Gendered experiences of school in rural Andhra Pradesh
Schooling is playing a pivotal role in challenging traditional expectations of children, notably around the roles of girls and boys as they make the transition through puberty and towards marriage.
However, while families aspire to improve their situation by sending their children to school, they face the realistic prospect that their children's futures may still depend on traditional roles and livelihoods. Our recent interviews with the Young Lives study children in India highlight some of the tensions between the new opportunities and expectations brought by expanded access to school with persisting social norms.
Poompuhar* in rural Andhra Pradesh and has a population of just over 2,000 people. The majority of the community are from the 'Backward Classes' but there is a sizeable number of 'Scheduled Caste' households in the community, who are located in a specific area near the entrance to the village. The majority of people are engaged in agriculture, livestock rearing and daily wage labour. There has been rapid change with regard to schooling. A new secondary school has been constructed around 3km away. Children report that they like the new school in spite of the distance because of the space and the environment. In 2007 and 2008 caregivers and community officials reported that girls from this community were educated to the level available within the village, namely Grade 10. By 2010 attitudes to girls' education were changing.
Shanmuka Priya is 8 years old. Her mother cannot read or write, although her uncles were educated, and her father attended school until he was 10, when he had to drop out to help his family. Shanmuka Priya's mother notes that there has been a change in attitudes to education for both boys and girls since she was young.
"Earlier, people never used to send their children to school. Now even girls go. Everybody wants to be educated. What is so good about agriculture? There is hardly any reward for working so hard. I think only education is important; children can get a job and live happily when they grow up."
Shanmuka Priya enjoys school and studies hard but is annoyed that there is only one girl in the top group. She reports the following exchange with her teacher:
"I said: 'Why did you put me in B group? I am a good student'. He said:'There are no girls in Group A.' I said:'Pavitra is in Group A'. He said they were keeping her there for two days and then they were going to move her too."
Shanmuka Priya's younger brother, Prashant, now goes to a private school. Her mother said parents placed more emphasis on boys' education because their sons would look after them when they were old, while girls left for their husband's family. A number of girls from the community have been enrolled into institutions located far away from the community, for senior secondary education (Grades 11 and 12); however, Shanmuka Priya's parents remain undecided:
"Shanmuka Priya is a girl; we won't give her higher education. And in the case of Prashant we will make him study as much as we can. We want our only son to get a good education. We have up to 10th grade in the village school for Shanmuka Priya. We will see what happens after that."
*Note: we use pseudonyms for all the communities and children taking part in our research.
References This is based on one of six community case studies included in a new Young Lives paper Changing Children's Lives, which explores how where children live and how their communities are changing are important factors in the opportunities open to children and the risks they face.