What do South Indian girls look like

India

Stefan Mentschel

is a political scientist and journalist. He has lived and worked in New Delhi since 2006. He designed and edited the present India dossier for the federal headquarters.

Indian girls get a poorer education

According to the law, all Indian children between the ages of 6 and 14 are entitled to free schooling. The ratio of boys and girls is therefore almost the same in primary schools. However, this changes after the fourth grade when many girls drop out. But girls who graduate from school are also often disadvantaged. The reasons for this are diverse.

A teacher teaches a class in Bhopal. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

The same ritual every morning: Before class begins, the children line up in the courtyard of the small elementary school. After a few words of encouragement from the class representative about the importance of diligent study for life, the singing begins - first a song about the children's love for their homeland, India, then the national anthem.

The village school is a few hours' drive northeast of the capital New Delhi. Almost 30 girls and boys learn here from the first to the fourth grade - in a single room, taught by just one teacher. This is standard in many rural regions of India. This is another reason why state primary schools, which around 80 percent of all Indian children attend, do not have a good reputation. Unlike private schools, however, they are free.

The basis for this is a law from 2009 that guarantees the basic right to schooling for every child between the ages of 6 and 14. "Since the Right to Education Act came into force, the number of school enrollments has risen across the country," reports educational scientist Minati Panda from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. According to official statistics, almost all children now go to primary school, and the ratio of girls to boys is almost the same there.

High drop-out rate among girls

As in Germany, responsibility for education in India is shared between the individual states and the central government. The coexistence of state, semi-state and private institutions is characteristic of the education system. Since the mid-1980s, however, there has been a nationwide uniform basic structure of school education, the so-called ten-plus-two system - ten years of schooling up to secondary level and two years of upper level.

"In order to be able to evaluate the success of the state educational policy, however, not only the school enrollment statistics can be used," says Minati Panda. The quality of teaching, the equipment in schools and the training of teachers must also be taken into account. But it is also interesting to take a look at the drop-out numbers. "Because 40 percent of Indian girls still leave school before the start of the fifth grade."

The reasons for this are diverse. "One is the traditional preference for sons by parents and families in India," says the scientist. The drop-out rate among girls is very high, especially in the poorer layers, because there the education of the son enjoys higher priority. The girls, on the other hand, are prepared at an early age for their later roles as wives and mothers. "They have to help with the household or looking after their younger siblings, for which, in the opinion of many parents, an elementary school education such as learning to read and write is more than sufficient." It is different when schools have more to offer. In the state of Orissa in eastern India, for example, there are 30 schools run by a non-governmental organization that also teach manual skills, reports Minati Panda. "The girls learn to sew, knit and weave there. They are also helped to open their own bank account and deal with money. Many parents support this type of real-life training."

Parents fear for their daughters

In rural regions, however, in addition to the teaching content, the security aspect is also responsible for the high number of accounts. While there are elementary schools in almost every village, the middle schools are often further away, says Minati Panda. "Many families are simply afraid of sending their daughters to school alone outside of their familiar surroundings."

The background is reports of actual or alleged sexual assaults against girls and young women in the vicinity of schools or on the way there. "As soon as the girls go to fourth or fifth grade, many parents develop a great deal of distrust of school. They neither trust the men on the way to school nor in the institutions. That is why they prefer to keep their daughters at home." The government has now recognized the problem, but has not yet taken action.

Even families of the lower middle class often apply different standards to the education of their sons and daughters: "Both children are sent to high school. But while the boy is allowed to attend private English-speaking schools, his sister attends the free and qualitatively poorer one state school, "reports the lecturer. In the same family, the boy also receives regular tutoring, the girl not. "This discrimination continues after graduation. The boy is allowed to attend a renowned college, the girl has to be satisfied with a lesser-known institute."

Men determine the course of events

This has hardly been an issue in schools in India so far. The role of women and girls in society is still too rarely discussed - both by teachers and in school books. "One reason for this is that Indian society tends to speak shyly about the relationship between men and women or about issues relating to sexuality and adulthood," believes Minati Panda. And if these aspects were to be discussed, it would be marginally and sharply shortened.

"But it is not enough to just reform the educational content anyway," she says. "The way women are treated in society has to change - both in families and in institutions like schools." That, however, is still a long time coming. Although there is movement, the patriarchal structure is still firmly anchored in Indian politics, in administration and science, but also in the private sphere. "Men determine the course of events in almost all areas of society."

Against this background, families of the upper middle class now place great value on the education of their daughters. "Many parents are aware of the strong hierarchies," says Minati Panda. "They know that women are disadvantaged and vulnerable in society. They invest a lot of money to equip their daughters with an excellent education and other skills so that they can assert themselves in life."

But there is also a gradual rethinking of the other population groups. Umesh Chandra works as an office assistant in Delhi. He has two daughters, five and eight years old. Every month he sets aside part of his income equivalent to 250 euros for their training. "It's important that girls go to school to be on the same level as boys," he says. "Because if girls are well educated, they can also contribute to the development of our country."