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Better school infrastructure, including toilets for girl students, could help bridge gender gap

On the face of it, ‘Swachh Bharat’ would seem to have little to do with a ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. But a recent analysis by howindialives.com, published in Mint, shows how infrastructure development influences gender gains in schools. Data collated from the District Information System for Education show states such as Bihar, Assam, Jharkhand, Sikkim and Chhattisgarh—which added the most to the number of toilets for girl students between 2008-09 and 2013-14—saw significant improvement in GER for girls at the secondary and higher secondary levels.

Bihar saw its GER differential—the difference between GER for girls and boys—rise from minus 11.3 to 8.8 at the secondary level. Overall, coverage of exclusive toilets for girl students rose from 93% to 97% across the country, with 25 states improving girls-toilet numbers by 10-50 percentage points.

These gains have not been only because of toilets. The median figure for schools with no female teachers fell from 8.2% to 3.6% during the period. Manipur, Tripura, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar showed significant decline in male-teachers-only schools—a factor that influences enrolment among adolescent girls. Kitchen sheds, essential for running the mid-day meal scheme in schools, have also become a part of school infrastructure—67.5% of secondary and higher secondary schools now have such sheds compared to 32.3% in 2008-09. If more schools had better classrooms, well-equipped labs and other infrastructure, the school education picture would be much better. While India seems to be getting it right on enrolment, as successive education surveys have shown, it now needs to figure out how to improve learning levels.

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