The Girl Child Day was designated in 2012 to bring attention to disparities in education, nutrition, health and legal rights for young girls. Innovation in Education is the Theme for Girl Child Day for 2013.
For most developing countries, including other countries in the Indian sub-continent, innovations in education are needed indeed to get girls into schools and keep them there. Malala’s case amplifies the extreme of not even being to get to school and the need transform society as a whole to ensure the well-being of the girl child.
In contrast, girls in Sri Lanka are doing ok, if you use conventional measures. Enrollment rates in primary education are almost 100% irrespective of gender. Of those who enrolled in universities, say in 2012, 58% were female. True, girls make up almost 75% of enrollments in Arts stream with dismal numbers enrolled in,say, engineering, yet, the numbers show that our girls can ace exams indeed.
The problem lies in what we do not measure –i.e. the life skills of our young women. In Sri Lanka education has come to mean skills in passing examinations. Life skills are paid scant attention despite the fact the stated national objectives are all about competencies for life with an emphasis on citizenship. The situation is worsened by having a system which gives hope to each and every parent that the best possible education is available for your child, if he/she passes either of two critical exams. The government has identified 100+ schools as popular schools and sets bars each year for entering those schools using the results of Grade V Scholarship examination or GCE (O/L) examination for that year. Each year almost all of the 320,000 children compete for the, Grade V scholarship exam, for example, but the bar are set so that only 15,000 are selected. Yet, the parents have bitten the bait and are engaged in a furious race to get the best for their children, girls or boys, despite the 5% chance of success.
As a result, our primary school children spend their days at school absorbing book knowledge, cram further at home even during vacations. This practice goes on right through their school years from Grades 1 to 13. to top it, Sri Lankan streets are not girl-friendly. Limited in mobility due to their gender, girls as a group end up more home bound than their male counterparts. Even at home, well-meaning mothers would protect their daughters from domestic chores exhorting them study. The end products are generations of women who are very limited in their exposure, experience and outlook. If women’s wisdom was deemed to be limited to the length of the spoon or the ‘හැදි මිටේ දිග’ today’s young women are limited by the ‘පෙලපොතේ පළල’ or the school text books they read. They are the mothers who drive the next generation towards more book-learning.
On this Girl-Child day let us wish more life experiences for our young women. If their own families’ are the obstacles, let us wish for schools that guide them through excursions in the physical or internet world, opportunities engage in creative, active or service projects, give them a sense adventure and an eagerness to explore the world, beyond prescribed text books and past papers.
Thanks are due to Swarnvahini and Zonta, Sri lanka for inviting me along with Mala Thudawe, MD to the Ayubowan programme on Swarnavahni today for a brief discussion.