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Why do girls miss out on education in India?

Today in India, only 1 in 3 girls complete primary school
Today in India, only 1 in 3 girls complete primary school

Today in India, a good education is still a luxury. Some children face a journey of many miles just to get to school, only to arrive at a tumble-down building with no basic equipment, toilets or drinking water. Teacher absenteeism is rising, and drop-out levels worryingly high.

Across India, SOS Children provides 7,000 children with the very best learning experience. From outstanding teachers to well-equipped classrooms, children benefit from an exceptional education in SOS Schools up and down the country.

Geetha's story

Geetha came to our SOS Children's Village in Bangalore when she was just four years old. It was clear from the outset that she was a gifted child. Always a higher achiever, we knew that with the right opportunities, she would go on to great things. When she was 10, we helped her apply to the prestigious Sharada Residential School in nearby Udupi.

At Sharada, Geetha excelled, and since then, she has gone from strength to strength. Today, she holds a masters degree in Biotechnology from Mysore University, but for Geetha, this is only the start. She is working as a research assistant and looks forward to beginning her PhD.

“If I hadn’t come to the SOS Children’s Village in my childhood, I don’t know where I would be,” she says. “SOS gave me everything - a beautiful home, a loving mother, brothers and sisters. With their love and affection I became successful in my life. I am very much thankful to SOS Children for giving me the opportunity to grow up in a family and live a normal childhood.”

Education in India today

School in Andhra Pradesh
A school in the state of Andhra Pradesh (photo: Sandeep J Gupta)

Unequal opportunities

Many factors have an impact on children's education, from gender, background and social class to geographic location and religion.

With prestigious private schools reserved for the wealthy, and better-performing state schools accessible only to India's small emerging middle class, the overwhelming majority of India's children attend poor-quality, overcrowded schools.

In such a big country, the quality of education varies dramatically from state to state, and even between different communities within the same region.

It is in rural India that education is at its worst. In the wealthy urbanised state of Kerala, at the country's south-western tip, literacy is as high as 94%. Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya - it is largely in these provinces, in India's north and east, where educational standards do not meet children's needs.

Literacy levels are at their lowest in rural Bihar. Here, well over a third of people cannot read or write.

Children go without drinking water and toilets

Outside learning in Tirupati

Many children miss out on the basics. In a country where many children have to travel miles to the nearest school and where conditions are often hot, drinking water is vital to children's wellbeing.

Yet water is available at only 84% of schools. In poor states such as Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, the figure is as low as 50%.

Without a clean drinking water supply, children's health is at risk, and, for many families, the lack of such a basic necessity is a real deterrent to attendance.

Even more shocking is the state of toilet facilities. Across India, less than two thirds of schools have their own toilets - in poor states, this is much lower. In the north-east, only one in nine schools has separate toilets for girls. Sexual violence remains a serious risk in India, even amongst children, and a lack of single-sex toilets is a key reason why many girls do not attend school.

Not enough teachers

Unicef says that children have the right to a minimum of one qualified and trained teacher for every 30 pupils. Children in smaller classes benefit from more individual attention from teachers and are less likely to drift off-task or become distracted. Research suggests that the longer children spend in small classes, the higher their attainment later in their academic career.

In India, the average teacher:child ratio is 1:34. But in poor states such as West Bengal, Maydha Pradesh and Jharkhand, that ratio is closer to 1:60.

Small girl reading

And it's not only a numbers game. In 2009, a third of teachers in India lacked the minimum qualifications needed to do their job. Many classes were taught by parateachers - barely qualified staff recruited on a contractual basis. Again, it is in Bihar where the problem is at its worst. A 2013 report published by the Indian government put the state's teacher shortage at 1.2 million.

In 2012, fewer that eight in ten teachers were turning up at work. In some schools teacher attendance was less than half.

Wage increases and improvements to teaching conditions have little impact. Teacher absenteeism has become a cultural problem in Bihar. So many teachers miss work, that there is little stigma attached to playing truant. As the stigma drops, other teachers follow suit, and the problem escalates.

Gender imbalance

In Indian society, boys are prioritised over girls. It is a girl's role to marry - sometimes as young as 10 - raise a family, and look after the home.

Families faced with the choice of educating a son or daughter will usually choose the son. When families need extra support at home, it is the girl who is kept back to help, while the boy attends school. With the power balance squarely in favour of men, some families simply do not see the value of educating girls, and choose not to even if they can afford it.

In rural parts across India - but in the north-east especially - the journey to school is long, and girls go unaccompanied on foot. Abduction for ransom or trafficking is a real threat, particularly in the north-east. For many families who would like to educate their daughters, this risk is a deterrent.

Girl writing in notebookOften, girls who do get to school face gender discrimination every day. Many boys and men think nothing of meting out verbal abuse on girls. They see it as no more than banter - dismissively calling it “eve-teasing” - but for the victim, it can be intimidating and degrading - yet another deterrent to going to school.

Dropping out

Drop-out rates are staggering in rural India.

While primary enrolment is over 80%, less than half of all children go on to secondary school.

Girls are far more likely to leave education early than boys. Only one in three girls in India completes her primary education.

Drop-out has many causes, and it is perhaps symptomatic of the collective failings of India's state education system. Too few schools mean education is not easily accessible to those in the remotest parts. A lack of toilets and drinking water means that children face health hazards and the risk of violence at school. A shortage of teachers and equipment provides little incentive to attend, especially when just showing up can be a struggle. At the same time, financial pressures at home often outweigh the limited benefits of going to school.

Why is education so important?

Indian SOS Social Centre playing together TPA 39725
Playtime at our SOS Social Centre in Srinagar, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir

We all know that in order to flourish, a child needs guidance and inspiration from a teacher devoted to bringing learning to every child in their care.

Education is often the route out of generational poverty; paving the way to better jobs, a better income, and a better way of life for whole communities.

Education for girls is key to human development, and the benefits go far beyond the individual. Many girls are desperate to learn, and when they go to school, they often outperform boys. When well-educated girls begin a family, they promote quality education for their own children. Generation by generation, education helps whole communities escape deprivation and move towards a better future.

With the right education, any child from any background could become the next UN Secretary-General, the next chief executive of Google - or even the first person to set foot on Mars.

A good standard of education is something every child deserves. No child should have to fight to go to school. This ethos is at the heart of all we do.

That's why we work to bring learning to the most vulnerable children in India.

Bringing learning to thousands more

Across India, we encourage children to realise their potential and thrive through high-quality learning from nursery to secondary level - and beyond.

India Map

With SOS Children, it's the quality of the learning experience that counts:

  • We don't just run schools; we make sure that staff are well-trained and classrooms stocked with everything children need to learn.
  • If a young person is to succeed in the world of work, they need skills training to prepare them for the jobs market. This is what our vocational training centres are for. Catering for all manner of aspirations and ambitions, we help children realise their dreams in carpentry, mechanics, engineering - and any major industry you care to name.

Throughout India, we run:

  • 1 nursery school, providing an introduction to learning for 48 small children
  • 8 SOS schools, taking around 7,000 children through primary and secondary education
  • 5 vocational training centres, equipping over 500 young people for the world of work

What your help can bring tomorrow

We are doing a lot to boost educational prospects for children all over India. But with your help, we can do more.

For just £20 a month, you can help bring quality to a child who would otherwise go without. Through twice-yearly updates, you can watch as your child grows and flourishes, and see the tremendous help your support is bringing.

Sponsor today, so that a child can thrive tomorrow.

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