Crossing the iron gate

  • Has the rise in the number of girl students appearing for SLC actually reduced gender gaps in education?
- Jagannath Adhikari
Crossing the iron gate

Mar 18, 2015-

It is surely good news that there are more girls than boys appearing for the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination this year. However, upon closer scrutiny, this increase in the number of girl students masks the gender gaps that still exist in school education, including during the SLC exams. Many programmes have been implemented to close this gap and we need to recognise the contribution of the government and development partners in this regard. Nonetheless, this seeming increase in girls’ participation in the SLC vis-à-vis boys’ participation is linked to a relative decline in the number of boys from grade 9 onwards. This is particularly so in rural areas.

Dropping out

Rural schools are witnessing a strange phenomenon these days. The number of male students is higher in the early years of schooling and declines after grade 9 as these students leave school to migrate abroad for work, mainly to Malaysia and the Gulf countries. I came across this phenomenon while conducting research on foreign labour migration in Khotang and Udaypur districts and its impacts on those left behind. In a few schools, taken as a sample, this trend was clearly observed in school enrolment and attendance. Later, I also noticed this trend in a few schools in Kaski district as well. Teachers in these schools also told us that some male students deliberately failed examinations by not answering the questions well—just to show their parents that they were not good at their studies. These male students then expect their parents to send them abroad for work.

Overseas employment has had a great deal of demonstrable impact on male students of rural public schools who are entering the SLC course, ie, grades 9 and 10. On the one hand, these boys see their high school drop-out or SLC-failed seniors coming home after working abroad for two to three years with money, clad in nice clothes, and hear them talking about life in foreign cities. On the other, they see the struggles of their SLC-passed seniors, who are unable to find decent paying jobs within the country. These realities motivate young boys, who are generally 18 years of age or more by then in rural areas, to leave school while in the ninth or tenth grade. If they are not yet 18, they lie about their ages and then apply for a passport. I have met many boys aged just 16 years (real age) heading to Kathmandu for the purpose of going abroad for work. Their visas had arrived in Kathmandu.

Burdened by work

In case of girls, though their participation in SLC has increased, their competency seems to be declining consistently. Data shows that the pass rate for girls has plummeted by 6 to 10 percent in the last five years in comparison to boys. In fact, the family environment that is needed for studies has also deteriorated for girls. Because of male-specific migration, the workload on women—usually mothers—has increased in general. These women now carry out public, social, and cultural activities as well as all the household work. Girl students shoulder some of the responsibilities of their mothers and other elder women in the family. In essence, the increased workload on women has partly passed down on these girl students. In a way, these students do not have time to concentrate on their studies even though they keep ascending to higher grades.   

Public and private

One positive impact of foreign labour migration and remittance is that boys get more chance to attend private schools; and there, male students do not generally drop out

like their counterparts in public schools. As students in private schools tend to do well

in examinations, they see their future

in professions other than being manual workers abroad.

As public schools’ performance in terms of the SLC pass rate has been deteriorating, we can safely conclude that the quality of girls’ education might also be on the decline as they are in the majority among students appearing for the SLC from public schools. Last year, only 28.19 percent of students from public schools passed, in comparison to a remarkable 93.26 percent from private schools. In rural areas and outside the main cities, private schools are mainly for boys. Therefore, boys’ SLC pass rate is higher. Last year, the SLC pass rate for boys and girls stood at 46.78 and 36.15 percent, respectively.  One main reasons for the higher pass rate of boys is that they dominate private schools.

It is not only in the SLC that the number of girl students is higher. This trend persists in Plus Two colleges located in rural areas or rural market centres too. The reason is again the same as before—boys tend to migrate abroad for work instead of pursuing college degrees. In case of girl students, many parents want their daughters to enrol in academic instutions located close to their homes so that they have a higher chance of getting married. National-level data on overseas migration for work also further illustrates this reality. Almost 0.5 million young people, about 90 percent of them males, migrate for work every year. Most of them are young and most are high-school dropouts. This clearly shows that a significant number of SLC-age male students from rural areas does not pursue the SLC course. Hence, there are more girls appearing for the SLC exams now.

So, even though it is heartening to note that the gender gap in SLC is narrowing down, it is only in quantitative terms. More research and analysis is required to examine why this is happening or whether this is really happening or whether other gaps have widened in the education sector itself, not to mention in other areas of life.

Adhikari is a social scientist researching various aspects of development

Published: 19-03-2015 07:50

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