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BD, India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan achieve education gender parity
Bangladesh (1.6), India (0.97), Sri Lanka (1.00) and Bhutan (1.01) have achieved gender parity in primary education, according to the Education For All (EFA) report. Pakistan (0.83) and Maldives (0.94) lag behind. Afghanistan has a dismal GPI of 0.66.
After more than two decades of effort, Bangladesh has succeeded in boosting education for girls to the point where they have the same schooling opportunities as boys. According to UNESCO's Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011, the endeavour has paid off so well that the country now faces a paradox: boys are falling behind.
Among the eight South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), Bangladesh is the fourth to achieve gender parity in primary education – and currently has slightly more girls than boys in school, according to the report. Authorities are now taking steps to address that imbalance.
Government, non-government organisations and international donors worked together in order to end the past inequality in education. "The girls were given substantial amount in stipends through four big projects and that made all the difference," Noman-ur-Rashid, director general of the Secondary and Higher Education Directorate, told Khabar South Asia.
"Education has now become a social and family movement in Bangladesh," said Rasheda Chowdhury, Executive Director of Campaign for Popular Education, a common platform of education-related Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
The Education For All (EFA) report puts Bangladesh's Gender Parity Index (GPI) at 1.6. A GPI below one means a disparity in favour of boys; a GPI greater than one means disparity in favour of girls.
Three other countries -- India (0.97), Sri Lanka (1.00) and Bhutan (1.01) -- have achieved gender parity in primary education, according to the report. Pakistan (0.83) and Maldives (0.94) lag behind. Afghanistan, last in the report, has a dismal GPI of 0.66.
Between 1990 and 1995, primary school enrollment in Bangladesh stood at 45% for girls and 55% for boys. Today, of the 10.6 million primary students enrolled, girls account for 50.07% while boys make up the remaining 49.93%.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) figures, at secondary level (grades 6 to 10), the boy-girl ratio in 1990 was 66:34. In just 15 years, gender parity was achieved in 2005. The current boy-girl ratio in secondary school is 46:54.
"For all these years we've been trying to bring about gender parity. Now we see the boys are falling behind girls in primary and secondary school levels," Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid told Khabar.
"The government has introduced stipends for boys in certain districts where the problem is acute as some form of incentives to address the issue," he said.
The impact of education
According to the finance ministry, Bangladesh currently disburses 40 billion taka ($488.8 million) annually for stipends at primary and secondary level, out of a total education budget of Taka 215 billion ($2.6 billion).
Tuition is free for all students at primary level and girls get free education up to Grade 10 in addition to the stipends they receive at both levels aimed at encouraging their enrollment.
Achieving gender parity in education by 2015 is one of the UN Millennium Development Goals, and Bangladesh is a shining example in the region, Nahid said.
Achieving the goals was challenging considering that women and girls in Muslim-majority Bangladesh are encouraged not to travel without a male family member -- especially in rural areas.
Poverty and societal attitudes -- the main obstacles to education for girls -- have also left them vulnerable to child marriage, human trafficking and even recruitment attempts by terrorists. Fortunately, education also serves to combat those problems.
Women's rights activist Maleka Banu said girls' education contributes to female empowerment.
"More significantly, educated women have had a big role in curbing the growth of religious fundamentalism, obscurantism and terrorism in the country," she told Khabar, adding, "No educated mother wants to see her husband or son becoming an extremist."
Nahid, the minister, sounded optimistic about the overall progress of education for women. "The nation is already seeing the benefit of surging rate of girls' education," he said. "And I'm sure things will improve further in the near future."
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