Tuesday, 23 July, 2024

Marriage Or Graduation

Niaz Asadullah
& Zaki Wahhaj

In Bangladesh in 2010, 97 per cent of the girls aged six to 10 went to primary school, according to official statistics, and so did 92 per cent of the boys. Moreover, the government data indicate that 55  per cent of girls aged 11 to 15 were enrolled in secondary schools, as were 45 per cent of boys.
Only two decades ago, girls’ enrolment was lower than that of boys. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has repeatedly stressed that India and other countries should learn from Bangladesh’s educational success.
That said, the risk of school dropouts remains considerable. Our estimate is that 32 per cent of the boys and 24 per cent of the girls who went to primary school in 2010 had stopped going to (secondary) school by 2014. Apparently, the risk of dropping out increases with the girls’ age. According to our sample, more than half of the girls left school for “marriage-related reasons”.
In previous decades, early marriage was even more likely to disrupt women’s education. The WiLCAS data show that almost two thirds of all drop-outs among the mothers surveyed had quit school because they got married.
It is telling, moreover, that “household poverty” is the second most important reason for leaving school today. It means that families cannot afford school-related expenses. This trend is not unusual. According to a study published by UNESCO and UNICEF (2015), “in many countries, low-income households cannot afford the direct costs of sending their children to school (for instance for fees, uniforms or books).
In Bangladesh, the trend is nonetheless puzzling because the government has been promoting girls’ enrolment in schools since the 1990s and has lowered the costs of school attendance in several ways. Moreover, income poverty has been declining. Most likely, the reference to household poverty actually indicates a still prevalent anti-girl bias at the household level.
At the primary level, total educational expenditure for boys and girls is almost equal. In fact, slightly more is spent on girls, though spending on private-tuition is slightly higher for boys. The expenditure for boys in secondary schools exceeds that for girls by 27 per cent and families invest 38 per cent more on boys’ private tuition at that level.
It is a sad truth that private tuition is becoming increasingly important even in rural areas. This trend is evident across South. The main reason is the dismal quality of state-run schools. According to an independent assessment of student learning in rural Bangladesh, there is a weak relationship between learning outcomes and years spent in schools.
Data indicate that Bangladeshi parents value the education of their sons and daughters equally as far as primary schooling is concerned. However, there is a serious gender gap in secondary schooling, even though that is not evident in the enrolment figures. Families invest less in girls’ education, though they send them to school. Girls’ chances of actually obtaining the standard school certificate after class 10 are smaller than those of boys.
The good news is that traditional factors such as the lack of schools within commuting distance and religious opposition to female schooling are no longer holding back Bangladeshi girls. The bad news is that girls still lack equal opportunities in education. What the country now needs is a new policy to help girls finish secondary school.

--Development & Cooperation