When we look at education from feminist lens, then it is not just the ability to read and write, but an ability to question the world, seek alternative answers and create new knowledge from the oppressed especially women’s stand point.
We do not prescribe to the investment model of education because investment must lead to outcome that is profit. The market economy has made education a commodity in our part of the world, which only privileged can buy and make use of. Education is one of the essential features of caste, class religious and gender based divide in India. Covid 19 has further amplified these inequalities, hierarchical divide and structural injustice against the most marginalized communities and women and girls across all these marginalized communities.
In India , around 200 million people lost their jobs due to corona induced lockdown and its aftermath, leading to record low in economic growth in the last 50 years. Hunger and malnutrition are real issues staring at us of which women and girls are going to be disproportionately affected. Women and girls will be also be facing the wrath of loss of incomes and livelihoods in terms of pitching in for alternative sources of livelihoods and in terms of increased violence in domestic and public spheres due to increased joblessness among men and boys. This will also impact girl’s education unequally.
According to experts, the Covid has reversed 70 years of gain in education by girls. India had 16 million girls who were out of school before the Covid pandemic hit us and according to global citizen report at least 10 million more girls will be added to this number due to pandemic related economic stress. The technology based solutions to access education have further marginalized girls and women as only 21% girls and women have access to mobile phones and internet as compared to 86% men and boys.
However, we do not see preparedness at policy level to address these new challenges, nor there is any commitment for increased resources for education to support girls from marginalized communities to continue their education. Rather we are fearing a huge cut in resource allocation for education in general and girl’s education in particular. Union govt. of India spends a meager 2.7% of GDP on education for around 543 million children who are part of education system. We are not even talking about those who are out of schools or engaging in child labour whether outside the home working for unorganized sector or millions of girls replacing women’s labour to take care of domestic chores. The resources needed to provide alternative educational opportunities to change their life options are not even considered as important policy decisions or debates.
Millions of women enter the labour market with meager or no skills and literacy to become part of unregulated, exploitative and absolutely underpaid unorganized sector. These women missed education during their childhood and youth and have no chance of going back to education or skills training due to lack of education. These women’s education is not seen as future of market and global economy and is no body’s priority, including civil society organizations. COVID pandemic has made these women more vulnerable to exploitation and violence at home and outside.
With economic recession and pressure on govt. to restore livelihoods our hunch is that education budget is going to be further hit and it will be left to the private players like corporate sector and corporate social responsibility funds to provide resources for its upheaval. The more and more active role of private investors in education will not only privatize education and its agenda but also undermine or completely do away with social security schemes for marginalized communities and girls like reservation in higher education for oppressed castes or scholarships for girls.
As feminists we believe in education as a social and gender transformative tool unlike the market forces that invest in education to create employable work force or state bodies that invest to churn out law abiding citizens. But transformative education cannot happen without changing the content and pedagogies of education from gender and justice perspective. We must not accept the cuts in educational budgets in the name of health or livelihoods as these are competitors but complementary to each other. The budget that should see cut downs must be defense and military budgets which be diverted to address corona related fallouts on economy as well health and education. More importantly the resource allocation in education must not be limited to just access to educational institutes but actually to change the education in favour of marginalized communities and in favour of girls and women in particular. Education budgets should not and cannot be compromised and cannot wait only for World Bank’s money. Education as fundamental right must be fully funded and supported by the state where national and international funding world also has an important & crucial role to play in it. And we as feminist must also come forward to change fundamentally the way education is seen, consumed and outputted.