August 09, 2018

Warning for Odisha Govt: 56K Adolescent Girls Drop Out of School

Two ministries of the Odisha government are at loggerheads over the dropout rate of ‘adolescent girls’ from school, in the state. Last week, based on a baseline survey, the department of Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti (WCD-MS) claimed that nearly 56,000 girls, in the age group of 11-14, are out of school.

The survey was done to trace out the number of beneficiaries to be included under the central government-sponsored Scheme for Adolescent Girls (SAG), which has been universalised in the state since 1 April 2018. A letter from Anu Garg, Principal Secretary of WCD-MS department, to her counterpart in the School and Mass Education Department, specified that 55,868 girls of 11-14 years, were out of school.

Hours after the WCD-MS survey results were made public, Badri Narayan Patra, the School and Mass Education Minister, claimed only 1,060 girls in the aforesaid age group were out of school till September 2017. The minister was citing the figures from a survey done by the School and Mass education department.

The Conflict Over Data
The unimaginable gap between the data provided by two different government departments has left many intellectuals and educationists scratching their heads.

“This is just a joke from the minister. If the department has given him this number then its survey is either too limited,or it’s hiding the reality to save its face,” said Anil Pradhan, Convener of the Odisha Right to Education (RTE) forum.

However, the minister has been showing old data (of September 2017) and his department might have collected it from the schools, particularly on dropouts. It doesn’t have a system to go to communities to gather data. On the other hand, the data provided by the WCD-MS department includes girls who never enrolled, enrolled but never attended school, and girls who dropped out of schools, explained an official from WCD-MS department on condition of anonymity.

Somehow, because of its presence at the grassroot level, through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) network, WCD-MS data seems more reliable, said Panchanan Mishra, a community development practitioner based in the tribal district of Kandhamal. He said, “The mass education minister should realise this fact instead of challenging the latest data.”
The minister should understand that his figure, which is completely at odds with the latest numbers, would deprive a huge number of adolescent girls from receiving the benefits of SAG, the source at WCD-MS said.

SAG aims to address the multi-dimensional needs of out-of-school adolescent girls between 11 and 14 years, and to motivate these girls to join formal or informal school systems for a better future.

Policy Failure of Naveen Patnaik Government?

With so many policies and schemes like the Odisha State Policy for Girls and Women, the Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana, and programmes specifically designed for adolescent girls, the School and Mass Education department of Odisha government has been claiming a high rate of success in the education of the girl child. But the aforesaid survey results from the Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti (WCD-MS) department has opened Pandora’s Box.

“The Education Minister should believe that the data collected by WCD-MS is even less than the reality,” insisted noted human rights activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo, who has filed a case with the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) citing the issue as a gross violation of the fundamental right to education of every Indian upto the age of 14.
The Odisha government, however, claims a huge success in the enrollment of girls and bringing back girl dropouts to schools under the the State Policy for Girls and Women and the Biju Kanya Ratna (BKR) scheme in specific districts.
The State Policy of Girls and Women envisages an expenditure of about 500 crores over a period of time to ensure development and empowerment of girls. Besides, with a budget of 3.5 crore rupees between 2016-2017 and 2018-19, the Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana implemented in three districts of Angul, Dhenkanal and Ganjam works to address gender bias and issues related to the girl child.

Ironically, the tribal populated KBK (undivided Koraput, Bolangir and Kalandi districts) region has the most number of out of school girls with Koraput claiming top spot, with 10,599 such girls. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s home district of Ganjam has 4,296 out-of-school girls, despite the implementation of Biju Kanya Ratna scheme.

“It completely reflects gross failure of policies that have more become vote-centric than development-centric. This could be attributed to the fact that children of none of the ministers and political leaders, bureaucrats and policy makers go to a government-run educational facility,” Kanungo said.

RTE activist Anil Pradhan told The Quint, “There is no dearth of funds but a huge lack of political will, bureaucratic interest and involvement.

A Chance at a Better Life

“It’s a warning call. It seems that the future of such huge numbers of adolescent girls is bleak. Most of these girls would be forced to marry early which would lead to more child marriages. Many would become labourers and several would be vulnerable to various types of abuse,” Rukmini Panda, a Bhubaneswar-based commentator on gender said.

Panda asked, “How can the state achieve the goals of development by depriving so many girls of their basic right to education, which would force them towards early and unsafe motherhood?”
It’s globally accepted that at least 10 years of education among girls would reduce 64 percent of child marriages.

“And, when we are not addressing the issue of trying to get these girls back to schools and allow them to complete at least secondary level education, we are making their lives vulnerable — to child marriage, and to sexual and physical abuse,” Pradhan said.

“The government and civil societies must take it as a serious call for action to help these girls improve their lives. Instead of fighting over a discrepancy in data, all government departments should rather come together to ensure the best coverage of SAG in Odisha, and offer these adolescent girls from marginalised communities, a chance at a risk-free, healthy life, Rukmini Panda said.

This piece first appeared on The Quint.

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