Abid Hussain Rather
The importance of education has been emphasised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which declares right to education as a fundamental right. In our country the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act 2002 has made education a fundamental right for children in the age group of 6-14 years. Education not only is necessary for a society’s progress and prosperity, it is also essential to mould individual behaviour, attitude and outlook. Education is thus vital both for human development and social transformation.
The education of girls holds a special significance in society as it makes them aware of their legal, social, political and economic rights. It enables them to fight against every kind of discrimination and exploitation. It makes them realise their potential and raise their status in society. It also encourages them to be politically assertive and financially independent. It improves their quality of life by helping them acquire skills and self-confidence. Armed with education, they can fight against hunger, poverty, ignorance and ill health. Educated women can also contribute to the family’s income and thus improve the economic conditions of their families.
The mother’s lap is the first school for every human being. An educated mother means better schooling for the child right from birth. In modern times women’s education is considered even more important than that of men. It is said that if you educate a man, you educate an individual; if you educate a woman, you educate the whole family. The University Education Commission (1949) had rightly stated that there can’t be educated men without educated women. Someone else has said, “If general education is to be limited to men or women, that opportunity should be given to women, for then it would more surely be passed to the next generation.”
Despite such significance of girls’ education, in Jammu and Kashmir their enrolment in school and colleges is quite unsatisfactory. The overall literacy rate of Jammu and Kashmir is 68.74% (Census 2011) and it is one of the educationally backward regions of India. There is a wide gender gap in the literacy rates. The male literacy rate is 78.26% while female literacy rate is just 58.01%, a gender literacy gap of 20.25%. Though there has been considerable progress in the female literacy rate from the earlier 2001 census (43.0%) but the disparity is still worrisome. As per reports, there has been an increase in literacy rates among females in urban areas but in rural and far-flung areas the situation is more or less the same. The female folk of Jammu and Kashmir also lag far behind in technical and professional education. There is dearth of women in technical and professional fields as well as dearth of women judges, lawyers, administrators, and professors.
There are various factors responsible for this gender disparity in our state (now UT). Firstly, we all know that there has been political instability in Jammu and Kashmir for the past three decades. No one knows what is going to happen in the next hour or day. So, parents are always afraid of sending their girls to school and prefer them to stay at home. The girls often have to pass through many areas manned by armed forces while going to their educational institutes and due to fear they avoid attending their schools. Secondly, due to ignorance and poverty, most of the female folk living in far-flung rural areas are mostly dependent on their males for survival and have no knowledge of their rights and duties. They have no courage to make decisions of their own. They have to rely on the decisions taken by their parents, who believe that educating girls is only a waste of time and resources. Due to this orthodox thinking, girls in rural areas have lost interest in studies and prefer to drop out at the primary or middle stage. After that they become engaged in household and agricultural work, before being married off at a young age.
Thirdly, there is a lack of suitable girls’ schools, female teachers, hostels, and good infrastructure along with transport services in our Jammu and Kashmir. Most parents don’t prefer to send their girls to schools where boys also study. Along with this deterrence is the problem of transport. There are few good roads in rural areas and fewer means of public transport, which usually plies in the early morning and late evening hours. This becomes a great hindrance for all those who have to travel long distances for attending their educational institutes. Fourthly, there are socio-economic factors and cultural beliefs and constraints which hinder girls’ education in Jammu and Kashmir. There are religious and cultural dogmas which prevent female folk from stepping out in the world. Most of the females in traditional Muslim families are still restricted to traditional education and they are not allowed to explore the world of science and technology.
Besides these factors, there are numberless other obstacles which have badly affected the education of girls in our region.
Over the years, the government at the central and state level has taken many initiatives and launched schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, and many others to promote education of girls. Various scholarships are given to female students at different stages. Various NGOs have played an important role in this field and the results have been encouraging. As a result of these initiatives there has been a steady rise in female literacy but the task is far from complete. Much more needs to be done in rural areas where this gender disparity in literacy is wider. Government authorities and NGOs along with socio-religious organisations have to come forward to eradicate this disparity and make aware people about the importance of girls’ education. There should be new avenues and incentives like free books, free uniform, free transport facilities, scholarships, etc, for female education. Educational institutes should be safer places for our sisters and daughters. There should be specific allotment of funds both at central and state level for raising the standards of girl education. Along with formal education, Open Distance Learning (ODL) is indispensable for raising the level of female literacy. Also, the illiterate and ignorant people should be made aware about the need and importance of female education, so that they may come out of their religious and socio-cultural dogmas and take pains in educating their female children.
In conclusion it can be said that sound decisions by policy makers, rational governance by administrators, and good attitude from common folk can surely help in raising the standards of girl education.
The writer teaches Geography at GDC Kulgam. [email protected]