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What Is Missing in Girls' Empowerment?

Addressing gender disparity in education goes beyond increasing the presence of girls in school. It involves the removal of deep mental blocks that bind them to limited traditional roles. This article, while discussing the functioning of the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya highlights the problems impeding girls' overall development. If the KGBV is to be given a second chance for mainstreaming rural girls belonging to deprived social backgrounds, it needs to set right certain shortcomings.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 200819What Is Missing in Girls’ Empowerment?krishna kumar, latika guptaAddressing gender disparity in education goes beyond increasing the presence of girls in school. It involves the removal of deep mental blocks that bind them to limited traditional roles. This article, while discussing the functioning of the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya highlights the problems impeding girls’ overall development. If theKGBV is to be given a second chance for mainstreaming rural girls belonging to deprived social backgrounds, it needs to set right certain shortcomings.Removal of gender disparity is not merely a function of the physical presence of girls inside school boundary walls. What matters is the range and rigour of learning experiences and forms of knowledge made available to girls in the process of schooling, so that they develop the confidence and the skills to shape their destiny and partici-pate in the governance of society. This is the toughest challenge in the context of girls’ education. It demands overcoming the deep men-tal blocks in the adult mind about girls’ ef-ficiency and capacity to participate in the economic workforce as decision-makers. Mental blocks are so deep and pervasive that they have acquired a psycho-social base in the culture. These mental blocks function in a subtle manner and surface in every small or major decision taken in the process of learning, even in the case of girls who reach the school and survive it. The so-called softer options of the school curriculum, namely humanities, social sciences, home science and languages, re-main the orbit of girls’ choices. Serious en-gagement with mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology and their laborato-ries remain far away from most girls’ men-tal world, even if a few girls do mange to enrol in the science stream. Similarly in other curricular areas girls’ choice is often limited to dance and singing as compared to sports which demand physical expan-sion of oneself. Education is a process of personal deve-lopment in which adult expectations play a critical role in making the young aspire for a specific role. Parents’ and teachers’ expectations from girls are minuscule in comparison to what is expected of boys. Aspirations from the process of education per se are generally limited to making girls suitable for matrimony in accordance with the community’s values. Once girls internalise these expectations, during the process of growing up, they become mental blocks. These blocks impede the growth of a “self” in girls and prevent them from feeling an agency to choose their own goals. These mental blocks are no less a challenge in education than is acquisition of knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the modern economy. Only a sustained process of intellectually stimulating classroom pedagogy, applied in the context of knowledge spread across science, mathematics and the social sciences, can enable girls to transcend the origins of their mental blocks after identi-fying them. And only a sustained rigour in the school curriculum can make what is popularly known as an “empowered girl” who is capable of recognising her poten-tial and who aspires for a productive life, not limited to traditional roles offered by our society. Symbolic MinimalismThe need to empower girls has been rec-ognised, however vaguely, by the current educational policy, resulting in almost a flood of programmes which aim at em-powering them. Several of these pro-grammes treat empowerment as a one-shot measure. Distributions of bicycles or computers to girls who successfully com-plete a stage of education are examples of this type. Compared to a sustained effort for improving the quality of teaching in girls’ schools, distribution of bicycles and computers is easier to manage. Their im-portance and role in widening personal capacity cannot be denied, but small steps of this kind are hardly adequate to address the nature and scale of the issues that edu-cational planning faces in the context of gender relations. The expenditure in-curred on bicycle or cash distribution should also be viewed against the back-drop of the cultural oppression of girls and their general educational deprivation, which includes discrimination against them in the context of fundamental needs like food and medical treatment during childhood and adolescence. Contextualised in this manner, distri-bution of mechanical devices cannot be distinguished from other token steps like provision of scholarships, monthly bank deposits and fee waivers, and distribution of school uniforms and textbooks. We are forced to see all such measures, howsoever Krishna Kumar ( is with the National Council of Education Research and Training and Latika Gupta ( is a research scholar and a consultant with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
