India is home to the world’s largest population of illiterates. And part of the blame, according to a new study, may lie in the country’s preference for sons over daughters.
Despite education being offered as a fundamental right, more than 40% of India’s children drop out of elementary school – and the country has more than 287 million illiterates, 37% of the global total. Moreover, 40% children are stunted in India, which means they don’t grow to their full potential because they don’t get the necessary resources.
Part of the blame lies in the cultural preference towards the male sex, according to Adriana Kugler of Georgetown University and Santosh Kumar of Sam Houston State University who authored the working paper, published by the American non-profit, National Bureau of Economic Research.
They come to these conclusions by analysing district-level household survey from 2007-08 to examine the impact on educational outcomes and the national family health survey from 2005-06 to examine the impact of family size on weight and height of young children. Both these surveys are among the most comprehensive surveys produced in the country.
One way in which this bias manifests is in families where, when the first born is a girl, parents will continue to have more children until they have a boy. Thus, in a society that prefers sons, the first child’s sex in India becomes an indicator whether or not a second child will be planned, and of the total number of children in the household. This, in turn, decides the size of the family.
This situation does not have much effect on children’s literacy or health in a rich family. There these “extra” children tend to receive at least the minimum amount of resources needed to survive and thrive. In lower caste, rural and poor households, however, the limited resources means that an extra child takes away some resources from all the children in the family.
An extra child in the family reduces schooling, on average, by 0.1 years. Furthermore, that extra child reduces the probability of ever attending or being enrolled in school by up to 2%. Both numbers may seem small, but for the size of India’s young population, the upshot is that millions don’t go to school enough or at all.
However, the impact of an extra child “in terms of reducing enrolment and attendance double and the impact of an extra child on years of schooling increase fourfold for illiterate and poor mothers, suggesting much larger gains from reducing family size in disadvantaged households,” according to the report.
Kugler and Kumar also looked at the effect on the health of children as families became larger. But they got mixed results on the impact it had had. However, Quartz recently reported that another study by Northwestern University’s Seema Jayachandran and Harvard University’s Rohini Pande had clearly shown negative results.
The Indian first and eldest son tends to be taller than an African firstborn. If the eldest child of the family is a girl, and a son is born next, the son will still be taller in India than Africa.
For girls, however, the India-Africa height deficit is large. It is the largest for daughters with no older brothers, probably because repeated attempts to have a son takes a beating on the growth of the girls.
As is the case with any working paper, there is a chance that Kugler and Kumar’s finding may not withstand stronger scrutiny. However, Kugler remains confident. “We have done many robustness checks so the results are unlikely to change,” she told Quartz.
This article was originally published on qz.com.
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India’s literacy rate continues to be below the global average, despite concentrated and prolonged efforts. Renu Sharma explores different facets of the problem, and how we can speed up the process towards a universally literate nation.
Illiteracy is poisonous for the development of any country. It can result in other bigger issues like unemployment, population burst, poverty, etc. It is one of the main issues India has had to deal with since independence. Efforts made by NGOs and the government have resulted in a slight drop in the illiteracy rate in India. But although we’re making some progress, it’s not enough. There are still so many things we can do to help eradicate illiteracy in our country.
You may think that it’s not your problem. But the bigger picture remains that a high illiteracy rate holds a nation back from making progress. It is affecting all of us in ways that we can’t even imagine. We all need to come together to help underprivileged children get better education because they are our country’s future.
With so many factors playing a role in India’s illiteracy issue, there is no single solution that can bring about immediate change. But there are some small steps that can pave the way for higher literacy rates:
The Right to Education Act, passed by Parliament in 2009, has ensured that children between the ages of 6-14 should receive free and compulsory education. As a result of this Act, there have been some improvements in the number of children within these age groups getting education.
But we need to think about children who don’t fall within this age group. Without education, children below age 6, who haven’t yet qualified for free and compulsory education, could fall into the clutches of child labour. Once they fall in, it’s immensely difficult to get them out. That’s why NGOs are already making efforts to provide necessary education to younger children.
Additionally, children over the age of 14 could still want to pursue their education. It’s upon the NGOs to provide them with the necessary facilities to learn valuable skills that could help them in getting employment.
Despite the availability of free education, many children may still fail to attend schools. Most of the time, it’s because they need to work or help out their families during the day. So this leaves them with no time to attend the free classes provided by many government schools and NGOs.
Here, flexible class timings like the ones offered by the Pratham Shiksha organization run by Sumeeti Mittal could make a huge difference. This type of schedule provides underprivileged children the freedom to earn their livelihood during the day and then get an education in their free time.
One of the main goals of education is to provide individuals with the essential skills and knowledge to earn a living. So a basic school curriculum may not always be satisfactory for educating underprivileged children. Once they’re at an eligible working age, they need to have useful skills that can help them find employment. This is where vocational training programs come into play.
In some NGOs, children can attend vocational classes in plumbing, electricity, and stitching. These classes can equip underprivileged children with practical skills they can use for earning a livelihood. The Pratham Shiksha organization has even partnered with a private hospital to provide nursing training, complete with government certification.
Raising awareness among underprivileged societies
Despite all of these efforts made by NGOs and the government, so many families still refuse to send their children to school because of the mindset they have about education. Many parents in underprivileged families may be of the opinion that education is of no use. Because they themselves “survived” without an education, their kids too can do the same.
Here’s where we need to put more effort into raising awareness about the importance of education. We can do this by delivering speeches during public events and gatherings. Instead of simply stating the importance of education, we need to show them the value of education. We can help them learn how having educated children could benefit their families in terms of both financial and societal status.
Empowering educated teachers
For children to get quality education, they need to have an educated and dedicated teacher. Private schools and prominent government schools may have an endless supply of highly-qualified teachers to teach their students. But in the case of underprivileged children, they may have a hard time finding educated individuals who are willing to teach them. This is mainly due to the minimal or zero pay.
These educated people cannot be blamed because they too need to earn their livelihood and support their families. They may not have the privilege of dedicating all their time to teaching for free or for low pay. In such cases, NGOs could open up an opportunity for educated people to volunteer as part-time teachers. The teachers could dedicate a few hours of their time to teach for free while still having the time to work a regular job.
There are so many factors that come to play when trying to deal with illiteracy in India. The five ways mentioned above should have significant impact on education for underprivileged children.
(The author is a content writer who loves to write on education, health, and fitness. She loves traveling and helping people who live in rural and slum areas and children with special needs.)
Help Pratham Shiksha make basic education available to more underprivileged people by contributing here.
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