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Wither Kanya Kelavni, Mr Modi?

By Rajiv Shah
A few days back, I was glancing through the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2012, brought out in January by a high-profile NGO, Pratham. For the last few years, it had been making news, at least in Gujarat – each year, the survey results suggested poor quality of education dogging the state's primary schools. The new survey, interestingly, revealed that, instead of improving, Gujarat's educational standards have actually deteriorated over the last one year. 
As compared to 2011, when 79.7 per cent children in classes 1 and 2 could read letters, words and more, in 2012 this percentage went down to 73.The percentage of children of classes 1 and 2 who could recognize numbers 1-9 or more went down from 79 in 2011 to 71.7 in 2012. Things were found to be not very different for children in standards 3 to 5 or 6 to 8. Only a handful of Bimaru states scored better, that too in some sectors – Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.When I first reported the ASER findings in January 2009 for the Times of India, the then education secretary of the Gujarat government, RP Gupta, a fine bureaucrat, strongly protested. From whatever I could gather then from Sachivalaya quarters, it seemed he was under pressure from the higher-ups in the Modi government on how could Pratham "defame" Gujarat like this. He bitterly told me that the method of assessing the quality was "faulty." He even talked over with Pratham experts that something was "amiss" in their methodology. However, what was faulty wasn't quite clear. Even then, god knows what happened, in a little more than six months' time, the government came up with a new idea of organizing an annual festival called Gunotsav, meant to improve the educational standards at the primary level. All class one babus would have to go to villages for three days in a year to "improve" standards. I was left wondering: How the standard of education could be improved by babus in three days, without any follow-up action?
Gunotsav was the second annual "utsav" on primary education following Kanya Kelavni, which began in 2004 and was meant to achieve higher enrollment of children at the primary level – then "identified" one of the poorest in Gujarat compared most other states. Supposedly focused on girl child enrolment, which particularly pushed down enrolment levels, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi perhaps thought the best way to improve the state of education, was to make all class one babus to go to every part of Gujarat to "improve" enrolment levels. Just as for Gunotsav, I had wondered how Kanya Kelavni could improve enrolment in just three days, albeit in the style of an "utsav".
Already, Pratham evidence suggests that things have not improved on the enrollment front, vis-à-vis other states. Enrolment levels have improved in the state's rural areas, which is an all-India trend. Yet, out of 20 major states, dozen-odd states had a better performance to show. Again, mainly Bimaru states, UP, Rajasthan, Orissa, Bihar, Assam and Jharkhand, enrolled lesser percentage of children (both boys and girls) at the primary level (classes one to eight) compared to Gujarat.
While all this had been reported, a closer look revealed where exactly Kanya Kelavni has failed. Pratham data show, it hasn't in any way inspired Gujarat society to push girls to school. In 2012, there were 1.2 per cent "out of school" (a category that combines never enrolled and dropped out children) girls in the age-group 7-10. This percentage is 7.1 in the age-group 11-14, and a whopping 30.1 in the age-group 15-16. While in the age-group 11-14, as many as 18 states out of 20 perform better than Gujarat; in the age group 15-16, if ASER is to be believed, Gujarat is the worst performer. Figures speak for themselves: In the age-group 15-16, Bihar couldn't send 14.6 per cent of girls to schools, Jharkhand 15.5 per cent, Madhya Pradesh 18.6 per cent, Chhattisgarh 18.1 per cent, Rajasthan 29.2 per cent, and Odisha 28.2 per cent. Kerala, as usual, is the best performer, by failing to send 0.7 per cent of girls in this age group to schools. So, was something wrong with the Pratham methodology here, too? With this question in mind, I decided to scan through some other available data.
The National Sample Survey (NSS) report, "Employment and Unemployment Situation among Social Groups In India", of September 2012, was useful in providing insights. Apart from providing data on employment and unemployment, the NSS report reminded me of what Prof Vidyut Joshi, a veteran sociologist, and Sukhdev, a child rights activist, had told me way back in mid-1990s – that sending girls in schools was a social issue, peculiar to some major social groups, which needed social intervention, which only social reformers could trigger. If I remember correctly, they cited a study by Prof Vijaya Sherry Chand for the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad to prove their point, and suggested that any official intervention would have limited impact. Indeed, it was Gandhian education which made a major impact in tribal areas of Gujarat during the years before and immediately after the Independence. Large number of ashram shalas created a huge educational awareness in the tribal areas, before these were governmentalized. Vedchchi Ashram in South Gujarat is a living example.
The latest NSS study shows where things stand for girls' enrolment and makes one ask: Wither Kanya Kelavni? In the age-group 5-14 in the rural areas, 75.1 per cent scheduled tribal (ST) girls from Gujarat attended educational institutions, but in the age-group 15-20 it is 20 per cent; the corresponding percentage of scheduled caste (SC) girls is 68.3 and 11.5 per cent, and of other backward class (OBC) girls 76.8 and 15.7 per cent, respectively. For all three categories, STs, SCs and OBCs, most Indian states were found to be better performers than Gujarat. Take the OBCs, which form 52 per cent of the state's population. All major states, except Bihar, perform better than Gujarat in sending 5-14 age-group girls to an educational institution. And in the age-group 15-19, even Bihar sends 38.7 per cent of OBC girls to educational institutions, which is twice better than Gujarat.
The data also suggest a huge male-female gap, noted by Sourindra Ghosh, an expert in education, in a recently-published research paper, "An Analysis of State of Education in Gujarat": "In Gujarat, male literacy rate stands at 84.75 per cent as compared to 64.8 per cent for the females. The difference is thus of 20 percentage points, which is higher than the gap in literacy rate between male and female at the national level (17.9 percentage points)." It notes a similar trend at the primary level.
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https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/true-lies/wither-kanya-kelavni-mr-modi/

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