Dr. Kavita Suri
According to Census 2011, the literacy rate in Jammu and Kashmir is 78.26 percent for males and 58.01 percent for females. The female literacy rate is less than male literacy rate. The rural female literacy rate is 53.36 percent to 70.19 percent of urban female literacy rate. Earlier in Census 2001, it was 36.7% and 61.9% at rural and urban level, respectively. There is a large gap in the male female literacy.
Over the years, Government has announced several schemes to promote education among women which include Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL) and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) etc. With the help of these target oriented interventions, the number of educational institutions has increased over the years, resulting into maximum area coverage besides decreasing the average distance per school. The improvement in the statistics reflect the seriousness of the J & K Government towards the development of women in state, however, the fact remains that despite the progress made, the female literacy has remained very low in the state as compared to men. Various factors like peculiar topography of Jammu and Kashmir state, the sparse network of schools in rural areas, the majority of populace living in far flung and inaccessible areas, lack of easy access to institutions, lack of infrastructure, weather vagaries, conflict situations etc. create hindrance in achieving the desired goal of universalisation of literacy in the violence-hit state.
Women and rural education in J&K
Though both the centre and the State Governments are committed to provide education to the children in Jammu and Kashmir, there are still many challenges before the universalization of education in the state which is faced with a conflict since past 26 years. The female literacy rate in J&K, as per Census 2011, is only 58 %. There is a large gap in the male female literacy. The literacy rate of district Ramban is the lowest with 56.90%, the male literacy rate being 71.97% and female literacy rate 40.04% only. Jammu district has the highest literacy rate of 83.98% with 89.77% in males and 77.41% in females.
Despite the efforts being made for rural education of girls and women in Jammu and Kashmir, there are still many challenges in the area. The gender gap in J&K is also higher than the national average.
Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim dominated state which is a conservative and religious society also. Though urban areas have witnessed a lot of change in terms of education of girls and women in the past few years, in rural areas the parents still prefer girls to stay at home till they go to their ‘own homes’ after their marriage. The conflict in Jammu and Kashmir has resulted in a breakdown of the society. Many rural families are without any earning member. The girls have become orphans and there is no source of sustenance in their families. This has also prevented them from seeking education. As the economy of rural Jammu and Kashmir has met with severe set-back during past years, parents are not in a position to educate their girl children. If they have to make a choice between educating a male child and a female, they prefer the former. Poverty, undoubtedly, is one of the main reasons of the inability for the girl child in rural areas to obtain basic education. Hundreds of girls in rural areas are not able to attend schools because their families are not able to provide money for the education.
Though situation in improving in Jammu and Kashmir, yet the prolonged violence in J&K have prevented the girls from going to schools and colleges as their parents are worried about the physical security of the girls. There are issues like lack of accountability/ Teacher absenteeism, paucity of Women Teachers and deterioration in the quality of instructors and instruction which are still creating hurdles in education of girls in rural areas. Accountability factor in the schools has gone down in these past years in Jammu and Kashmir. Teachers do not go to their places of postings as they do not want to serve in rural areas. Even those teachers who hail from rural areas like Kupwara, Baramulla etc want to be posted in urban areas or at least in district headquarters. Majority of schools particularly in the rural areas are suffering because of lack of supervision. Attendance of teachers in these schools is always very thin and many schools having single teachers remain closed for days together. In rural and remote areas attending schools is the last priority of most of the teachers and it has in fact become a subsidiary occupation for them while as their primary occupations are fruit, walnut and other businesses.
The way forward
Of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir State, around 72.79 percent live in the villages of rural areas. Keeping in view the fact that a significant number of population resides in rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir, these people should have the same quality of life as is enjoyed by people living in sub urban and urban areas. However, this is not the reality. A plethora of Government initiatives to provide access to primary education may be underway, but issues of equity, quality, and access remain areas of concern in rural schools. Children in rural areas continue to be deprived of worth education owing to factors like lack of competent and committed teachers, lack of textbooks or teaching-learning materials, and so on. Present Scenario of rural education in Jammu and Kashmir is quite poor. Persistent female illiteracy is a major impediment to women’s empowerment, empowering women and adolescent girls through literacy and education can enable them to develop analytical skills on gender, development and other issues.
Rural women of J&K should be empowered through education as they form an important part of the society world-wide. Education would help them to be aware of new productive opportunities in the areas of entrepreneurship skills acquisition, greater income generation and better opportunities in the world of employment greater income opportunities to better their lot in the world wide communities. Rural women should be encouraged to enroll in literacy programmes. They should be encouraged to know that the benefits that would accrue to their being literate is greater than the economic benefits they are currently enjoying and so they should take bold steps to leave their trades at the stipulated time for literacy classes. Awareness programmes should be floated on posters, and media houses and children in schools should be made to encourage their mothers on literacy education. The government at all levels should fund literacy programmes, make it interesting to women so as to entice them to enroll for literacy classes.
Teachers and teacher educators need to be trained for gender sensitization. Additional Early Childhood Care centers need to be opened up to meet gaps in the Integrated Child Development Scheme and relieve girls from the burden of sibling care. In addition to the provisions already available under SSA, community mobilization should be exclusively in enrolling out of school girls, retaining and enhancing the learning ability of the girls already in the schools. In fact, girls’ education should be made a community agenda. More women teachers need to be appointed in the institutions in order to attract more girls. Besides, special allowances can be given to those women teachers who volunteer to work in rural areas.