Education for girls and women has been an important focus area for governments and policy makers in many developing nations, in the last few decades. Starting in the mid-1980s, especially after the framing of the National Policy of Education, 1986, the Indian government too initiated a number of measures to improve girls’ education in the country. This paper reviews the present status of the participation of children in school education in India, focusing specifically on two often-reported parameters of gender parity index and drop-out rates. Presenting an analysis of national and state level data from 1990-91 to 2010-11, it highlights how the situation on the ground has changed considerably in the last two decades, and is now far more complex than is commonly acknowledged. On the one hand, girls in some states and communities continue to face challenges in access to education; and on the other hand, the gender parity ratios and drop-out percentages are now skewed against the boys in a significant number of states and union territories. Parallels with international trends are drawn; and implications for educators and administrators are discussed.
- India achieved gender parity in primary education in 2007-08. At the level of States and UTs, however, we now have disparities not only against girls (in 6 states and UTs) but also against boys (in 5 states and UTs).
- The national level gender parity index for the secondary and senior secondary classes stand at 0.88 and 0.86 respectively, indicating a bias against girls. Interestingly however, 13 states & UTs now show substantial bias against male children even at these higher levels.
- Historically, the drop-out rates of girls have been higher than that of the boys. The gap in the drop-out rates of the two genders began to reduce significantly in the 1980s; and in the 2000s the drop-out rates of boys became higher in all grade-ranges – starting from the primary section (I-V) in 2002-03, to elementary section (I-VIII) in 2006-07, and secondary section (I-X) in 2009-10. The drop-out rates are steepest for girls between 5th and 8th, and steepest for boys between 8th and 10th. Between 1st and 10th standard a larger percentage of boys drop out as compared to girls.
- The data analysis reveals a need for continued focus on girls’ access to education in a number of states. Underling micro-trends, however, also hint at the need for specific attention and measures around boys’ education (such as studies to understand the peculiar challenges faced by boys, state or national level policy interventions to improve their retention and enrolment esp. in higher classes etc.) International trends indicate that ignoring this need may cause the pendulum of gender parity to swing far on to the other side in the coming decade, placing many states and UTs once more in a difficult situation, this time with respect to boys’ education.