COMMENTARYjune 28, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly20laudable the intention behind them, as in-stances of symbolic minimalism. Neither the nature nor the scale of the problem they are supposed to address justifies much optimism about their efficacy. There are several functional schemes planned in order to lay emphasis on girls’ education. The National Programme of Education for Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL) is one such scheme which is being implemented in 61 educationally backward blocks of 21 districts. The programme, launched in September 2003, provides additional components for education of girls at the elementary stage, especially from disad-vantaged communities, such as the develop-ment of a model upper-primary school in each cluster. It offers material incentives such as stationery, and introduces addi-tional interventions like awards, remedial teaching, and bridge courses. These and components of NPEGEL are indistinct from what Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programmes generally have. It looks like a loosely packaged bag in which ideas have been clubbed without any consolidated vision. KGBV SchemeOne exception in the scenario of girls’ education is the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) scheme which is run-ning under the SSA and accounts for about 7 per cent of its total outlay. The basic idea underpinning the scheme is to give a second chance for mainstreaming rural girls be-longing to deprived social backgrounds who could not study up to or beyond class V. The second opportunity consists of the facility to stay in a hostel while studying for the upper primary stage of elementary education, namely classes VI to VIII. The KGBV scheme draws its legitimacy from the thrust in national policy documents and international discourses on the “gen-der gap”. Following this thrust, the scheme has been implemented in educationally backward blocks with a wider gender gap. The social categories covered are the scheduled castes (SC), scheduled tribes (ST), other backward classes (OBC), reli-gious minorities, and below poverty line (BPL) households. The scheme offers three models, the first consisting of a hostel-cum-school for 100 girls, the second pro-viding the same for 50 girls, and the third offering only a 50-seat hostel attached to an existing upper primary school. As all the girls are primary school “dropouts”, they are above 10 years of age and mostly intheirteens. Enrolment requires mobili-sation among families of the designated eligible groups.TheKGBV scheme is being implemented currently in 20 states, with considerable variation in style and quality. There is sig-nificant variation, for example, between KGBVs run directly by the SSA functionaries and by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including the Mahila Samakhya (MS). Current figures indicate that more than 1,00,000 girls are studying in some 2,000KGBVs across the country. Our inter-action withNGOs and MS members in-volved inKGBVs in two states reveals a heartening reality, namely that parents appreciate the progress their daughters make, contrary to the prevalent view that the rural poor do not want to educate their daughters. Once enrolled at a KGBV, the girls go through a bridge course which at-tempts to cover the knowledge and skills required for negotiating the class VI cur-riculum. Although there is a considerable variety in the length and content of the bridge course offered in different parts of the country, most of them include compo-nents that have been neglected in the curricula of most states. Packaged under labels like “life skills”, such components offer empowerment strategies, such as personal development, communication capacity and health- related awareness.Accomplishments Uttar Pradesh (UP) which ranks among India’s highest “gender-gap” states is pro-jected to have more than 700 KGBVs out of which 188 are already functioning. Out of the 27KGBVs assigned so far to MS, we have personally visited five. Our experience corroborates the point made bySSA’s monitoring teams, namely that MS-run KGBVs inUP have made several special accomplishments which can be attributed to the larger and longer story of the success of MS in mobilising rural women for legal and economic intervention. Both in the selection of teachers and in their orienta-tion, the MS-runKGBVs have displayed the energy generated byMS itself as a state-supported NGO. Our impression is that this conjunction of energies is not entirely unique to MS; nor do MS-runKGBV in some other states necessarily provide the kind of outstanding example they do inUP. We feel that feminism as a social force and ideology has permitted several NGOs to in-vest somewhat unusual energies inKGBVs in quite a few cases. Such energies, of which the MS-runKGBVs inUP are perhaps the best example, find expression in the empowerment aspects of the curriculum. These aspects are more noticeable or INSTITUTE OF DEVELOPMENT STUDIES 8B, Jhalana Institutional Area, Jaipur 302 004INSTITUTIONAL DOCTORAL FELLOWSHIPSApplications on prescribed form are invited for a Doctoral Fellowship in Economics, other Social Science disciplines for the year 2008-09 tenable at this Institute ( Post Graduation in Social Sciences with at least 55% marks.2. 