Give Life a Positive SpinCulture & Education | February 28, 2012
The way we think triggers our attitude toward life. Study...
The son of a handloom weaver in a small town near Madurai, South India, Navneetha spent his spare time helping his father weave saris. In the summer, he worked at auto workshops and Xerox copy centers. Yet he still mustered the passion and dedication to score 91.4% in 10th Standard, netting scholarships that helped him continue his studies at Thiagrajar College of Engineering.
Navneetha’s drive is extraordinary and rare, but the story of his family’s sacrifice is, sadly, common across India. Many Indian families cannot afford to educate all of their children, putting them in the difficult situation of deciding which children will go to school and which will work. The oldest son typically pursues an education, while the rest of the family works to support his efforts. As we work to improve gender outcomes in education, it is important to remember stories like Navneetha’s: boys, too, overcome incredible challenges to succeed. We need to celebrate boys like Navneetha even as we work to help his sisters attend school, too.
Allocating Educational Resources
The choice to send a son to school and a daughter to work is not necessarily the result of simple gender discrimination. It’s a strategic investment in the child with the highest long-term earning potential. In most cases, that’s the oldest son—especially since daughters typically join their husband’s family when they marry.
But whether it’s based in discrimination or rationality, the differing priority for education of sons and daughtershas severe consequences.Consider India’sstartling literacy gap.In the 2011 Census the literacy rate for men was 82.1 percent, compared to 65.5 percent for women. This gap of 16.7 points is actually an improvement: in the 2001 census, the gap was 21.6 percentage points.
Creating Opportunity for All
The Indian government has taken notice. Recent reform efforts in India tackle one of the biggest obstacles to universal education: cost. If the tendency to prioritize sons’ education is driven by cost, then making girls’ education free is a straightforward and powerful way to support girls without penalizing boys. The goal is to help all children learn—not simply to equalize the gender balance. If cost remains the limiting factor, then programs that make enrolling girls attractive might simply skew the gender balance the other way!
The state of Punjab has made girls’ education free through grade 12 and offered bicycles to roughly 146,000 girls in grades 11 and 12, reducing the likelihood of sexual harassment and assault on the way to school. Himachal Pradesh and Haryana also offer free education for girls, and in Himachal Pradesh, postgraduate education is also free.
The Right to Education Act, implemented in April 2010, safeguards the right of all children aged 6-14 to attend school and mandates that every school must allocate 25 percent of seats to underprivileged students. The act includes a code of conduct for teachers, strictures against corporal punishment, and updated teacher recruitment rules.
A Happy Ending
In Navneetha’s case, his family’s strategy to focus their limited resources on his education succeeded. After graduating first in class from Thiagarajar College of Engineering, he secured a job at a reputed IT firm in Bangalore. His latest scholarship, from the KC Mahindra Fellows Fund, will enable his study of composite materials at London’s Imperial College.
In light of the enormous sacrifices his family has made, Navneetha is grateful for these opportunities. He’s making sure that his family sees his gratitude in his actions: Navneetha has helped his cousins fulfill their educational goals, and—with friends—established AGAMATHI, an informal foundation dedicated to helping deserving students fund their education. Through his efforts—and through the dedicated actions of others—an eldest son’s gratitude has the power to effect real change and to help close the gender gap in education.
How can India further foster education reform and create opportunity for more young people? What challenges do you think the gender gap still presents?
About Navneetha Krishnan:
Navneetha Krishnan, originally from a small town near Madurai, Tamil Nadu, is a graduate of the Thiagarajar College of Engineering. With the support of the K C Mahindra Fellows Fund Scholarship, Navneetha will be attending the Imperial College London, in the U.K., where he plans to earn an M.sc in Composite Materials
If you enjoyed this article, keep up on new stories and conversations about Rise×