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GNH study shows alarming gender disparity in literacy

Jigmi Wangdi 

A recent Gross National Happiness (GNH) survey discovered alarming gender disparities in literacy, with females experiencing greater deprivation than males.

Literacy and schooling emerged as significant areas of concern within education, a domain under GNH including seven other domains. The comprehensive study included 33 indicators, shedding light on the current barriers that different subgroups face in accessing equitable quality education.

The study, which drew attention to the Bhutan Living Standard Survey (BLSS) report for 2022, revealed that the literacy rate for males was 77.1 percent, while it was 63.6 percent for females. Furthermore, the gender gap in youth literacy persisted, with male youth having a literacy rate of 98.3 percent compared to 97.2 percent for females.

An examination of educational attainment levels revealed disparities between males and females. Surprisingly, 40.4 percent of females reported no formal education, compared to 30.3 percent of males. In contrast, only 6 percent of females have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, while 9 percent of males have achieved the same feat.

Aside from gender disparities, the study emphasised the troubling statistic that 49 percent of household heads have no formal education. This figure is even higher in rural areas, reaching a staggering 63.5 percent, while in urban areas it is 27.5 percent.

In response to these troubling findings, the study proposed several ideas aimed at improving education and addressing gender disparities.

The study proposed capacity building as a critical intervention to combat low literacy rates among rural females. The proposal outlined two potential areas of focus: developing mobile literacy programmes for older females and fostering peer-to-peer learning initiatives.

A mobile literacy programme would include a mobile classroom or bus that travels to remote villages, providing the target population with easy access to literacy training. Simultaneously, peer-to-peer learning initiatives would assist older women in teaching fundamental literacy skills to one another through a variety of means, such as study groups, mentorship programmes, or community-based education initiatives.

In terms of schooling, the proposed intervention centred on advocacy and awareness campaigns aimed at increasing female students’ school completion rates. The intervention strategy focused on the implementation of mentorship and counselling programmes to prevent dropouts. These initiatives would provide assistance to female students, allowing them to overcome personal, familial, and academic obstacles that frequently impede their educational journey.

This survey, conducted by Centre for Bhutan and GNH Studies, highlights the critical need for comprehensive measures to address gender disparities in literacy. Bhutan can strive for a future in which all individuals, regardless of gender, have an equal opportunity to acquire knowledge and realise their full potential by implementing innovative interventions and promoting equitable access to education.