Personal Finance

How Far Behind is India's Education System for Women?

While India is technically close to balancing the scales of gender in education, the country will need to take great strides in providing access to its total population. Find out below how India's education system for women fares against its neighboring countries in South Asia.

One upsetting consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic in India has been a higher school dropout rate amongst girls than boys. Gender inequity in education continues to be a pressing matter, which is why we are putting a spotlight on unequal access to education this International Women's Week. In order to measure the scale of gender inequity in Indian education, we've compared India's literacy and enrolment rates to its neighboring countries in South Asia.

How Does India Fare Against Its Neighboring Countries?

According to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, India ranks at #112 in the world for educational attainment. The World Economic Forum determines this score through metrics like literacy and enrolment in primary, secondary, and tertiary education.

Table that shows India's literacy and enrolment rates

In terms of enrolment rates, India does fairly well on its own. For primary, secondary, and tertiary education, more girls and women are enrolled than men. However, India's literacy rates tell a different story. With only 66% of women able to read compared to 82% of all men, the gender inequality of India's past continues to leave a mark on the country's present gender gap.

However, when compared to its neighbors, India's literacy and enrolment rates show room for improvement. Below, we've compared the gender ratios of seven countries in South Asia. A ratio of 1 or higher means that the statistic for women is equal to or greater than that for men.

Table that compares literacy and enrolment rates in South Asian countries

For literacy rates, India's gender ratio ranks #4 in the region, just below Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. However, India ties at #1 with Bangladesh and the Maldives for primary enrolment, while it ranks low at #6 for secondary education. For university and post-grad enrolment, India is tied with Nepal at #3; however, its gender ratio of 1.07 is much lower than leading Sri Lanka and the Maldives, who have a ratio of 1.48 and 3.60, respectively.

While India is technically close to balancing the scales of gender, there is still room for much needed improvement in terms of total access to education for both men and women. For instance, India's tertiary education rates are between 27% and 29%, which means that a vast majority of both Indian women and men do not attend college. Compare this to the United States, which has a 75% enrolment rate for men, and 102% enrolment rate for women.

The US ranks at only #34 in the world for educational attainment, which proves to show that the goal for quality education requires great strides in not only bridging the gender gap, but also in ensuring that education is more accessible.

What Can India Do To Educate Its Women?

  • Acknowledge the benefits of having an educated female population. With more educated women in India's labour force, the country could increase productivity and economic growth. In fact, studies show that India could unlock an 18% GDP increase by 2025 if it were to bring women's labour participation to the equivalent of their male counterparts.
  • Invest in ed-tech. Online schooling will open many doors for women in remote areas of India. Considering the pandemic has forced the hands of many parents who cannot afford to pay the costs of transportation and uniforms, a digitally-powered infrastructure may work to the benefit of India's female education rates.
  • Continue to advocate for the livelihoods of women and girls. Women and girls are still undervalued in many communities. In order to increase female education rates, India should continue to shift community attitudes towards women, while also empowering girls to take charge of their education and financial future.
Natalia Sanchez-Kumar

Natalia Sanchez-Kumar is a Junior Research Analyst at ValueChampion, specialising in loans in India. She is a History graduate of New York University and has worked in the area of social impact, Future of Work and socio-technological research in the US and India. She has co-authored policy proposals alongside the International Labour Organisation in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, as well as hosted a data privacy conference with Facebook in New Delhi.