ASPIRATIONS OF DECISION-MAKERS FOR THE EDUCATION OF GIRLS, BIHAR,...
ASPIRATIONS OF DECISION-MAKERS FOR THE
EDUCATION OF GIRLS, BIHAR, 1980-81
Education of women is an important variable affecting demographic behaviour, such as age at marriage,
reproduction, infant and child mortality, migration and labour force participation. The 1981 census data,
however, reveals that the situation regarding the education of women is not encouraging in various states,
especially in Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. A very high degree of sustained motivation
is required on the part of parents to send the girls to school and retain them in the school. In this context, an
attempt has been made to study the aspirations of parents/decision-makers in the family regarding the least
amount of education to be given to girls in Bihar. The study has brought out that the education aspired for the
girls was invariably lower than that of the boys in rural as well as urban areas of Bihar. About 23 per cent of the
respondents were of the opinion that girls should be given only the barest education, i.e., to make them just
The author works at the International Institute for Population Sciences, Deonar, Bombay 400 088.
Role of Women's Education in Demographic Behaviour
One of the most important variables of social development of any society is the level
of literacy and educational attainment of its men and women. Education is an
important variable affecting demographic behaviour, such as marriage, reproduction,
mortality, migration and labour force participation. Time and again, national and cross-
national studies have established that education and literacy had come out as prime
determinants of differential demographic behaviour. Several research studies on
fertility differentials in India and in a number of developing countries, have indicated
a clear-cut, negative relationship between fertility and literacy and educational
attainment, especially that of the women. In fact it was asserted by Mcgreevy and
Birdsall (1974) that the inverse relationship of education to completed family size is
one of the most clear-cut observations found in the literature. Caldwell (1979) has
stated that historical data support the thesis that the onset of sustained fertility
decline is associated with attainment of mass education. In a fertility and family
planning survey conducted in Greater Bombay, in 1966, Rele and Kanitkar (1981)
observed a very sharp and clear-cut negative relationship between fertility and
educational attainment of the women. Similar observations were made by Asha A.
Bhende and G. Rama Rao (1970) in a fertility study conducted in Panaji in 1969, and
by Roy and G. Rama Rao (1985) in 1984. More recently the Baseline Surveys
conducted in Rajasthan (1981), Bihar (1980), Orissa (1982), Gujarat (1983) and
Maharashtra (1983) have brought out the fact that the number of children born was
higher for illiterate women compared with literate women even after controlling for
age. Thus, there is ample evidence to conclude that education of women is an
important determinant of fertility and it affects fertility in a negative way. Again a large
number of studies in the past, and some more recent studies have shown a clear-cut
positive relationship between education of women and acceptance of the small family
norm and practice of family planning methods. For example, in Bihar and Rajasthan it
was observed that the acceptance rate of family planning methods per 100 currently
married women, was much higher among literate women compared to illiterate women.
166 Tara Kanitkar
INFANT MORTALITY BY LEVEL OF EDUCATION OF W O M E N
Illiterate Literate Illiterate Literate
145 90 88 50
128 75 70 46
104 65 58 20
138 101 89 81
122 94 79 42
134 23 61 73
Jammu & Kashmir
90 73 90 28
55 37 29 25
145 140 107 71
89 73 73 40
102 56 99 31
141 107 99 49
128 61 95 45
142 84 71 51
128 76 85 44
188 132 125
84 76 84 67
Source: Office of the Registrar General India, New Delhi, Survey on Infant and Child Mortality,
Maternal education has also affected infant and child mortality in an important
manner. In a study conducted by the Registrar General in 1979, it was found that
infant mortality rates were highest for illiterate mothers and declined systematically
with increase in educational attainment of mothers. This was observed for all the
major states, as can be seen in Table 1. Babu Santosh Kumar (1986) after analysing
the results of the 1981 census, found that the percentages of children dying have
decreased with educational attainment of the mothers, both in urban as well as rural
areas. The study of the effects of parental education on child nutrition and child
mortality by Susan Cochrane (1980) has indicated that maternal education is closely
related to child health, whether measured by nutritional status or the infant child
mortality. The significance of the relationship was found to be unequivocal. Kanitkar
and Murthy (1984), in the study of infant mortality in Orissa and Rajasthan (two states
with high infant mortality), observed lower infant mortality for literate mothers.
