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Can girls in India go to school?

Education is a basic human right that should be available to all children regardless of gender. However, in many parts of the world, girls face significant barriers to accessing education. India, despite rapid economic growth in recent decades, continues to struggle with gender disparities in education enrollment and attainment.

This article will examine the current status of girls’ education in India. It will look at enrollment rates over time and differences between states. Barriers preventing girls from attending school will be explored, including poverty, social norms, early marriage, and lack of facilities. Government policies and programs to promote girls’ education will also be analyzed. The aim is to provide a comprehensive overview of whether girls in India are able to exercise their right to education.

Historical Overview of Girls’ Education in India

Education systems in India have historically favored boys over girls. During British colonial rule, education policies primarily focused on educating boys. Missionary schools educated some girls, but female literacy rates remained very low, around 3 percent in 1921.

Following independence in 1947, the Constitution of India granted equal rights to education for boys and girls. But entrenched social attitudes continued to hinder girls’ enrollment. By 1960, the female literacy rate had only reached 10 percent.

In subsequent decades, the government prioritized expanding access to primary education, targeting remote and marginalized communities. This helped increase girls’ enrollment. By 2001, the female literacy rate had risen to 54 percent.

The adoption of the Right to Education Act in 2009 made primary education free and compulsory for all children ages 6-14. This further boosted enrollment, bringing the female literacy rate to 70 percent by 2011. While substantial progress has been made, a gender gap remains, as India’s overall literacy rate is around 77 percent.

Girls’ Enrollment Rates

According to government data, as of 2018, the gross enrollment ratio for girls in primary school (grades 1-5) was 99 percent. This suggests near universal enrollment at the primary level. However, enrollment starts to drop off at higher levels:

Education Level Gross Enrollment Ratio – Girls
Primary (grades 1-5) 99%
Upper Primary (grades 6-8) 90%
Secondary (grades 9-10) 76%
Higher Secondary (grades 11-12) 51%

While the government has emphasized universal primary education, girls’ enrollment in secondary and higher secondary school remains substantially lower than boys. This indicates many girls are dropping out of school after finishing elementary education.

There are also major discrepancies in enrollment across states. The gross enrollment ratio for upper primary education ranges from 75 percent in Jharkhand to 99 percent in Kerala. States with poorer social development indicators tend to have lower girls’ enrollment.

Barriers to Girls’ Education

While India has made significant strides, many challenges remain in ensuring girls enjoy equal access to education. Major barriers holding back girls’ participation include:

Poverty – High school fees, expenses for books and uniforms make education unaffordable for poor families. Girls often lose out to boys if families cannot finance all children.

Social Norms – Traditional gender roles view girls as caretakers of household duties, not needing education. Educating boys is prioritized. Early marriage remains common, causing girls to drop out.

Lack of Facilities – Schools in rural areas often lack boundary walls, private toilets for girls, and female teachers. This creates unsafe conditions hampering girls’ attendance.

Discrimination – Girls from marginalized castes and religious minorities face exclusion. Stigma around menstruation exacerbates dropout rates of adolescent girls.

While poverty affects boys too, girls bear the brunt of social disadvantage. Household resources get directed towards boys’ education first. Girls also take on domestic duties, harming study time. Families discourage delaying marriage for education. Discrimination in school further marginalizes girls from vulnerable groups.

Government Programs Promoting Girls’ Education

Recognizing the importance of girls’ education, the Indian government has instituted many policies and programs to boost enrollment and retention. Major initiatives include:

National Scheme of Incentive to Girls – Provides monetary assistance to disadvantaged girls transitioning from elementary to secondary school. Aims to offset costs of enrollment.

Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas – Establishes residential upper primary schools for girls from marginalized communities. Provides education, lodging, meals, and textbooks.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan – Flagship program driving improvements in access to primary education. Focuses on girl education through targeted interventions.

Mahila Samakhya Program – Government initiative empowering women in rural areas through education. Operates informal education centers providing flexible learning opportunities.

National Program of Education for Girls at Elementary Level – Works to enhance girls’ enrollment, retention, and achievement. Provides additional teachers and learning resources in areas with highly disadvantaged girls.

Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save Girl Child, Educate Girl Child) – Campaign launched in 2015 to address declining child sex ratio and education gap between boys and girls.

These schemes provide financial assistance, resources, and targeted support to girls at the primary and secondary level. While not universally implemented, they are steps towards removing barriers and promoting equal access countrywide.


While India has expanded girls’ access to elementary education, substantial work remains to achieve gender parity. Girls still drop out at higher rates than boys, especially at the secondary level and above. This results from persistent economic and social barriers that disproportionately affect girls.

The Indian government has instituted many policies to incentivize girls’ schooling. But improved enforcement and monitoring are needed to extend programs to all vulnerable areas and groups. Sustained political commitment, along with evolving social attitudes, will be key driving forces in removing obstacles on India’s path towards equal education rights.