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COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 200821visible than the girls’ academic or scholastic accomplishments. And this is where a significant conceptual gap lies in theKGBV scheme, which needs to be ob-served and filled up with improved policy and funding.The special effort made byKGBVs is in terms of giving focused attention to girls’ education. However, the scheme operates in an unchanged climate of state curricu-lar policy and poor-quality textbooks. The National Curriculum Framework-2005 is yet to be implemented in most states which means that the problem of disasso-ciation between school knowledge and learners’ life and needs is just as visible in theKGBVs as it is in any other school. The dull and stifling learning environment and an unnecessarily burdensome sylla-bus compounded by poor-quality teaching lead to the phenomenon of a high dropout rate during primary classes which has ne-cessitated theKGBV scheme. The KGBVs end up using the same curricula which has no vision or understanding of girls’ life and the role of education in their growth. Planning and ProvisionThe presence of the KGBV scheme in what can only be called a jungle of unstrung, state charities does convey that the prob-lems faced by the poorest rural girls in availing education has been recognised as being distinct. However, its conceptu-alisation and budgetary planning have serious limitations. In order to identify these limitations, we decided to compare theKGBV budgeting with those made for the Navodaya Vidyalaya (NV) scheme which started in the 1980s and has now fully stabilised. We are aware that this comparison might look unreasonable, given the fact that NVs cater to rural children who have been selected in an open competition for a richly financed government-run “public” school, whereas KGBVs are meant for primary school “drop-outs”. Our rationale for the com-parison we are making is twofold. First, KGBV girls can be deemed to have been denied a chance to participate in the NV contest for admission. The denial deserves to be understood both in terms of the socio-cultural world from which these girls come and also with reference to the system’s apathy towards their fate. Secondly,a comparison betweenKGBV and NV schemes has the methodological potential for highlighting how educational policydeals with the varied spectrum of ca-pacities in a rural society to avail state pro-vision. The table gives the KGBV budget along withNV budgets and planning heads.DrawbacksIt is evident from the table that the KGBV schools not only receive less money under every head, but also that there are several items for which there is no provision at all. For example, laboratory equipment, school uniform and woollens are not provided to the KGBVs. The details mentioned in the column forNVs convey the extent of meti-culous planning exercised to estimate a growing child’s needs. Provision of travel expense to take a child to the hospital in case of emergency and the mention of items like woollen and cotton socks draw our attention to the fact that there is com-prehensive understanding of a child’s life in a residential school. This aspect seems to be completely missing from the planning of KGBVs despite the fact that it is a scheme for girls from deprived backgrounds whose needs are far greater than those of NV children, belonging largely to the elite strata of rural society. The teachers serving inNVs are well qualified; they go through several in-service training programmes and get a regular salary based on a central government scale. The Navodaya Vidyalaya Sangathan organises its in-service train-ing programmes in collaboration with leading institutes of the country, such as Indian Institute of Management(IIM), Ahmedabad, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (CIFL), Hyderabad, and National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), to name a few. TheKGBV teachers, on the other hand, are para-teachers with no stability: they get sporadic in-service training inputs which are mostly so generalised that they cannot be expected to enhance teachers’ understanding of the girls’ pedagogic and developmental requirements. Their salary structures are very poor and do not have any routine benefits available to encadred regular government schoolteachers. They are supposed to share the responsibilities of looking after children’s welfare after teaching is over for the day, but no living accommodation is provided to them. Four or five teachers live in a room which is converted into a staff room during the day. The crowded dormitories in which the girls sleep are similarly converted into classrooms during the day. This rather depressing reality of the KGBV scheme is not unusual. Most schemes aimed at children belonging to the poor sections of society have a minimalist Table : KGBV and NVs BudgetsBudget Head KGBV School with Hostel for 100 Girls and Staff (Sanctioned Amount) NVs (240 Students and Staff) (Sanctioned Amount)Construction Rs 38,75,000 building+ boundary wall+ Rs 12,00,00,000 in two phases 14 boring/hand pump, electricity. classrooms, library, staff room, principal Unit cost: Rs 38,750. and vice principal’s rooms, labs, three dorms, 23 teachers’ quarters, kitchen and dining hall, playfield, water, sewerage, electricity, internal road. Unit cost: Rs 5,00,000. Equipment Rs 3,00,000 furniture and kitchen equipment. Rs 6,75,000 furniture, laboratory- equipment, other equipments. Bedding Non-recurring: Rs 75,000 recurring: Non-recurring: Rs 1,29,600 recurring: Rs 40,000 (details are not given). Rs 1,56,000 mattress, quilt, bed sheets, Unit cost: Rs 400. pillow, pillow cover, khes, mosquito net, twotowels. Unit cost: Rs 650.School uniform No separate provision. Summer – unit cost : Rs 1,250 Winter – unit cost: Rs 1,550.Maintenance Rs 40,000 pa (details are not given). Rs 1,56,000 pa bathing and washing Unit cost: Rs 400. soaps, tooth paste, tooth brush, shoe polish, hair cutting, washing and ironing, hairoil. Unit cost: Rs 650 Medical care/ Rs 75,000 pa Rs 2,54,800 pa medical expenses, TA contingencies no provision for a doctor (details are not given) expenses and a doctor for nine months. unit cost: Rs 750. Unit cost : Rs 1,117The figures in this table have been calculated on the basis of annual report of Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, 2006-07 and Revised Guidelines for Implementation of KGBVs with effect from April 1, 2008, issued by the ministry of human resource and development.
