"Make self-reliance your occupation... Exert yourself to gather the wealth of knowledge" These are the words of Savitribai Phule who has not only been the first female teacher of India but is the lady who had founded the first school for girls. Throughout her life, she advocated equal and quality education for girls. She believed the path towards self-reliance is through the attainment of power of knowledge. Education not provides girls with the path to self – reliance and prosperity but also helps make the future of their families, community, and the nation self-reliant. Following her principles of girl’s equality, much progress has been attained in increasing the girl's participation in schools; this could be attributed to Beti Bachao Beti Padho scheme's success. As per U-DISE data 2018-19, the girl's GER at the primary stage is 101.78% and 96.72% at the elementary stage.
The increase in GER can be attributed to the instrumentalist approach Ministry of Education has followed right from the school level to higher education. One of the most important interventions have been the provision of incentives through National Scheme of Incentives to women for Secondary Education, opening as well as upgrading the existing of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas from upper primary level up to the senior secondary level in convergence with the erstwhile women's Hostel Scheme, development of women toilet, providing self-defense training to women of class VI to XII. Further, we have established women studies centers, including Swami Vivekananda Single Women Child Scholarship for Research in Social Science. UGC will be establishing eight premier women universities. To boost the enrolment of women in technical education, AICTE provides a PRAGATI scholarship scheme. Women's enrolment in B. Tech. Programs of IITs, NITs, and IIEST will be increased from 8% in 2016 to 14% in 2018-19, 17% in 2019-20 and 20% in 2020-21 by creating supernumerary seats. A total of 3503 supernumerary seats have been made for female students during the last two and current academic year.
The increased participation of girls in the education system reflects gender equality; however, sadly, girls' participation is now endangered by a looming crisis of COVID-19. Various reports predict that the scenario of school closure has made girls vulnerable to pregnancy, early and forced marriage, and violence. Addressing the challenges, the Ministry of Education has adopted various measures to safeguard the progress made on girls' education while ensuring that they continue to learn during the pandemic. I must appreciate the states' efforts to facilitate e-learning through DIKSHA, WhatsApp, YouTube, Phone call, Conference call, Video call, Zoom Conferences; special efforts were undertaken to provide homework, short videos on academic areas to girls and teachers. I understand, given the nature of KGBVs, maintaining contact with the girls in different places of their residences during pandemic has been difficult, but KGBVs have been able to manvour upon that challenge. They had also organize regular virtual meeting with the district gender coordinators and guided them to implement and monitor the different activities for safeguarding girls. In some states, self-defense training was undertaken to train school teachers as trainers so that self-defense Training can be provided effectively to girls after reopening schools; I must appreciate their rigour to keep the notion of gender equality.
As a step further, I have directed all the States / UTs to the States to launch a mission to avoid large-scale dropouts in schools in the coming year; the primary focus will be on preventing girls' dropouts. The enlisted measures will help in maintaining continuity of learning for the girls while fostering gender equality. Aligning to the same and as per the National Education policy's recommendation, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas will be strengthened and expanded to increase the participation in quality schools (up to Grade 12) of girls. The Government of India will also constitute a 'Gender-Inclusion Fund' to build the nation's capacity to provide equitable quality education for all girls. Through this fund, the government will help female children gain access to education, enabling them to be self-reliant. This echoes with the vision of Savitribai Phule and our Honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi Ji, who believes "Education makes life self-reliant". Having said that, it is also imperative for us to realize that girl's education goes beyond just getting girls into school. It is also necessary for us to make sure that girls learn and feel safe in schools. We should also focus on enriching her socio-emotional and life skills. The girls should be empowered to make decisions about their own lives and be self – reliant.