Model of 21st-century education for girls

The national education policy (NEP) 2020 calls upon educators to assist students in becoming 21st century learners. The policy hopes that the school education system will help students in becoming critical thinkers, decision makers, being inquiry-driven, problem-solvers, adept in mathematical and scientific thinking and developing themselves holistically so that they can create aspirational economic pathways. It also talks about a range of ‘technical skills’ like coding. At the base of these abilities is the set of mental-emotional attitudes and capabilities that will set learners up to make the most of the 21st century life and be productive citizens at the same time. For most of the girls in our country, however, this journey of becoming a learner in contemporary times is embedded with acute gender specific challenges and barriers.

With regard to child brides, India leads the pack. We are looking at a 223 million, one third of the global total. We also know that in most marriages, a meaningful consent is absent. Analysis of NFHS (2019-21) indicates that housework, early marriage and cost to schools have come out as predominant reasons for drop out of girls. Reasons related to menstrual health and its management also play a huge role in keeping girls irregular as well as making them drop out of school; estimates say that number is around 23 million. While in school the girls also experience gender based discrimination that is specially reflective in areas related to STEM where they have to battle with stereotypes, educators and other caregivers believing that subjects like mathematics and science are either too hard for girls or not required.

It is through an interplay of these norms, cultural practices and beliefs that the desirable benchmark of a learner is made out of bounds for the girl students. On one hand there are demands from today’s fast changing world – that of being critical thinking leaders and rationale-based decision makers and on the other hand there is an entire arena of social life generally defined by stereotypes, limiting cultural norms, patriarchal backlash, and a growing up girl finds herself in the middle of all this Assertive, articulate, critical girls who want to create their own life trajectory and want to look beyond the boundaries given to them and apply their rational thoughts to all aspects of their lives are often branded as rebels. In this given context, what should a 21st century model hold at its core for a growing up girl student in India?

Model of 21st Century education for girls: the heart of the matter
A 21st century education model for girls should focus on building her agency and personhood. The objective of such a model should be to enable a girl to live an empowering, meaningful, quality and productive life in the 21st century and the knowledge economy that it signifies. For a girl, especially an adolescent girl in India, school education cannot be looked at without it having an empowering impact. That is the only way where girls will be equipped to navigate through a complex reality of India in 21st century; the challenge of having the right attitude and skills of processing information in this information boom set up in a cultural context that still has a long way to go for valuing girls’ education and women’s rights in a wholesome manner. Any model that does not speak to this reality will not be able to create a real pathway for girls to success.

Every intervention around the prescribed skill set for 21st century has to look at building self-awareness, social awareness and self-efficacy for girls. Its important to recognize that gender-based discrimination – whether at school, community or family, hits self esteem and self confidence among girls very hard and pulling them down. These three buckets are the key aspects of life skills and are also the bedrock of 21st century skills. We need to find answers to pressing questions like what does it take to build girls as leaders? and how can we make it happen with each policy realisation action that we do?

While starting from access and inclusion, we need to move towards empowerment so that girls can take on the 21st Century World and that their ecosystem enables them and does not pull them down. For this, we need to ensure that we adopt the following components:
Strengthen girls agencies: Investing in girls life skills training with gender equality lense enables girls to strengthen their agencies. Room To Read’s close with adolescent girls brings to light how a sense of self is critical for girls and how dedicated energies and time is a must for them to be able to strengthen their life skills.

Make school an empowering space: Working with teachers, school administration to make institutional spaces gender transformational spaces is a must. Schools must be able to live and demonstrate a vision of a gender-equal world and in the current Indian context, we need to do it with a special focus on girls.

Ensure that there are practicing opportunities: Working with communities and caregivers to stop backlash at girls when girls start to assume leadership, critical thinking, in their lives are the areas where resources, efforts and priorities need to converge.

Disrupt the stereotypes: Disrupt the stereotyping and the imagery of a passive girl student. Gender transformative approaches and special focus on girl, while being aware of their heterogeneity of caste, class, ethnicity, religion is the need of the hour. Areas of curriculum, pedagogy and school-based daily routine practices need to be made aware of.

Invest in schools: It’s critical that we take stock of our schools and the public education system as we aspire to make our girls 21st-century learners. We have to invest in our schools to ensure that they are safe and empowering and provide basic and critical amenities like quality sanitation in our schools.

Lack of voice and agency, lack of positive role models, lack of commitment and resources, and lack of family and community support for education are the set of gender-specific barriers girls have to overcome to become leaders and we should use NEP provisions to help girls achieve the same. This model of 21st-century education for girls has to be a home-grown model that educates the ecosystem for a real change. Strengthening gender equality and strengthening girls’ agencies has to go hand in hand.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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