Kanitkar and Sinha (1984) also found that a higher percentage of literate women have
antenatal check-up and thus take care of the unborn during pregnancy. According to
UNESCO (1983) women who receive even a minimal basic education are generally
more aware of the need to utilise available resources for the improvement of
nutritional status for themselves and their families, as compared with those who are
Several studies, again at the national and cross-national levels have brought out the
direct relationship between the age at marriage of girls and their education. Delaying
marriage contributes to raising the status of women.
Aspirations of Decision-Makers for the Education of Girls, Bihar, 1980-81 167
Importance of Women's Education
Apart from favourable effects of women's education on demographic variables,
education by itself is something good and desirable and to have an access to
education is the right of every girl. In fact, education of women is by far the most
important indicator of her position in society. Education gives the women protection
against several ills in society. It helps the women to participate in developmental
activities or in the socio-economic transformation of the society and also enables her
to share its benefits. The question now arises, as to how far this right to education is
granted to the women of India, especially to those belonging to the socio-
economically backward states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and
School Attendance Among Girls, 1981
A glance at the data of 1981 census on the percentage of boys and girls attending
school in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, reveals that
education or school-going in general, is a neglected area in all these states, especially
that of the girls in the rural areas. It can be observed from Table 2 that in the age
group of 5 to 9 the percentages of girls attending schools were 9.7, 13.0, 14.8 and
15.4 in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, respectively. The same
percentages in the age group of 10 to 14 were 10.4, 15.6, 18.6 and 19.4 in Rajasthan,
Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, respectively. Thus it is very clear that the
situation regarding the education of girls is very disappointing. In other states also,
except Kerala and to some extent Punjab, the situation is not encouraging.
PROPORTION (PER CENT) OF PERSONS ATTENDING SCHOOL/COLLEGE IN THE AGE
GROUPS 5-9, 10-14 by sex, 1981
Source: Census of India, 1981, Series 1, India, Paper 2 of 1983, Key Population Statistics Based on 5 per cent
Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, p. 25.
168 Tara Kanitkar
It is, however, observed that a lot of efforts are being made by planners and policy
makers to promote universal primary education among girls. It is clear that two of the
main thrusts of the Planning Commission (1985) in the Seventh Five Year Plan,
1985-90, regarding education, are (i) the achievement of universal primary education
and (ii) the eradication of illiteracy in the age group of 15 to 35. For the achievement
of universal primary education by 1990, it is essential that both boys and girls should
be enrolled in the schools. This will be achieved only if the decision-makers/parents
in the households understand the importance of the education of boys and girls, and
enrol them in the schools and have sustained motivation to retain them till they
complete primary education. Special motivation of a very high degree is required for
enrolling and retaining girls in schools. At present, three-fourths of the out-of-school
children are girls. Unless the parents or the guardians, or the decision-makers in the
family, realise the importance of the literacy and education of the girls, the
education among the girls may not advance and the aim of universal literacy might
not be achieved. In this context, it is worthwhile to know the aspirations of decision-
makers/parents in the households regarding the least amount of education to be
given to girls and boys. An attempt has been made here to see if the aspirations of the
parents for the education of their children are the same or different for boys and girls.
There is one additional dimension which may add some more importance to the
study of aspirations regarding education to be given to children, more specifically to
girls. Formerly that is during the first two plan periods, an adequate number of
primary schools were not provided. However, at present, at least one primary school
is present in practically every village. Still the enrolment rates are ridiculously small
and drop-out rates are high even in the primary schools. It seems that though the
supply side is sufficiently strong, the demand for female education and effective use
of schools provided is constrained, especially in the northern states in India. This
situation demands that we should know about the aspirations of parents so that some
remedial steps can be taken. The aspirations regarding the least amount of education
to be given to boys and girls are available for Bihar and they are analysed in the
The main issues addressed in the present paper are:
(1) Whether in Bihar the aspiration of parents regarding the least amount of
education to be given to girls, were different from those expressed for the boys.
(2) Whether there are socio-economic and regional differences in the educational
aspirations of parents for girls and boys in Bihar.
