School selection: Disparity begins at home

Nearly 12,700 girls against 9,000 boys in Urdu medium schools, 13,000 girls against 12,000 boys in Hindi medium and 55,000 girls against 54,000 boys in Gujarati medium.

The higher number of girls than boys in many of the 456 municipal schools in Ahmedabad, where over 1.5 lakh children go to, may seem to be contradicting the state's skewed sex ratio of 918 females per 1000 males. But the truth is otherwise.

This reflects a deep-rooted gender bias within middle and lower-middle class families in the city when it comes to picking the school for their children. The trend is not witnessed in one particular community or caste but across three mediums of instruction — Urdu, Hindi and Gujarati.

"My elder brother speaks fluent English because he goes to an English medium private school. Even I want to go to this school but my parents say we can go there once we clear Class VIII," says 11-year-old Priti Marwadi, who wants to become a police officer.

She and her sister Pooja (12), residents of Nava Wadaj, study in a nearby municipal school while their 15-year-old bother Suresh is a Class IX student of Mira Ambika School in Naranpura.

"As we have four children (the youngest is a two-year-old boy), we cannot afford to send them all to a private school," says their father Ramesh Marwadi.

Naresh Sareshah, a resident of Akbarnagar, everyday drops his 11-year-old son Yogesh to Valladi Private

School while his 10-year-old daughter Kareena goes to a nearby municipal school on her own.

"This decision is merely for the sake of convenience and not due to any financial constraint as my son is very mischievous and he requires discipline of a private school. On the other hand, despite studying in a municipal school, Kareena is very intelligent and a good student, so I do not think she requires any special attention," says Champa Sareshah.

While Champa is employed in a garment factory, her husband has a crockery shop. The monthly school fee of their son is Rs 300, excluding stationery, uniform and extra tuition expenses.

Another example is of Rita Lalwani, a resident of Tulsinagar. Her two daughters Diya (8) and Pinki (6) are studying in municipal schools while her son Nilesh (12) goes to a private school. Her husband works at a grocery store.

There are several other similar examples from across the city where the male child enjoys the privilege of education from an English medium private school while the education of daughters is restricted to municipal schools.

Municipal School Board chairman Jagdish Bhavsar says, "This practice is very much prevalent in the families in Ahmedabad. They might claim the disparity because of financial constraints, but that is not the actual reason."

His views are echoed by educationist Sukhdev Patel, who has been spearheading the campaign for the implementation of Right to Education Act. "Even we have come across such a trend in our studies. Not only in Ahmedabad but I am sure in other parts of the state also there is a general perception of quality education to be imparted in private schools. Also, there is a feeling among families that they should not waste money on a girl's education. Thus, this trend."

Janki Vasant, founder of Samvedana, an NGO working in the field of education, says, "We have witnessed many cases where daughters are sent to a government school while their brothers go to private schools... we have counselled so many families. Though we claim to belong to an educated society, the disparity is deep rooted within our families."

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