Women’s education: India

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Share of girl students


Subodh Varma, Girl students catch up, will soon overtake boys in India, September 24, 2017: The Times of India

Women's share in education, 1950-16 and their participation in workforce; Subodh Varma, Girl students catch up, will soon overtake boys in India, September 24, 2017: The Times of India

India is about to reach an important milestone shor tly. Half of its gigantic student population -the world's largest -will be made up of girls. In 2015-16, the last year for which data is available, girls comprised 48% of the Indian student population of about 300 million.

There has been a dramatic increase of girls enrolled in educational institutions -from schools to colleges and universities -over the past years. Starting from a mere 25% in 1950-51, the share of girl students inched up slowly for the next 40 years to reach 39% in 1990-91. Then, in the next decade, it moved up to 42%. Since 2000-2001, it has increased to within touching distance of the halfway mark. Once enrolled, girls are more likely to be conscientious in their studies and complete the course. Hence more girls get degrees than boys.

Why is this significant?

For one, this puts India in the company of most advanced countries. In the EU nations, 54% of higher education students are women; the corresponding figure in the US is 55% and about 54% in China.

But in these countries, the status of women in society also improved simultaneously.More participation in jobs, more representation in political, administrative and economic decision making bodies and a better status in society went hand in hand with better education. In India, there is a bizarre mis match between the education at tainments of women and their participation and status in all other aspects of the country's life. Participation in work is just 27%, representation in Parliament is 11% and 8.8% in state legislatures, and only 17 CEOs of 500 largest listed companies are women.

This situation represents not just a tragic waste of educated and productive talent of the country's citizens, but also a fraught and unjust situation where a huge educated segment of society is forced to play second fiddle and sit on the sidelines.

While the number of girls in schools steadily increased in the 1990s and early 2000s as a result of programmes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the mid-day meal scheme, there has been a dizzying expansion in the number of girls entering higher education. They made up about 35% of students in 2000-01which shot up to 46% in 2015 16. A large chunk of those that went to school in earlier years, continued into higher education.

Girls outnumber boys in PG courses while they are on the brink of overtaking boys in UG courses.In many states and universities this has already taken place. For several years now, more girls are enrolled in arts subjects than boys, but lose ground in science and commerce. In professional courses, boys outnumber girls by almost 3:1in engineering but they are ahead of boys in medical science disciplines, mainly due to very high numbers in some sub-disciplines like nursing, dentistry , physiotherapy and traditional systems of medicine.

The large and growing number of girls doing general arts and humanities courses in colleges across the country represents both a lack of opportunity to enter into less accessible technical and professional courses and also the desire of families to equip their daughters as much as possible for future life.

Many feel that getting a graduate degree is now part of the preparation for better marriage prospects as there is at least a better potential for employment.

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