The Government of India and Bihar with the help of UNFPA, have launched a large
scale action programme in selected districts of Bihar with a view to improving and
strengthening infrastructural facilities and to delivery of rural health and family
welfare services. Implementation of such an intensive area programme needed
benchmark data on several aspects of the population. Hence, during 1980-81, a large
scale sample survey covering 10,721 households was conducted in Bihar. The survey
was undertaken primarily to provide baseline estimates of fertility, mortality,
morbidity, family planning practices, and the extent of utilisation of health services
Aspirations of Decision-Makers for the Education of Girls, Bihar, 1980-81 169
against which any changes in these parameters due to the action programme, could
be measured. The survey covered the six project Districts, namely, Munger,
Bhagalpur, Santhal Pargana, Purnia, Saharsha and Kathihar, and four control districts,
namely, Madhubani, East Champaran, Gaya and Ranchi. The present study is based
on the data provided by this Baseline Survey, conducted in Bihar.
Deborah Freedman and Eva Mueller had suggested the collection of information on
parental aspirations for education of children, in the economic module for use in
Fertility Surveys in Less Developed countries. Such information, according to them,
would provide, indirectly, the parental perception of the cost of providing educational
opportunities for children. Thus, the data on educational aspirations for children, it
was thought, would provide data on "maintenance cost" of children or one of the two
types of important and manageable child costs. A set of questions was prepared
accordingly, and was meant to be asked of the wife.
In the Baseline Survey which was neither a fertility survey nor a survey of the value of
child study, the main objective in collecting information was to know about the
aspirations of the heads of the households who were important decision-makers.
Their views were obtained regarding the least amount of education to be given to the
boys and girls, in the rural and urban areas of Bihar, which is characterised by low
literacy and low educational attainment even in modern times.
During the course of the survey, the information on the aspirations regarding the
minimum education to be given to the boys and girls was collected by asking one
question which was worded as follows. "In your opinion, what is the least amount of
education that should be given now-a-days to boys and girls?"
The question was easily understood and did not pose any problems either to the
respondent or to the interviewer. At the outset it should be mentioned that
comparatively very few respondents came out with the answer, "can't say." About five
per cent in the rural areas and about one per cent in the urban areas, could not tell
about the least amount of education to be given to boys and girls. The answers
received were both qualitative, (such as, "as much as possible", "upto the level which
would help in securing a job", "no necessity to give education specially to girls" or "as
much as would enable them to read and write"), and quantitative (in the sense that the
answers contained the exact level of education such as primary, up to matriculation,
and post-graduate). It should be mentioned here that the qualitative answers from the
respondents were not unexpected and, as such, they in no way indicate the inability
of the respondent to comprehend the question asked. In reality, the qualitative
answers tell more about the thinking and opinions regarding the educational
aspirations prevailing in the community. The qualitative as well as quantitative
answers obtained are analysed in this paper.
The respondents were mostly the heads of the households. In case the head was not
available or was unable to respond, the responses were obtained from some
responsible member of the household. In all 8,726 and 1,994 responses had been
analysed for the rural and urban areas respectively. Off all the rural respondents, 82.6
per cent were males and of all the urban respondents, 69.7 per cent were males.
About 80 per cent of the rural respondents belonged to the age bracket of 20 to 59,
170 Tara Kanitkar
and 65 per cent were of the age group of 20 to 49. In the urban areas, 69 per cent of
the respondents belonged to the age group of 20 to 49 and 80 per cent to the age
group of 20 to 59.
