Visi Tilak is an award winning journalist, writer, talented musical and visual artist, and craftswoman. She is passionate about the arts, culture, and avidly tracks the news and current events. This blog is a reflection of her varied interests. and is meant to be a proverbial "watering hole" or "office fountain" for discussions, commentary and opinions on these various themes.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
TIME - School Is a Right, but Will Indian Girls Be Able to Go?
Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010
School Is a Right, but Will Indian Girls Be Able to Go?
By Nilanjana Bhowmick / New Delhi
The day the Indian government made education a fundamental right for 192 million children, Dimple Yadav, 11, woke up at 4:30 in the morning. Eyes heavy with sleep, she cleaned her house (in a village about 24 miles outside the capital), made tea and got busy preparing food for her family. After her parents, who work as laborers in Delhi, left at 6 a.m., Dimple fed and clothed her 5- and 7-year-old siblings and made her way to the local school with them in tow. By the time she took her seat in class, she relaxed for the first time since waking up, and was soon lulled into drowsiness, missing most of the day's lessons. "I like school," she said later. "But I do not know how long I will study. My mother has been saying that she needs me to be home so that someone can look after my brother and sister."
For Dimple, April 1, the day when the Right to Education Act (RTE) came into being to mandate free and compulsory education for all Indian children between the ages of 6 and 14, has no significance. She may read about it in high school — if she can continue her education till then. But in all probability she will drop out of school soon, adding another number to the 50% of young girls who have done the same across India, for as simple a reason as having to take care of siblings. The RTE does not protect children from being taken out of school for agricultural work or housework, nor do laws against child labor consider housework or agricultural work to be child labor. (See pictures of a recycling business in Dharavi, a slum in Mumbai.)
The RTE is ambitious, to say the least. In the next five years, the government aims to provide free and compulsory education to millions of children, build new, accessible schools, improve infrastructure, train existing teachers and recruit new ones. The biggest challenges will be bringing in the whopping 10 million children who are out of school already and filling the shortage of trained teachers. But infrastructural gaps are part of the problem too. Forty-six percent of public schools do not have toilets for girls; it's one reason parents are reluctant to send their daughters to class. The Prime Minister himself admitted that passing a law was by no means the end of the road: "To think that we have passed a law and all children will get educated is not right," said Manmohan Singh. "What we have done is prepare a framework to get quality education. It is for the entire community to contribute and participate in this national endeavor."
But many have questioned how the law will address the widespread problem of young girls dropping out to help at home. Children across India are being put to work at the cost of their education, but girls like Dimple have the additional burden of being caregivers in households with working parents. A 1996 International Labor Organization report said 33 million girls ages 10-14 worldwide were working, as opposed to 41 million boys, but that figure did not take into account the full-time housework that girls undertake at home. According to a National Commission for Protection of Children's Rights (NCPCR) report, in India, girls ages 6-14 spend an average of nearly eight hours a day caring for other children in the family. Government statistics show that while about 25% of girls drop out of school between the ages of 6 and 10, that rate doubles to more than 50% for girls ages 10-13. "There are girls in this school as young as 7 or 8 who work like slaves at home," says Neeta Goswami, Dimple's teacher in the Wajidpur Government school. "I cannot blame them for falling asleep in the class. I see so many of them with so much promise, but it all ends with dropping out before finishing primary school." (See pictures of India's health care crisis.)