Intrigued by her first-hand encounter with a Mumbai school during the Niswarth Summer Program in 2011, Madeline Silva ’13 decided to examine gender roles in the Indian education system for her Brace Fellowship project titled, “Female Education in India: The Need for Leadership, Sensitivity, and Cooperation.”
Over the past two summers, Silva studied the roles that educational administrators, gender consultants and the government play in educational development. Silva also reached out to representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and corporate initiatives to find out about issues surrounding and possible solutions for gender imbalance in Indian education.
“Oftentimes, parents in India tend to think that their son’s education is more important than that of their daughter. Such thoughts have led to a greater focus towards male education,” said Silva in her presentation.
According to Silva, there is a marked gender gap in literacy between males and females. These social and regional disparities are the result of a lack of teaching materials and curricula in female education.
“There is a lack of devotion and motivation for educational administrators to achieve gender parity. Sometimes, they are not interested in education quality and lean more towards educating men rather than women. As a result, teachers do not know how to encourage gender equality and make sure women are involved in education,” said Silva.
Silva said that the Indian education system is much too traditional and rule-bound. Indian policies often prevent or disregard women’s education. Gender consultants are easily ignored because their voices don’t carry as much weight in the system.
Silva specifically examined the role of government in the education of women and noted the disparity between the emphasis placed on the importance of female education in government documents, and the lack of implementation in classrooms.
“Although government policies indicate such a strong desire to achieve gender parity in education, gender disparities still remain a significant issue in India,” said Silva.
In the 1980s, NGOs called attention to issues of education, and in 1985 the Indian government invited individuals and groups to offer feedback on the education system. The feedback was used in a 1992 revision of the National Policy on Education (NEP). The revised document demonstrated the priority of women’s education by moving the women’s education section from chapter four to chapter one, according to Silva.
“From its independence, India made the universalization of elementary education a goal, so in the constitution there is this commitment to education. Unfortunately, that didn’t play out so well in the next 30 years so although the education in india has been improving a lot, it did not improve as much as they had hoped it would,” said Silva.
Silva noted the importance of educating the whole community instead of just the males, and that education has long-term public benefits.
“Education is important to individuals because they are productive, and after they finish education they are able to work better, but education is important for public well-being because if education is better for one generation, there is better healthcare and education for the next generation,” said Silva.
“The benefits of strengthening female education are independence and empowerment. Statistics prove that maternal education is more effective for young students. By encouraging female education, society and future generations can benefit,” said Silva.
Indeed, children in households with an educated mother tend to study an average of two hours more per day, said Silva.
Silva encountered several programs such as Shishka Karmi, Rajasthan lok Jumbish and Mahila Samakhya through her research that empower women by encouraging them to become agents of change in society.
“These programs have previously been implemented in India and have been successful in encouraging female education. I believe that implementing them nationally in India will prevent gender disparity,” she said.
Silva travelled to Mumbai the summer after Niswarth and researched and meet local educational administrators in India. She also conducted interviews and read papers and articles pertaining to female education in India.
“I wanted to learn more about the value of education in the Indian society after I visited one of their classrooms. I was very interested in how significant education was to society,” said Silva.
Raj Mundra, Niswarth Progam Coordinator, served as Silva’s faculty advisor for the project. “I was very impressed with Madeline’s paper calling for collaboration between the corporate world, the NGO world, and the government world. I immediately saw potential for the success of her project. I was amazed by her extension of the Niswarth program and the approach to learn more about the education system in India,” he said.
Silva was one of the five Brace Fellows this year. The Brace Fellows Program provides funding for students to pursue a project related to gender studies over the summer.
Silva hopes to continue researching about the education system in India after she graduates Andover. “I am fascinated by the topic and have kept coming back to this idea every year. I don’t have a plan to continue researching in this field yet, but I definitely want to study more in depth in the years to come, ” she said.