Sunday, May 23, 2010


Rural students for education depend mostly on government schools where teachers are asked by the government to perform duties other than teaching, during most of the year. Primary school teachers in Uttar Pradesh had hardly finished conducting a statewide scrutiny of ration cards of B.P.L. (below poverty line) families during the last session when they were asked to prepare voters-lists in which they are busy in the current session. They are expected to help in polio vaccination, statistical surveys for the government, supervise the construction of school buildings under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and even help do the cattle census in a few states. There is very little time left for teaching.

Shortage of teachers in rural schools is alarming in government schools. Fresh appointments are seldom made after retirement of large number of them and after expansion of schools. The number of pupils increased many fold due to population explosion and concerted efforts of enrolment by teachers under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. But many of the schools have only one teacher at times with a ‘Shiksha Mitra’. The rural students are expected to learn without a teacher like Eklavya of Mahabharat to compete against the Arjuna of city schools. Some of them do succeed. But for each successful Eklavya there are numerous who, sadly, fail.

Contrary to the villages, the urban areas have a large number of convent schools that enhance their standards in a highly competitive atmosphere. Right to education of equitable quality seems like a fancy dream for India’s 72 % rural population, living in its 600,000 villages. Backwardness in India is thought to be linked to caste and religion and rural-urban divide is not accepted.

The problem of shortage of staff at least can be resolved if teachers and other staff are hired from the educated unemployed village youths using National Rural Employment Guarantee funds at least with the minimum daily wages of Rs. 100. The NREGA could also have provision of employing educated men and women for engaging them in the odd jobs being carried out by teachers. They could be trained for odd jobs in the manner the teachers are trained. It could stop the entry of ‘Shiksha Mitaras’ through back door to the teaching profession, using leverage of village Pradhans.

Sadly, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 aims at realization of right to unskilled manual work in rural areas. This act could gainfully supplement the Right to Education Act of 2005 that guarantees primary education of ‘equitable quality’. It is unfortunate that the act is creating millions of jobs meant generally for rural illiterate, the educated unemployed rural youth are either uncovered under the scheme or they are expected to do the spade work even after holding a university degree.

Vocational institutions opened for village youths offer vocational training to train them to become masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, shoe makers and tailors. It appears to have an inherent class bias. Should they not be groomed to become engineers, doctors, management trainees and computer scientists? Some rural students will certainly have aptitude to succeed in advanced skills.

Decades ago the Mandal report told us that 27 % of OBCs are educationally backward. Now, the Sacchar report tells us that Muslims are more backward than even Dalits. It does not apply uniformly to rural and urban areas. Rural literacy is 58.7% against urban literacy of 79.9%. Only 46.1 % Women are literate in villages compared to 72.9 % in cities. It is not without reason. Educational facilities are concentrated in the cities and are dismal in the rural areas. Can we think of vision 2020 without taking three fourths of the country along?

The Navodaya Vidyalaya movement started in 1986 was a noble concept to bridge the rural-urban gap in quality education. It is a sad commentary that children from villages around the vidyalayas hardly get admission there. On top of that, they are residential schools – a complete mismatch with the realities of rural India. Why should they be boarding schools if they are supposed to benefit the local talent? The rural poor cannot expect much from the Sainik schools, Kendriya Vidyalayas and Railway schools either because of tough competition for admissions.

Sometimes NGOs and individual social workers try to open schools in rural areas to give education better than Government schools. They cannot possibly run schools only on good intentions. They get trapped in a vicious circle. If they charge fees students drop out and if they make education free they may not have money to hire good teachers. Discrimination by governments against the rural private schools is hurting the rural poor much more than it hurts the NGOs.

The NGOs and social workers face the biggest hurdle when they apply for recognition of their village schools to the government. The requirements for recognition for village schools are currently the same as for city schools. This is impractical because the construction of prescribed building for a Junior High School alone would cost about 6 Lakh rupees. The NGOs and individual social workers can have fewer hurdles in providing quality education to the rural poor if the emphasis was on academic standards not the material demands.

Source of some hope for quality education in rural areas could be wealthy educationists owning chain of schools in cities. They may not help rural areas for free but the incentives like cheap loans and parallel tax breaks in cities to open schools in rural areas may possibly motivate them. Such benefits are available if they open industries in backward areas, not for schools.

There are many senior citizens and pensioners who may like to devote their energy for a noble cause of rural education. This can bring their life time experience to raw brains of rural poor. Japan it is said was the first country to achieve 100% literacy in spite of poverty caused by the Second World War. The initiative to involve senior citizens has to come from the governments of respective States.

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