Why doesn't this co-ed school have any girl students?

Heena Kausar
Arun Sharma

The Government Co-education Secondary School in Naya Bazaar, is 'co-ed' only in name. In the seven years since the school moved into its new building, a girl is yet to seek admission.

Co-education schools are a rarity in Delhi's government school system, accounting for a mere 17 per cent of the city's 1,009 schools in 2015. Most of the remaining schools are run in two shifts, where girls study in the morning and boys in the afternoon.

Educationists are increasingly convinced of the importance of boys and girls studying together from a young age; particularly in a city like Delhi where violence against women is common, and most young men and women live in gender-segregated spaces.

"Any project where homogeneity is brought about artificially can never prepare students for challenges they will face in society," said Minati Panda, chairperson of Zakir Husain Center for Educational Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

So why don't girls study at the Naya Bazaar school?

The history of this school building offers an insight into not just the constraints of Delhi's school system, but a perspective on how girls and young women are pushed out of public spaces almost by default.

The building at Naya Bazaar began as a government girls school. But in 2004, the building was closed for repairs and the students and staff were shifted to the Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Pul Bangash.

In 2009, a co-ed school in the Bara Hindu Rao neighbourhood had to be moved to make way for flyover.

"I am not sure what happened to the girl students in Bara Hindu Rao, but when I came here in 2012, the school already had only boys as students," said Gauri Shankar, the principal at Naya Bazaar.

The gender balance, Shankar said is further skewed by the fact that three of Naya Bazaar's feeder schools are boys school at the primary level. "We are ready to give admission to girls but most of them go to Pul Bangash school as this school is in the middle of market area."

Now, no parent wants their girls to go to a school full of boys.

"I didn't know if Rahul's school was co-ed," said Pawan Gautam, whose son studies at the school, "There are no girls in his school, so I didn't want to send my daughters there."

Only 17% of Delhi's 1009 are co-educational by default, rather than design.

Only 17% of Delhi's 1009 are co-educational by default, rather than design.

Why so many single-sex schools?

Most of Delhi's schools are single sex by default rather than design. The primary reason, officials from the department of education said, is this allows the department to run two schools from the same building.

"The population of Delhi has increased many-fold, and we have to create opportunities for these students," said Saumya Gupta, director education. "Girls go the morning shift as you can't ask parents to send girls in the evening, and boys come in the evening."

Officials said many parents prefer to send their daughters to a girls' school.

"Most of our schools are decades old and maybe at that time locals demanded their daughters to be sent to a girls school," said an official, who did not wish to be named. "Such local conditions still exist in certain areas although we need to break these stereotypes."

Yet, graduates from these schools wish for a more liberal education.

Amit Kumar, who studied at Government Boys Senior Secondary School, Sangam Vihar, said he struggled to adjust at a co-ed college.

"I had almost negligible interaction with girls," he said. "When I moved to college, it was a different world where boys and girls studied in the same classroom."

"It was difficult to adjust and interact with the girls. Maybe if I was from a co-ed school it would have been easier to adjust."

Experts agree.

"It is desirable to have co-education so that students can learn to engage with the opposite sex in a natural way while they are growing up," said Poonam Batra, a professor at the Delhi University's education department.

A 2014 study published in the journal 'Sex Roles', found that teachers in single-sex school tended to rationalise segregated schools on the basis that girls and boys learn differently, thereby perpetuating gender stereotypes.

The Department of Education insists that change is around the corner.

"We are opening 16 new schools in this academic session and all are co-ed," said Gupta, the education director.

But for now, Naya Bazar, the co-ed school that never had any girls, is being turned into a boys school, perpetuating a cycle that everyone in the department says they want to break out of.