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Gender, education — We are just ahead of Afghanistan

By Mansoor Malik

LAHORE: Up to 96 million girls from poor families in South Asian rural areas still have literally miles to go — to the nearest school as they remain out of pre-primary and secondary schools, according to a report on South Asia’s ‘Gender, Equality and Education’ by the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic Adult Education (ASPBAE) and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) launched by Bunyad Foundation and Punjab Social Welfare Department at a local hotel on Monday.

The findings call the national governments to ensure that every woman and girl receive her right to a meaningful education.

The report’s salient features were presented by ASPBAE programme coordinator Sumedha Sharma and association’s training for transformation programme coordinator Anita Borker. The 108-page report is based on a secondary data collected by governments and civil society organisations and maintained by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics.

The data shows that almost 48 per cent of girls in South Asia are being married before the age of 18. Poverty, patriarchy, and insecurity prevent women and girls from exercising their right to an education and expanding their opportunities.

The report says that the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline for universal primary completion and elimination of gender disparities in education systems is likely to be missed by many countries.

The report ranks Sri Lanka on top among seven South Asian countries followed by India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan in respect of gender, equality and education and calls for a rights-based action for governments and stakeholders.Data on Sri Lanka states that its over 90 per cent of women are literate and almost 97 per cent of girls are in primary schools. The Sri Lankan government achieved this respectable position through offering a tuition-free schooling, free textbooks, free uniforms, and subsidized access to public buses to get children to school.

Though, the post-conflict and post-Tsunami context has posed challenges, the Sri Lankan success story recommends that providing nutritious, and cooked school lunches needs to be universalized.

India stands second in South Asia as it introduced a variety of progressive initiatives in the last decade — from residential schools for girls (Kasturba Ganghi Balika Vidyalayas) to universal midday school meals — to expand the access and quality of basic education coverage, especially for girls. The enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, also displayed immense political will. “The real test for the millions of educationally deprived children will lie in its effective implementation,” the report observes.

The report also observes that quality of education needs to be improved as significant 35 per cent of primary school children cannot read a paragraph, and 41 per cent cannot solve a simple arithmetic problem.

India has recently launched Female Literacy Mission (Saakshar Bharat Mission) to make 60 million women functionally literate by 2012 with the support of village-level elected panchayats.

Bangladesh, with a third place in the comity of South Asian nations, has been acknowledged to have made sizeable strides to universalise primary school enrolment from a mere 46 per cent in 1990. It has also been able to attain gender parity in both primary and secondary levels of education before the 2005 MDGs deadline.

However, Bangladesh’s education system remains burdened with poor quality and low completion rates as around 46 per cent of teachers at primary level are untrained and some 34 per cent of students drop out. The report acknowledged that the Female Secondary Stipend Programme had been successful in getting and keeping girls in schools, while providing nutritious meals could increase enrolment and address malnutrition.

Bhutan has made dramatic improvements in primary school enrolments, especially for girls, by addressing the difficulties of its mountainous terrain through rapid expansion of community schools and boarding facilities.

The Bhutan government’s commitment can be gauged from the fact that it invested 17 per cent of public expenditure on education. In Bhutan, the provision of
2-3 meals in schools has helped in getting children in school. Still, quality of education remains a challenge — and teachers need to be equipped with necessary tools.

Nepal has proposed guarantees of free education up to secondary level, while its draft constitution has yet to be ratified. The statistics show that a quarter of girls in Nepal are out of primary school, while 60 per cent of girls have no access to secondary education. Nepal’s School Sector Reform Policy has called for scholarships for girls from Grade 1-8, while constitution of school management committees in Nepal is a step towards decentralization.

Pakistan, ranked second last in South Asian countries, needs to see a renewed commitment to girls’ education as 40 per cent of girls are not enrolled in primary schools. Most school buildings need to be repaired, teachers recruited and gender bias in textbooks be eliminated. The report calls for a larger political will to ensure that girls were educated and demand that Pakistan government significantly increase public expenditure on education.

Afghanistan ranks the lowest in South Asian countries as nearly one-third of its districts have no schools for girls and half of the school-age going girls are out-of-school. It has only 12 per cent literate women in the country.

The report calls for shifting open-air classes in proper buildings and teachers be recruited and trained. It also calls for addressing security issues that are impacting enrolment of girls. However, the Afghanistan government is showing its commitment towards the cause of education by allocating 25 per cent of public expenditure for education.

At the launch of the report, MPA Humaira Awais Shahid urged all stakeholders to implement the recommendations made in the report. MPA Ghazala Saad Rafique and Bunyad Foundation chairperson Shaheen Attiqueur Rehman also spoke.

Source: Dawn