Approximately 89 percent of school-going children in India are out of classrooms. The digital divide has not only worsened uniform access to education but also widened gender disparity in education affecting girls’ education in the country. As per research conducted by the Malala fund projects, about 10 million secondary school girls could permanently quit education, and a chunk of these students is predicted to belong from India.
The report deduces how the four contributing factors—midday meal scheme, access to schools, economic liberalisation and policy priority– that had previously increased female literacy rate have now suffered a blow due to pandemic.
Midday meal scheme first introduced in 1995 aimed at reducing gender gaps in school education, expenses of schooling and malnutrition among school-going children. Economists Dreze and Kingdom has researched extensively on the probability of more girl children joining school to avail midday meal schemes which had reduced non-participation of girls in school education almost by 50 percent. Lockdown has given midday meals a toss although recently a few states have been directed to continue delivering midday meals.
Absence of physical classrooms and the burgeoning of virtual ones have culminated in high school drop-out rates by girl students. Harvard Kennedy School has pointed out the inadequate technology at the disposal of Indian women. The study highlights how digital education and allocation of resources have the potential to become gender-biased unless due steps are taken by government.
COVID-19 lockdown and the subsequent financial crisis has jolted many families catapulting job loss among women and child labour. Albeit the central government is supporting women through the Jan Dhan Yojana scheme, allocation of funds for girls’ education is not uniform. The focus should be on skill development and subsequent investments in government schools.
Lastly, COVID-19 has led to a haphazard reshuffling of funds, therefore, weakening women’s education and skilling. Mitali Nikore, an economist from London School of Economics, believes the government needs to frame new guidelines on education keeping gender disparity into consideration.
Government, NGOs and community participation can alleviate poor funding and promote voluntary training in rural regions. Girls’ participation and class attendance need to be closely monitored by school authorities to prevent further disruption.