and gender – sensitive educational system. The plan laid emphasis on Universalisation of Elementary Education (UEE) guided by five parameters i.e. universal access; universal enrolment; universal retention; universal achievement; and equity. The major schemes of elementary education launched were Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Mid – Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidayalays( KGBVs). The scheme of providing boarding and hostel facilities for girls, initiated in 1993, was revised with the intent of increasing girls’ enrolment at the secondary / higher secondary level. Under the re-cast programme of  Balika Samridhi Yojna (BSY), the Tenth Plan focused on educating and empowering the girl child living below the poverty line with adequate financial support till she completes higher secondary education or gets equipped with the necessary skills to earn her livelihood. The report of the working group set up for the  11th five year plan on development of education for girls recommended special schemes like construction of hostels in and around educational institutions, more hostels especially for girls nearer to secondary schools, reservation of not less than 33% seats in all technical and other higher educational institutions, extension of KGBV Scheme  up to class XII, essential provisions of infrastructure facilities including common rooms for girls in all schools and provisions of more scholarships for girls for taking up professional courses among others.The Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12) placed highest priority on education as a central instrument for achieving  rapid and inclusive growth. Referring to the CABE Committee report on Girls’ Education and Common School System, the XI FYP states that looking into the shortage of secondary schools for girls (both co-educational and girls’ schools), opening of schools exclusively for girls appears to be necessary to overcome the gender disparity. The Plan further emphasizes that the States have to undertake, on priority, school mapping for girls education, especially for Muslim girls. It is heartening to note that the XI Plan included that measured will be undertaken to overcome obstacles posed by the factors such as poverty, domestic/sibling responsibilities, girl child labour, low preference to girls education, preference to marriage over education of girls etc. This was also recommended in the CABE Committee report mentioned earlier.  A new Initiative proposed in this Plan is launching of ‘A Girl Child Incentive Scheme’ on a pilot basis in the selected educationally backward blocks (EBBs).

In addition some states introduced specific programmes such as Andhra Pradesh Primary Education programme (APPEP) launched in 1993 with the assistance of Overseas Development Administration (ODA) of U.K., Lok Jumbish launched in Rajasthan, Bihar Education Project (BEP) in Bihar launched in 2000, Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Project in Uttar Pradesh launched in 1999, all designed to give impetus to girls’ education.

The major recent initiative of the Government of India in achieving the goal of Education For All has been the launching of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in 2001-02 as a national programme. The SSA is an effort to universalize elementary education by community ownership of the school system. Gender sensitivity is the basic guiding principle, be it planning and management, school improvement, pedagogical renewal, strategies for community mobilization and participation or specific interventions for girls’ education. It also ensures that every child with special needs, irrespective of the kind, category and degree of disability, is provided education in an appropriate environment. It envisages adoption of a zero rejection policy so that no child is left out of the education system. Flexibility is an important aspect of the government’s approach under SSA. Various strategies have been adopted like Education Guarantee Scheme, Bridge Courses, Summer Camps and other initiatives to make it possible to reach out to unreached categories. SSA ensures elementary schooling (education for all children upto class VIII) completely free across the country.

The Targeted Provisions for Girls under SSA are :

Distribution of free textbooks for all girls upto class VIII.

Support for construction of separate toilets for girls in schools.

Organisation of Back to School Camps for out of school girls.

Organisation of Bridge Courses for older girls.

Recruitment of 50% women teachers.

Opening of Early Child Care and Education Centres in / near schools in convergence with ICDS Programme.

Support for organisation of Teacher’s sensitisation programmes to promote equitable learning opportunities.

Development of gender sensitive teaching – learning materials including textbooks.

Intensive efforts to mobilise community to generate a community demand for girls’ education. 

Provision of Innovation Fund per district for need based interventions for ensuring girls’ attendance and retention.

Within the ambit of Sarva Shiksa Abhiyan (SSA), a special thrust on women’s education came from the government through the National Programme of Education for Girls at Elementary Levels (NPEGEL) in July 2003. The NPEGEL under the existing scheme of SSA provides additional components at the elementary level for education of underprivileged / disadvantaged girls. The scheme is being implemented in Educationally Backward Blocks (EBBs) where the level of rural female literacy is less than the national averages and the gender gap is above the national averages, as well as in blocks of districts that have at least 5 % SC/ST population and where SC/ST female literacy is below 10% based on 1991 census. Another scheme introduced on behalf of the government in 2004 is the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV). The main aim of the scheme is to preferentially encourage backward classes and scheduled caste girls to be in schools. It became a part of SSA in 2007. Currently, the scheme is operational in 24 states and 1 Union Territory. KGBV provides support for opening of residential girls’ schools in educationally backward blocks for drop out girls or those who have missed schooling due to various reasons.  In the 11th plan, KGBV is seen as a special initiative for dropout and never enrolled girls.

Above all, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, commonly known as the Right To Education (RTE) Act, is being seen with much hope to bring about the long awaited changes in education of children aged 6-14 years, addressing disparities of access and quality. The Act was notified on 27.8.2010 and is in force from 1.4.2010. While stating the duties of appropriate Government authorities at various levels, the Act has also included duties of parents and guardians to get their children /wards admitted for elementary education in neighborhood schools. The biased parental attitude towards girl child in general and to education of girls child in particular will hopefully register a change by enforcement of the Act.

Undoubtedly, all these efforts brought high dividends in girls’ education across socio- religious communities and groups. There has been a sharp increase in girls’ enrolment, retention rates and achievement levels at every level and in every area of education. Girl’s enrolment has increased many folds over the years. An upward mobility is also recorded in educational attainment of girls belonging to socially disadvantaged groups.

Nevertheless, a lot more needs to be achieved. There is still road to be covered in order to achieve the goals of Universalisation of Elementary Education. While a substantial progress is seen in participation of girls at the primary stage (Classes I-V), 26 % girls have been reported to be out of the education system in the relevant age group for upper primary stage and 47 % in the relevant age group for high school/secondary stage. The Statistics of School Education, 2010 reveals that out of the girls enrolled in class I, nearly 25% dropout of school between classes I-V; 41 % between classes I-VIII; and 57 % between classes I-X. Further, the findings of various macro and micro level research studies, census surveys, public documents and reports show that although efforts initiated by the Indian polity during the last six decades of planned development have brought significant improvement in girls’ education, the issue of unequal educational attainments of girls across socio- religious communities remains a major problem. The issue of safety and security of girls is also emerging as a major factor in the achievement of targets of education of girls. Further, support for girls’ education has to be sustained much beyond the elementary level. The Government authorities, NGOs, policy planners and implementers, parents and the society as a whole has to share the responsibility of education, skill/ professional development and empowerment of this nearly fifty per cent of the population of the country in order to achieve the national goals of growth and development.


** Author for correspondence, Professor and Head, Department of Educational Research and Policy Perspectives (DERPP), NCERT, Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi 110016, ms_poonam@hotmail.com

*   Assistant Professor, Department of Women’s Studies, NCERT, Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi 110016, anitanuna@gmail.com


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

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