For more than 2,000 years, from about BC 300, there was practically no education for women in India. Only a few women of the upper castes and upper classes were given some education at home. But, even here, there was tremendous social resistance.
Literacy of women at that time was looked upon as a disgrace. The notion of providing education to female children never entered into the minds of parents. A superstitious feeling was alleged to exist in the majority of the Hindu families that a girl taught to read and write will soon become a widow after marriage.
According to the report of the National Committee on Women’s Education (1959), ‘It cannot be denied that the general picture of the education of women was the most unsatisfactory and women received practically no formal instruction whatever, except for the little domestic instruction that was available to the daughter of the upper class families.’
It was the American mission which first started a school for girls in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1824. According to the figures available, by 1829 within five years as many as 400 girls were enrolled in this school. Then, in the first decade of the 19th century, with the efforts of the missionaries as well as the Indian voluntary organizations, some girls’ primary schools, particularly in Bombay, Bengal and Madras states, started.
The government also took the responsibility to promote primary education in general and that of the girls in particular. However, government efforts could not go a long way due to the Indian War of Independence of 1857.
After the war municipal committees and other local bodies were encouraged to open primary schools. In the year 1870, training colleges for women were established for the first time and women were trained to become teachers in girls’ schools. As a result of all these efforts, great progress was made in girl’s education in the last quarter of the 19th century.
However, in spite of these, there was a great gap between the education of men and women. It was estimated that for every 1,000 boys at schools, the number of girls was only 46. At the beginning of the 19th century there was hardly any literate woman in the country excepting a few in the aristocratic houses. It astonishes that by the end of the century hundreds of thousands of girls were enrolled in the newly opened institutions all over the country.
Though girls and women have made much educational gains in recent years, but still have a long way to go before their historic educational disadvantage is eradicated. The education system of India, like many other social institutions, has long been discriminatory towards the women. In 1916 SNDT Women University in Bombay became the first institution of higher learning to admit female students.
It had a number of high schools and colleges affiliated to it. In the beginning, it was (and is still) believed that women should aspire to become good wives and mothers, not intellectuals, doctors, lawyers etc. Women used to wash men’s clothing, cared for their rooms and served them meals. They were forbidden to speak in public (these practices are more or less still continuing).
The proportion of women students has increased steadily after independence and mostly in the last decade.
Enrolment of women in higher education has also grown since 1995. But these figures are not satisfactory when compared with the enrolment figures of boys. The main hindrance in the women education in India is rural residence, low caste, low economic standing combined with the traditional attitude towards women education as a whole.
These factors tend to deny opportunities of education to a girl. While broadly speaking education of female students has made strides and it is not surprising that today in many faculties and departments of universities and colleges, more girls than boys are seen.