UNICEF report on out of school children in India says Dalit girls have highest primary school exclusion rate

unicefBy Counterview Desk

A UNICEF-sponsored South Asia regional study, “All Children in School by 2015”, has confirmed the long-standing view that children from the minority Muslim community, scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) face a higher degree of non-participation in schooling than the national average. Pointing out that in all there are 11.9 million children (ages 6-13) who are “not in school”, the study says, “The average rate of exclusion for primary school-age children from SCs is 5.6 per cent and 5.3 per cent from STs compared to the national average of 3.6 per cent.” It adds, “Girls from SCs have the highest rates of exclusion at 6.1 per cent.” School exclusion is meant to identify children who are not allowed to attend school because of social reasons.

Pointing out that the situation is particularly grim in Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in India, which have significantly higher rates of exclusion compared with the national average, the study says, school exclusion is also “considerably more prevalent among Muslim children.” Yet another group, apart from Muslims, SCs and STs, that faces high degree of school exclusion is children who are physically challenged. “Nearly 38 per cent of children ages 6 to 13 who have disabilities were found to be out of school”, the study says.

Coming to the urban areas, the study says, in India, rural children, no doubt, face a schooling disadvantage, yet the urban-rural gap is smaller. “Research from India notes that deprivation in urban areas tends to be highly concentrated in specific groups, mainly slum dwellers and street children, whose schooling situation is similar to the most disadvantaged in rural areas”, the study says, underlining, “Out-of-school children who live in rural India are slightly more likely to be engaged in child labour than their urban peers, but again it should be noted that the rural-urban aggregated picture does not disaggregate urban slum areas.”

Suggesting that this may be particularly true of the more urbanized western states like Maharashtra and Gujarat, the study says, “Excluded children from the west region are 50 per cent more likely to be labouring than excluded children living in the central region.” At the same time, it notes, “The pattern of association between wealth quintiles and pre-school age attendance differs in rural and urban areas. In urban areas rates of non-attendance for pre-school age children drop markedly for households above the lowest wealth quintile. This is not the case in rural areas where pre-school age children from the bottom three wealth quintiles all have fairly high rates of non-attendance. It is possible that this is due to a relative lack of pre-school services in rural areas.”

The study observes, “In India, students living in urban areas have markedly better survival prospects than rural students, although 1) when urban slum survival rate lowers is disaggregated, the rate for urban areas would probably be much higher than in rural areas, and 2) it is possible that the urban survival rate is overestimated if children from rural areas move to urban schools during the primary cycle.”

The study further finds that the proportion of lower secondary school-age children not in school is 5.2 per cent, but is higher among the Muslims. “Muslims have a comparatively high proportion of lower secondary age children excluded from school — their exclusion rate is 9.1 per cent”, the study says, adding, :Among India’s social groups, lower-secondary school-age children from Scheduled Tribes are the least likely to be in school with a rate of 9.3 per cent. ST lower secondary age girls in rural areas are among the most excluded with 11.4 per cent of them not in school.”

Coming to the dropout rate between Grade 1 and 2 (about 7 per cent), the study says, it “is notably higher than during the rest of the primary education cycle.” Thus, “At lower secondary school, the middle of the cycle when students move from Grade 8 to 9 appears to be a stage of extremely high dropout (18 per cent). Geographical location is important in all of the largest countries: children living Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh in India.”

out of school1Identifying reasons for dropout among girls, the study says, “Child marriage is often a factor leading to drop out for lower secondary school-age children (ages 11-13), especially in rural areas. Since 1929 the Child Marriage Restraint Act mandated the minimum age of marriage for males as 21 years, and for females as 18 years. The India National Family Health Survey in 2005-6 found more than half the women in India are married before the legal minimum age of 18 years. The states with the highest incidence of child marriage in the country are Bihar, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka.”

Then, it adds, In India, it is not just the Muslim communities who observe the purdah system, which makes parents reluctant to send their daughters to school, especially co-educational schools. Saying that purdah refers to the practice of seclusion and the wearing of veils by women, the study says, “This is a practice in a large part of northern India, including Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh as well as Madhya Pradesh, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh although these parts of India are not exclusively Muslim.”

Then, the study says, economic factors are combined with socio-cultural factors driving the education deprivation for certain groups in India, especially SCs, STs and Muslims. “Poverty levels are very high in these three groups. The India Human Development Survey shows the incidence of poverty is highest among the STs (49.6 per cent), followed by the SCs (32.3 per cent), and then the Muslims (30.6 per cent)”, it says.

“It has also been observed that in areas with a concentration of SC, ST or Muslim communities, civic services like electricity supply, water supply, etc. are poor. The provision of schooling facilities is also deficient. For some social and religious groups, formal sector job opportunities are limited by discriminatory employment practices. Compounding this, the marginalisation of specific groups in relation to livelihoods goes even further: in India, some low caste communities face physical and well as social segregation from mainstream society, limiting informal economic opportunities too – as well as discrimination in education systems”, the study says.

The study further says, “In India, the most frequently reported reason for children dropping out of school is financial constraints, according to a nationally representative household survey (NSS 64th round). It is therefore not surprising to find that the costs of schooling for households in India increase markedly with level. The cost of schooling a lower secondary student is about 50 per cent higher than for a primary student, and this gap varies by type of school. The disparity is wider in government and local body schools, where poorer students disproportionately enroll, than in private schools. The cost of sending a child to a private primary school (aided or unaided) is between six and nine times higher than if the child attends a government or local body school.”

“Given this situation, it seems highly likely that schooling costs in India are acting as a barrier for many poor children in making the transition from primary to lower secondary levels, as well as restricting their school choice. Poor health and hygiene are major problems in Indian urban slum life where inadequate water, sanitation, and living facilities, and living in close proximity, is related to undernutrition and general malaise”, the study.

“In addition, young children in the slums are commonly exposed to alcoholism, loitering, and gambling, which can particularly affect young boys’ school-going attitude negatively. Children living in urban slums in the other countries face similar barriers. A report on the State of the World’s Street Children argues that poor health, resulting from poverty-related undernutrition is one of the numerous barriers to schooling that affects children living and working on the streets in urban areas”, the study says.

Yet another factor for high dropout rate is the “use of a non-mother tongue language as the medium of instruction is a major barrier to learning for particular groups of children in the region”, the study says, adding, “In India, children from marginalised SC and ST communities in remote areas, migrant children, and children residing in inter-state border areas are particularly affected by this barrier. Studies have shown that differences between a child’s mother tongue and the language in school has an adverse impact on student attendance in India. In India, the teaching process has been heavily critiqued.”

The study concludes, “The difference in school attendance is sharpest in India, with a remarkable difference of 28 percentage points between the richest and the poorest. An insightful study on the reasons behind the important changes in children’s employment and schooling in Andhra Pradesh identifies better living standards as the most important factor in explaining the decline in child labour amongst poor children in urban areas. The study finds that the share of the population living below the poverty line in urban areas declined by nearly one-tenth over the period.”

“The reduced incidence of poverty was found to account for about half of the reduction in child labour. However, at the same time, the more favorable economic climate increased the demand for labour in urban areas in Andhra Pradesh, including the demand for child labour. As a result, the positive effect of improved living standards for children from poor families was partly offset by the impact of a rising demand for labour”, it adds.

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