NEW DELHI: At a time when the government is stressing on science and mathematics for girl students, a study from Rajasthan on gender and equity goals in secondary education shows that its efforts are not misplaced and in fact the issue needs urgent attention.
One of the key highlights of the study undertaken with support of MacArthur Foundation shows there is a paucity of women maths and science teachers. Carried out in three districts – Baran (27.3% ST population), Barmer (16.8% SC population) and Ajmer (urban Muslim population of 11.2%) – the study also shows that girls “especially from marginalized communities have limited access to science and math education because most government girls’ school do not offer these subjects.” The study also says, “Further, social perceptions show that math, in particular, is beyond the inherent capabilities of girls. This deficit in math and science students continues into the college level and at B.Ed. level and as a result, very few women science and math teachers are available.”
Study also found that even if science is offered, the decision to choose the subject is influenced by a host of factors. “Parents believe that all girls have to get married and do not need to pursue any profession. Further, in all focus group discussions both with girls and at the community level, it was shared that a major reason for girls to elect the arts stream was that parents were unwilling to invest in the additional financial costs involved with science, such as lab fees, tuitions etc,” it said. In the seven undergraduate colleges that were studied very few women teachers in the science stream, and even fewer faculty, both men and women from the marginalized communities were found.
Another fact highlighted by the study is that in Rajasthan, by and large, higher secondary schools are known as “boys’ schools” (the term is used for co-ed schools) with only a small number of girls’ only schools. In 2011-12, for instance, there were only 557 girls’ only secondary schools against 15,150 for boys in the state. At higher secondary level, there are 779 girls’ only schools against 7,741 boys’ schools.
In the sample districts, the figures are even more skewed with girls’ only secondary schools being as few as five in Barmer district (largest in area). Further, in “boys’ school” girls are admitted either if a girls’ only higher secondary school is not accessible or girls want to pursue specific subjects such as science/ math, which are offered only in boys’ schools.
Access is one of the biggest problems faced by girl students in some difficult areas/districts such as Barmer where the distribution of schools is mostly in urban and peri-urban areas. “Uneven distribution with concentration in just seven districts (Sikar, Kota, Ajmer, Dausa, Sriganganagar, Jaipur and Jhunjhunu) and mostly in urban and peri-urban areas exacerbates limited access for poor and marginalized girls in particular,” the study said. Similarly, strong conservative cultural traditions are important in determining access. In Ajmer, for instance, access to secondary school was restricted for Muslim girls because the school was located just beyond the defined boundaries of the Muslim neighbourhood, the report said.