COMMENTARYjune 28, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly22orientation. Their design reflects such a drastic lack of estimation of the basic ne-cessities of life that they seem no better than acts of organised charity. The recipi-ents are assumed to be satisfied with whatever is given. The compromises in-herent in the design of theKGBV scheme are sharp indeed. Hygiene and good health, for example, constitute a focus for the scheme, but many KGBVs manage with three-five toilets for 80-100 young girls. The scheme’s planning lacks any profes-sional understanding of girls as human beings and as learners. The greatest policy gap in the KGBV scheme lies in its indifference to pedagog-ic issues. This is evident even in the best instances of institutional efficiency. The provision made for teachers and other ac-ademic resources is not in tandem with the goal of providing a second substantial chance to rural girls from the most op-pressed sections of society. The scheme is based on the assumption that the girls are capable of negotiating their accumulated individual deprivation of resources and formal learning. Between the assumption and the provision lies a great policy paradox. Systemic CrisisFor achieving its full potential, the KGBV scheme requires a large number of compe-tent and sensitive teachers capable of do-ing justice to the upper-primary stage cur-ricula in all areas of knowledge. Teaching at a KGBV must compensate for the educa-tional deprivation suffered by students during their formative years of childhood. The term “competent” refers to the teach-er’s ability to deal with knowledge at the upper primary level, and the term “sensi-tive” refers to the teacher’s awareness, stance and ability in the context of rural deprivation and gender issues, especially as they pertain to teenage girls. Though the dearth of good science and mathemat-ics teachers is widely recognised, the prob-lem of teachers who can teach English and the social sciences (covering history, geog-raphy and socio-political life – erstwhile civics) is equally serious. Unfortunately, in the context of girls’ education, social sciences tend to be viewed narrowly from the viewpoint of gender empowerment alone, rather than in the larger perspective of the need for academic rigour in all subjects. This is true forKGBVs also. The reports submitted bySSA’s national moni-toring teams or missions have underlined the need to find competent and sensitive teachers as a critical requirement. The rapid expansion of the system of school education under the District Pri-mary Education Programme (DPEP) and later on under SSA has revealed and exac-erbated the supply-side crisis in teacher availability, quality and training across the nation. Policy response has heavily leaned on help from a few individuals and NGOs – a category covering a vast gamut of voluntary and donor-generated efforts. Very fewNGOs have been able to set either examples or standards of institutionalised capacity. On the other hand, the formally institutionalised capacity for teacher education in which state funds are in-vested on a long-term basis has not given evidence of any significant enhancement of quality in response to the rapid expan-sion of the school system. Indeed there is sufficient evidence to say that institutions of teacher education have remained stagnant and isolated from the develop-ments that have taken place under pro-grammes like DPEP andSSA. Teacher-training relatedneeds of theKGBV scheme have received support bothfrom NGOs and District Institutes of the Education and Training (DIET),and neither support appears to have provedsatisfactory.Tosay that the inadequacy is mainly in a few subjects is to ignore the larger trivialisa-tion of the concept of teaching and pro-fessionalism in teacher traininginthe shadow of terms like “teacherempower-ment” and “joyful learning”. While both the presently available resources for KGBVs, namelyNGOs and DIETs,deserve continued attention, we also need to look at an untapped resource for augmenting teacher capacity inKGBVs. This resource lies in universities and col-leges, not just in their departments of teacher education but in other relevant departments as well. This resource lies unutilised in all parts of India although, more than 40 years ago, the Kothari Commission had visualised a major role for universities in strengthening school education by providing support to school- teachers in all subjects of the curriculum. A beginning along the lines of this recom-mendation can be made in the context of KGBVs. ComplexitiesTheKGBV has been viewed as a stopover scheme to achieve universalisation of el-ementary education. The logic behind sucha view is as simplistic as the wider perception that SSA has nearly achieved its SARDAR PATEL INSTITUTE OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RESEARCH THALTEJ ROAD, AHMEDABAD-380 054, GUJARATInvites applications for the position of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Professor with strong competence in the discipline of Economics and Sociology preferably having work experience in applied areas showing quantitative and statistical analysis abilities as also application of Statistical and Econometric Software Packages. The preferred areas in general would be Agriculture Economics, International Trade; Monetary and Public Finance; Social Sector; Education, Health and Welfare; Environmental Economics, Industrial Economics. The list is indicative and in no way exhaustive. At senior level, policy oriented work experience will be an advantage. 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