Educating girls: Gender divisions in education

Posted on:08-10-12

Vibhu Tewary, Accountability Initiative

I was recently in a village in Rajasthan where I came across a government school with a total enrolment of 20 students. This village is not too far from a city that has a number of private schools. Most parents prefer to send their children to these private schools as they perceive the quality of education to be better there. These children have to take a bus and travel 30-35 km to get to these schools. Interestingly, almost all of the students remaining in the government school are girls. Upon discussion, I found that the parents did not wish to send their girl child that far, or incur the extra expenditure from private schooling on educating a girl child. So, the number of boys in the government school had been reducing quite dramatically in the past few years but the number of girls has not reduced as much. However, because of this exodus of boys, the total number of students has declined sharply. As the number of students has dwindled, the locals feel that the head master and the teachers have become less motivated towards actually teaching the remaining children. In the process, a number of girls who have no choice but to stay on in the local school continue to lose out on possibly better learning outcomes.

This observation prompted me to explore the existing literature on the gender differences that exist in attainment of education. Kingdon (2005)[1], using National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) data collected at the individual household level, found that private educational expenditure and enrollment is significantly lower for girls as compared to that for boys. Dreze and Sen (1998)[2] found that parents were less inclined to send their girl children to private schools or to schools that are far away (similar to the phenomenon I witnessed). A study conducted by Indian Statistical Institute Delhi (ISID), using 52nd round National Sample Survey (NSS) data, found that the enrollment of girls in schools for the bottom two quartiles of household wealth (measured as the non-food expenditure by the household) was negatively affected by cost of education, while for boys, this was only true for the lowest quartile. This implies that while lower wealth has an adverse impact on enrolment, girls were affected across a larger wealth spectrum as compared to boys. Furthermore, they found that having a female head of a household had a positive impact on the participation of girls in education. Similarly, Dreze and Kingdon (1999)[3] found that parent’s education level, particularly mother’s education level, had a great impact on the girl child education.

To study the latest figures on education, I looked at the 64th NSS round[4], which collected data on participation and expenditure on education in 2007-08. The NSS report provides a lot of insight into gender divisions in education. The report has details on private expenditure on education, divided into a number of items (like tuition fees, private coaching, books uniform, transport etc.). In this post, I will be looking at data for rural areas. The data used here is summarized in Table 1. Overall, expenditure on education is lower for girls across all items; for the total, the average is Rs 1531 for a girl as compared to Rs 2032 for a boy. There is also a large difference between male and female child average tuition fees (see table below). This could possibly be because parents are more willing to send their male child to a more expensive school. Similarly, there is a gap in the percentage of boys and girls attending private (aided and unaided) schools, though this difference is not very large.

Another interesting point is that the expenditure on transport is much higher for boys, as compared to that for girls, in rural areas, while this figure is the same for both genders in urban areas (See table below). This could be because in villages, as compared to urban areas, children may travel longer distances to get to their school, particularly if they are not going to the local government school. The parents of girl children may thus be reluctant to send their girl that far or may decide to just send their girl child to the local government school instead, as was the case in the village mentioned above.

Table 1 (Source: NSS 64th Round)




Total Expenditure(In Rs)



Average Tuition Fees(in Rs)



% attending private schools (aided and unaided)



Expenditure on transport- Rural(in Rs)



Expenditure on transport- Urban(in Rs)




The reasons for dropping out are also quite divergent between the sexes. While financial constraint remains the primary reason for both, ‘parents not interested in studies’, ‘to attend to domestic chores’ and ‘other reasons (including marriage etc.)’ are all very high for girls, and quite low for boys[5].

There has been a great focus on female education in India; and creating gender friendly environments, providing separate girls toilets, providing scholarships, free textbooks, etc. have been a major part of the education drive. There have also been state schemes which incentivized sending a girl child to school (a review of some of them can be found here) through conditional cash transfers. These programs have focused on both, the child and the parents. However, if we look at the predominant reasons for dropping out, they seem to imply that the parents feel their child could be doing something more useful than schooling. Thus, the schemes (at least until 2007-08) have not managed to fully reinforce the value of education for both the girl child and the parents. The studies conducted on the available data show that parent education level, especially mother’s education, is a significant factor in female education attainment. The importance of parents has been recognized, to some extent, by the Government through schemes such as KGBV (Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya) and NPEGEL (National Programme for Education of Girls for Elementary Level), which incorporate community mobilization into their model. Motivating parents and enhancing the role of the mother in learning are also a part of these programs. However, a holistic scheme directed at sustaining female education may need to target parents more proactively, by moving from simply mobilizing and motivating them towards providing education for them as well.

[1] Kingdon, Geeta Gandhi. ‘Where Has All the Bias Gone? Detecting Gender Bias in the Intrahousehold Allocation of Educational Expenditure’. Economic Development and Cultural Change 53, no. 2 (January2005): 409–451.

[2] Dreze, J. and Amartya Sen., 1995, India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity, Oxford University Press.

[3] Drèze, J. and Geeta Gandhi Kingdon., 1999,  “School Participation in Rural India”.

[4] The report can be found on the MOSPI website-

[5] The details on the reasons for dropping out can be found in the NSS 64th round report- Page 85

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