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India: Background

Economic growth in India has been strong over the past decade, especially in the information technology sector. But significant disparities remain, based on class, caste, gender and geography. The United Progressive Alliance coalition government, which came into power in May 2004, has pledged to emphasize social development as part of its National Common Minimum Programme. It seeks to eliminate some of the inequalities in Indian society by reducing poverty, increasing public spending on education, speeding the delivery of health services, and improving nutrition and food security.

With one upper primary school for every three primary schools, there are not enough upper primary centres even for those children who complete primary school. For girls, especially, access to upper primary centres becomes doubly hard.

The gross enrolment ratio in primary education has increased, with much of the growth attributable to increased enrolment of girls. Serious concerns exist with respect to quality of education due to high drop-out rates and poor learning achievements. Although there is improvement in the ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education during the past decade, they are far from reaching the goal of parity. And girls belonging to marginalized social and economic groups are more likely to drop out of school at an early age.

Several states have undertaken innovations to make schools more child-friendly and in the development of child-friendly assessment tools. Exercises in the assessment of teacher training and teacher effectiveness and the development of teacher performance standards have been supported. A noted success of the girls’ education movement has been the adoption of The Meena Communication Initiative as a learning and advocacy tool by the Ministry of Education at national and state levels.

Barriers to girls’ education

Major barriers to girls’ education include:

  • Many rural children have been left behind by migrating parents or have been sent by themselves into urban areas for education.
  • Basic education is free but not compulsory. Many schools in the south were closed due to political unrest in the 1990s and have yet to reopen.
  • Traditional views that devalue education are prevalent.
  • Turnover of teachers and instructors is high.

UNGEI in action

UNGEI has not been formally launched, but girls’ education initiatives are ongoing.

Key initiatives for girls’ education

  • Addressing school and classroom environments, teaching-learning processes, teacher support and school-community linkages.
  • Education analysis and research.
  • Accelerating the implementation of the communication strategy for girls’ education at the national and state levels and in integrated districts.
  • Administering child-friendly learning assessment tools.
  • Strengthening policy dialogue on issues related to education and stronger service delivery of educational intervention for working children.


Partners include the Government of India, Australian Government Overseas Aid Program, CARE, European Union, ING-Vysya Foundation, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and UK Department for International Development, in addition to other non-governmental organizations, donors and the joint UN system.

UNGEI within other national and international frameworks

Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and sector-wide approaches to planning (SWAPs); Common Country Assessments (CCAs) and UN Development Assistance frameworks exist at the national level.


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Girls' Education Mapping Exercise