The challenges of rural education in India

The basic purpose of life and the basic purpose of education are to enhance one’s boundaries of perception. We should not just want children after ten years of schooling to merely survive; rather they must blossom and flower wherever they go.

When we talk about education in India, we can’t just talk about how education is in urban cities of India, without going deep into rural education that constitutes almost 90% of the schools being located in rural areas. Recent studies have shown how the face of education in rural parts of the country have developed to a great extent, but some remote areas still do need a serious checkup with children failing to receive basic quality education.

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We cannot but agree that, it is education that leads to the road to betterment of a community and the nation at large. And when we think about bring in a reformation in education, we have to point out what all prevents the education system in India to develop. Let’s start it with rural education.

The most common problems that hinders the growth of education in rural India can be pointed out as

  • Lack of proper transportation. Most villages have poor connectivity from one place to another and that is often one of the main reasons why, despite efforts by local governing bodies to build schools, often go in vain. Children, most of the times have to walk miles to reach these government funded schools and this often demotivates them to attend school on a regular basis.
  • People belonging to remote rural areas have meager incomes, which at times is too less to sustain a family of maybe four or five. Most likely, children from these families won’t be sent to schools, instead would be asked to assist the earning member of the family to add up some extra income. On the other hand, teachers in rural educational centers in villages are paid poorly, often leading to lack of attention by teachers, ultimately forcing the students to suffer.
  • Lack of proper infrastructure at these rural schools is also a big concern. Most of the schools don’t have proper classrooms, teaching equipment, playgrounds and even basic facilities like clean toilets. Thus, the poor conditions of schools are big reasons to drive away students.

These are some of the few prominent crises that are holding back rural education to match up with the education system in urban educational centers. Education imparted in rural centers lack in quality and it’s high time, proper attention is paid to these centers and create a platform where students from rural areas can get proper education, the right encouragement to pursue further studies and jobs. Proper availability of basic facilities like clean toilets, drinking water, adequate classroom facilities, and timely motivational programs for teachers etc should be there. The right reformation can definitely bring about a positive change towards the development of rural education in India.

It is not that the children of our cities and the children of our villages should be taught different things. The curricula must obviously be of the same standard. But it would be wise to recognize that the different contexts have fostered different inherent skills and abilities. Their initial upbringing would have also emphasized different skills, so they start from a different qualitative baseline.

Not only are the students, but also the education environment varied. Many rural schools have less robust buildings, problems in access with seasonal variations, and less access to a range of knowledge centers even if they have great teachers.

The greatest challenge for rural schools is to find ways to encourage children who are genuinely able and interested in the pursuit of academics. Such children have to depend on the single (or a small number) teacher and hope that they are both competent and kind enough to invest time in nurturing them. At this stage it often becomes about personalities, relationships, power structures in the village and about possible exchange of value rather than the school being a system where such students get their answers. Rural infrastructure suffers the effects of isolation too.

There have been some notable successes in recent years in rural education. The Barefoot college, where literacy is not a requirement for being trained as a professional in rural electrification is well known. Other examples such as the 8 Day Academy, where education is delivered in a capsule version – 8 days of targeted workshops that give them new skills and knowledge. Subjects include computers, public speaking and idea development. Another shining example is the Gurukul School in rural Bihar that is run via power generators and Skype, where fee paying students log attendance via the computer and teachers via bio metric fingerprint machine. Lessons are delivered by trained teachers who were selected from all over the state via an entrance exam and by other engineers via Skype. Each of these is an innovative solution to bypass or supplement the issues in rural education. Each of these efforts is driven by individuals. There are many such inspiring efforts across the country that seeks to provide quality education.

Yet we see little dent is made to the vast problems that ail rural education. The sheer scale of the social need to provide education often limits our ability to understand the real issues. Our attempts to understand are then guided by data, which in turn are either guided by the research question was asked when the data was gathered, or the availability of information. So, while we do now understand that school toilets are a problem in rural schools (as many girls drop out at puberty) we do not understand much about the dynamics of a rural school staff room. We do know that the mid day meal scheme has been a great success, and it is recorded that many children come to school only for the free meal. At the same time, we have no understanding of what makes for a valuable and meaningful school experience in villages. There are pockets of excellence, and of expertise, but their voices are very far away.

Each of our inspiring examples had a few things in common – the need was a genuinely felt within the community and solutions were built around circumstances of those areas. While some element of conformity is practiced, it is but a wrapper around real change. Local community supports the effort, though years of effort go into building credibility in the area. Few solutions have been ideated or led by local leaders. Also, most of the efforts, though they are successful have not been replicated in other areas. Yet, leading us to wonder – are standardized solutions relevant to rural education?

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