During the post-independence period, the whole idea of the purpose of women education underwent a radical change based on the belief that in a democratic society where all citizens have to discharge their civil and social obligations, differences which may lead to different standards of intellectual development in men and women in India cannot be envisaged.The consciousness of the indispensable necessity to equip women in India for taking up multiple roles of homemakers (as wives and mothers) as well as equal partners of men in all social, industrial and administrative activity is a new development.
Social, economic and industrial development can be achieved only through the expansion of women education. Although formal, institutionalised women education may not be either fruitful or feasible, educational programmes to suit different environments and requirements must be devised, or the existing programmes adapted. Further, women education must aid national development, not only by developing skills and leadership but also by preparing people for social change covering all instruments of women education.
Admittedly, economic development leads to a disparity in income and social status. In order to avert both these aspects, it is necessary to take up programmes that ensure economic growth coupled with social justice. Women in rural areas, especially those belonging to the backwards classes and tribal areas need special attention in this regard. Strictly speaking, they need non-formal women education linked with economic activity of the area, including training for the development of local handicrafts.
The problem of fulfilling the constitutional directive that enjoins upon the State “to endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, free and compulsory women education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years,” is mainly in regard to the education of girls. This problem was examined by the National Committee on Women’s Education in 1958-59, which observed that the problem of providing universal primary women education in India was practically identical with that of expanding the education of girls.
Some people assert that the education of women should be differently oriented. They ignore the fact that any system of women education based on the difference of sex is bound to lead to discrimination against women in the field of employment. The point to be kept in mind in this connection is their additional function of domestic responsibilities and motherhood. In quite a number of cases, women in India abandon their profession after marriage.
It is unarguable that no social change can be effected without the active participation of women. Jawaharlal Nehru once said: “In order to awaken the people, it is women in India who have to be awakened. Once they are on the move, the household moves, the village moves, the country moves.” Women in India constitute the’most important psychic factor in all cultures and civilisations. All traditions and religious beliefs, actually the whole pattern of life of a society, draw inspiration from this factor. Further, refinements of civilisation, gracious living and compassionate behaviour are all transmitted to succeeding generations through women in India.
In urban areas in India, women education has made remarkable progress during the post-independence period, reducing the gap between the elementary education of boys and girls. Further, in the rural areas, education of girls in the upper middle-class families has also been encouraging. However, among the low-income groups, the gap continues, partly due to certain traditional prejudices and partly because of sustained poverty.
A major part of the wasted potential of human resources in India is due to the poor economic condition of the masses. A child is willingly sent to school between the ages of 6 to 9 because, at this stage, the child is of little help at home. Later, the child becomes an economic asset as it can work at home and add to the family income.
This applies particularly to girls who can assist their over-worked mothers at home. The child is, therefore, withdrawn from school. The only solution is to improve the general economic condition of the masses. An immediate step could be providing part-time education to children so that they could earn and learn simultaneously.
Other major obstacles in the development of the girl child education that need to be taken in hand are: traditional prejudice against sending girls to schools, especially co-educational schools; lack of women teachers; poverty of rural parents who need the children to work at home or in the fields or outside the home and the tradition of early marriage.
The Government is aware of these problems and has taken some measures to remove them. Among them, intense educational propaganda to break the prejudice against co-education and provision of incentives to women teachers, especially in rural areas.
Present scenario of women education
From the beginning of the movement for women status, women education had been identified as the major instrument for this change. With the acceptance of gender equality in the Constitution, the principle of equality of access to education for men and women in India was accepted by the national planners. Reviewing women educational development till the early 1970s, though marked improvement can be found, yet several problems were identified. In order of priority, these were:
b. Widening gap in access to elementary women education through problems of non-enrolment, wastage and dropout;
c. Imbalances in educational development; and
d. Ideological imbalances among educational planners and administrators regarding the objectives of women education.