The information thus obtained was analysed separately for rural and urban areas of
Bihar and within each area, the aspirations were obtained for caste, and religion,
literacy and educational attainment of the respondent. Some of the important points
emerging from the analysis are discussed in the following sections. In Table 3, the
responses obtained are presented in two categories (1) qualitative and (2)
PERCENTAGE DISTRIBUTION OF RESPONSES REGARDING ASPIRATIONS FOR LEAST
AMOUNT OF EDUCATION TO BE GIVEN TO BOYS AND GIRLS, RURAL, URBAN, BIHAR, 1980-81
Able to read and write
As much as possible
As much which can get job
All qualitative responses
Some educational level mentioned
Number of respondents
It can be observed from Table 3, that as expected, the average level of education in
terms of years of schooling* aspired for boys and girls was higher in the urban areas
(about 13 and 12 years for boys and girls respectively) compared with the rural areas
(about 11 and 10 years for boys and girls respectively). Similarly, in both the areas, the
aspirations for the educational levels of boys were higher than that of the girls. The
difference between the aspired levels of education (in terms of years of schooling) for
boys and girls was of about 2 years in the rural areas and around 1 year in the urban
Girls/Women should be less educated than boys/men is so much embedded in our
culture, that practically each respondent expressed a lower level of aspiration for
girl's education as compared with the education of boys. If a respondent has stated
that the least amount of education to be given to the boy is the B.A. degree, the same
respondent has stated that the amount of education to be given to the girl is the
matriculation; if it is the matriculation for the boy, then it is middle school for the girl; if
it is stated that boys should be made literate then for the girl the answer is that there
is no need for her to be educated. Some respondents answered that the girl may be
educated till her marriage is fixed; and marriage is fixed at an early age, in Bihar.
The majority of the respondents aspired that boys should be educated upto
matriculate and girls upto the middle school. In the urban areas, as expected, the
* The levels of education aspired were: Primary School; Middle School; High School/Matriculate; College;
Graduate; Technical Certificate/Diploma; Technical Degree; Post-Graduate. These levels were converted into
number of years of schooling. For example, if the level of education was aspired as primary, the years of
schooling was taken as 4, for middle school 8, for high school/matriculate 11, for college 13, for graduate 15.
The average level of schooling, in terms of average years of schooling was then computed, and used in the analysis.
Aspirations of Decision-Makers for the Education of Girls, Bihar, 1980-81 171
average level of education aspired for boys and girls was higher compared to the rural
areas, about 13 years for boys and 12 years for girls. Still the aspired level of
education for girls was lower than that for the boys.
The qualitative responses very clearly indicated that a sizeable number of the
respondents in the rural areas of Bihar had placed a very low value on the education
of girls, by saying that there is no need to educate the girls. A small percentage (less
than one per cent) has stated that there is no need to give education to boys.
However, responses saying that education is not necessary for girls are eight times
(3.1 per cent) those observed for boys (0.4 per cent) in the rural areas of Bihar. In
urban too, there are gender-related differences in the category of "education not
necessary". When we are making preparations for the 21st century, the revelation
that about 270 persons in rural Bihar said that there was no need to educate the girls
is enough to cause despair. This is more so when the aim is to achieve universal
elementary education by 1990.
Another striking finding which again is more pronounced in rural Bihar, is the
response that the girls should be given minimum education which would enable them
to read and write only. Such answers formed 23 per cent in rural and about 10 per
cent in urban areas, of Bihar. Some sample responses:
1) A girl may be educated till her marriage (and age at marriage is low in Bihar).
2) Some amount of education is to be given to the girl.
3) Cannot tell but some education is needed for a girl too.
4) A little education may be given to the girl.
5) Only give that much education to the girl which would make her read the Koran,
and read the Namaj.
6) Make her literate only.
Aspirations by Caste and Religion
When responses concerning aspirations for education for boys and girls were
considered by religious affiliations, it was observed (as can be seen in Table 4), that
some four per cent of the Muslim respondents shared the view that there was no
need of educating the girls. About 6 per cent of the Scheduled Caste respondents,
and about five per cent of the Scheduled Tribes respondents, did not find it necessary
to educate the girls.
The average level of schooling for boys in terms of average years of schooling
aspired by Hindus and Muslims in rural Bihar was 11.7 and 11.4 years respectively.
The average level of schooling aspired for girls in rural Bihar was 9.8 and 9.5 for
upper class Hindus and Muslims respectively. In the urban areas, the levels of
aspiration were higher for both boys and girls though the differences in the levels of
education aspired for boys and girls by respondents of different castes and religions
still persisted. Nearly one-third of the Muslim respondents (31 per cent) in rural
DISTRIBUTION OF RESPONDENTS BY ASPIRATIONS REGARDING LEAST AMOUNT OF EDUCATION
TO BE GIVEN TO BOYS AND GIRLS BY CASTE AND RELIGION, RURAL, BIHAR, 1980-81.
