A Little Learning: Women, Men, and Schools in Rural Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, with its high literacy rates for men and women alike, is an outlier in South Asia. To better understand how this came about, this chapter examines the relationship between gender and the proliferation of rural schools during the early twentieth century. Data from a longitudinal study of a Sinhalese Potter community reveal that its early gender imbalance in education decreased over time until, for children born in the 1950s, girls surpassed boys in their average years of schooling. Contrary to expectations, given the South Asian context, this analysis fails to support the idea that education for girls was less valued than for boys. Rather, what mattered was school proximity. Once schools were nearby, girls and boys attended in equal numbers.
KeywordsSri Lanka British colonialism School access
The author was employed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) when writing this chapter. The NSF also supported part of the research through a senior research award (BCS-9246632) and a Long Term Professional Development Leave (2013). Additional funding came from the United States–Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission (2013), the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies (2004), and the University of New Hampshire. Any opinion, findings, or conclusions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF or any of my other funders. I also am grateful to the School for Advanced Research, which has provided space and support during several summers of data analysis, and to Fatima J. Touma for her assistance in preparing the figures. Finally, I extend warm thanks to Dr. Helen Ullrich, the editor of this volume, whose tireless efforts have made it possible.
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