Amrita Madhukalya

New Delhi:The gender gap in India’s education system begins early, with more girls being enrolled in government schools and more boys in private schools, according to non-profit Pratham’s 14th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) report.

The report, which focuses on children in the 0-8 years age group, also finds significant learning gaps. For instance, Only 50.8% of children in Class 3 were able to read a Class 1 text, indicating that at least one in two children in Class 3 is already two years behind.

Similarly, only 72.2% of children in Class 3 can recognise a two-digit number, while, as the report points out, according to NCERT’s “specifications on learning outcomes” all children in Class 1 should be able to recognise numbers till 99.

Among the interesting findings of the study is that younger children are at a disadvantage. The report says “permitting underage children into primary grades” only hurts their cause. For instance, it shows that 8-year olds in Class 3 do better than 7-year olds.

The report recommended that the state and national norms for entry into the first standard and expectations from children in that class should be reviewed and revisited. The report added that while a policy of age is in place, ground realities point to a different trend. “Older children have an advantage. Hence, early enrolment into formal schooling ought to be discouraged,” the report reads.

The survey , released Tuesday, was conducted among 36,930 children in the age group of 4-8 years in 1514 villages across 26 districts in 24 states.

The study looked at enrolment patterns in randomised villages in every district, and the cognitive, early math and early language abilities.

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by 2030, signatories have to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education.

“Gender gaps are visible even among young children with more girls than boys enrolled in government institutions and more boys than girls enrolled in private institutions,” the report said.

In the age group of 4-5 years, 56.8% girls as compared to 50.4% boys are enrolled in government schools. The balance 43.2% girls are in private schools as are the balance 49.6% boys.

Suman Bhattacharjea, director of research at ASER said that the gender gap is a reflection of societal norms. “Since more boys are being born, their numbers are higher. Once a child grows, parents usually divert their resources towards the boys in a family,” she said.

Just a few years down the line, among girls in the age group of 6-8 years, 61.1% girls are in government schools, while only 52.1% of boys are.

“Boys and girls have different enrolment patterns even among these young children, with a higher proportion of girls enrolled in government institutions and a higher proportion of boys in private institutions. These differences grow as the children get older,” the report said.

However, the big picture makes cause for cheer with at least 90% of children enrolled in the education system.

The report said that in all age cohorts, findings showed that those who were better at cognitive tasks are more likely to be better at other tasks as well.

“Children’s performance on cognitive tasks (like sorting, spatial awareness, seriation, patterns, puzzles etc.) is strongly related to how well they can do early language tasks (like picture description & listening comprehension) and early numeracy tasks (counting objects or comparing objects). This suggests the need to strongly encourage play-based activities that develop cognitive abilities in pre-school years,” the report said.

Another recommendation is that the existing network of anganwadi centres should be expanded and strengthened. “These institutions cater to large proportions of children well before they can enter pre-primary grades. The already significant scale of this network can be leveraged.”

Courtesy Hindusatan times