*Data for Christians and others comprising 2.5 per cent of all the respondents are not presented.
DISTRIBUTION OF RESPONDENTS BY ASPIRATIONS REGARDING LEAST AMOUNT OF EDUCATION
TO BE GIVEN TO BOYS AND GIRLS BY CASTE AND RELIGION, URBAN, BIHAR, 1980-81.
*Data for Christians and others comprising 1.9 per cent of all the respondents are not presented.
DISTRIBUTION OF RESPONDENTS BY ASPIRATIONS REGARDING LEAST AMOUNT OF EDUCATION
TO BE GIVEN TO BOYS AND GIRLS AND LITERACY STATUS OF THE RESPONDENTS, RURAL, BIHAR, 1980-81.
Aspirations of Decision-Makers for the Education of Girls, Bihar, 1980-81 175
Bihar, were of the opinion that girls should be given minimum education so as to
make them just literate. The percentages of respondents having similar views were
about 29 and 24 among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes respondents,
respectively. When it came to the aspirations for education of boys, it can be
observed from Table 3 that the picture was different. Educating boys was thought
necessary by almost every respondent among all categories. The details can be
observed in Tables 4 and 5.
The finding that in rural as well as urban Bihar, the levels of education aspired for
boys and girls by respondents of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, was
lower than those of other caste. Hindus, was also not unexpected.
Aspirations by Literacy and Educational Attainment of the Respondents
It can be seen from Tables 6 and 7 that the proportion of respondents saying that
there is no need to give education to girls decreased with the increase in the
educational level of the respondents. This is observed in both the rural and the urban
areas. Similarly, the proportion of those saying that girls should be given only that
much education which would enable them only to read and write, also decreased with
the increase in the educational attainment of the respondent. The same trend was
observed in the case of responses for the educational aspirations for boys. The
average level of education aspired for boys and girls increased with the increase in
the educational level of the respondent, both on rural and urban areas. But greater
related differences still remained. The average level of education aspired for boys is
invariably higher for every increasing level of educational attainment of the
respondents. For example in the rural areas, the average level of schooling aspiration
expressed by the respondents, educated upto matric and above, was 11 years for
girls and 12.9 years for boys. Similarly, in the urban areas too the figures were 12.3
for girls and 13.9 for the boys. However, even for the educated respondents, the
aspirations for the girls' education were lower than those for the education of boys.
Four important findings stand out very prominently from the foregoing analysis.
(1) Very striking difference between the educational aspirations for boys and girls in
Bihar, in rural as well as urban areas—but more pronounced in the rural areas—were
noticed, the aspirations for girls being invariably lower.
(2) There were still some men and women who were of the opinion that there is no
need to educate children. But the responses indicating no education for girls were
eight times higher than those indicating no education for the boys.
(3) There were a sizeable number of respondents (about 23 per cent in the rural
areas and about 10 per cent in the urban areas) who were of the opinion that the girls
should be given only the barest minimum education which would make them just
(4) On the whole, though aspirations regarding minimum education to be given to
girls and boys were directly related to the educational attainments of the
respondents, the level of education aspired for girls was lower than that for boys, for
every level of educational attainment of the respondent.
176 Tara Kanitkar
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS
The education of children in general, and that of girls in particular in the rural areas of
Bihar, is still a neglected area. The parents or the responsible members in the family
are not convinced about the utility and the importance of education for the girls. It is
an irony of fate that in Bihar, which was once a seat of learning and where Nalanda
University, which is considered to be the first organised centre of higher learning in
India, is situated, there should be so much apathy for the education of boys and girls.
The job of motivating the parents for sending the boys and girls to school, and
retaining them till they complete at least primary education, can be done through the
inputs in the adult education classes. Education should be given priority in any
One comes across a hackneyed argument that children are assets to rural parents as
they help them with agriculture and related work, and hence, parents do not send
them to school.
In one study, in a part of Maharashtra it was observed that the children did not
contribute substantially to the household economy, and yet they did not go to school.
The study's main finding is that there is a need to dispel the popular belief that in
agricultural societies children are always assets21. That the children work on the farms
and therefore, cannot be sent to school, is a myth.
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Aspirations of Decision-Makers for the Education of Girls, Bihar, 1980-81 177
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