Having spent the last few months in the villages of Champawat district in Uttarakhand, I have realised many things.. To start with, I had my own perceptions of the rural areas in our country; like any other urban kid, I thought our villages were underprivileged and poor. The villagers migrate to cities to earn money as farming is failing, and they have no other skills.
It is only when I lived with the same villagers that I came to conclude that they aren’t poor, but they are deprived. They are the result of the shortcomings of the 60 plus years of an independent government which has on central level worked hard to plan and form schemes to help the rural population, but the implementation of the same has terribly failed.
For instance, let us talk about the education system in the villages. Not just I, but a few others who I know are working in rural India, would agree that the teaching here is far from the current standards in the schools in cities. If I had to elaborate on the problems faced here, I would do it point wise, because they are all inter-related and one problem solved can actually solve the whole issue of lack of a proper education system in rural India.
Shortage of staff
Government schools are the only accessible schools for a lot of villages in the district of Champawat. Unlike the neighbouring districts of Almora and Pittoragarh, Champawat has very few private teaching institutions and due to monetary constraints, not every family can send their children away from home.
The main problem in a government school is shortage of staff. Why would teachers choose to live in a remote village to educate children? Though it may sound selfish, but because of glamourised urbanisation, not many government teachers would want to spend their years in a village. Very few, dedicated teachers are available for these students. In the 10 villages I work with, no school has teachers for every subject. There is a shortage in staff in major subjects like Science and Maths, which in turn affects the performance of the children in board exams and other entrances.
What can we do for this? Fellowships, scholarships and short teaching programmes can be a good solution. While teachers with families to support would not want to join the schools in remote places, the youth in the cities would love to take a break from their hectic schedules and work in the rural areas for a short period of time. Regularised programmes can ensure an inflow of teachers from different parts of the country, increasing the exposure for the children.
Stereotyping further education
Meet any student appearing for the 12th boards and ask them of their future plans, rarely will you get the answer different from a BSc, BA or BCom degree. In the cities we are aware that these bachelor degrees are close to extinction and there are many other career choices apart from these. But, do these children have that kind of exposure to educate them on career options? Definitely, not.
The children here have no guidance to what can be their career options post boards. The families who can afford to send their children outside the district have ensured their kids get counselling, and they select a course as per their liking and capability. The ones who have to stay back do not have much support. They take up courses just for the sake of having a graduation degree and end up in jobs with meagre pays, because that is how they are trained. A Bachelors in Science and a Bachelors in Arts, these are the only options they are told that are meant for them by the family and the school.
What can be done? A career counselling each year at higher secondary classes, so that the children know their options, is important. Also, if extra efforts are put in by the teachers and school authorities on training children for entrance examinations, they could at least try for options like engineering, architecture, interiors, mass communication and so on. The children will not know of their options unless they are educated about them.
The boy bias
In most of the villages, girls’ education does not go beyond a degree in arts. They are meant to be married, right? The disheartening part is that a few principals and teachers I spoke to also showed a similar attitude.
So, yes, a majority of the girls here opt for home science instead of mathematics for their 10th boards. It is only a rebel who decides to take up differential and integral problems instead of cooking and cleaning solutions, and these are rare, very rare cases.
What can be done? Equality, the first step towards change, is important. The children and their families need to be educated so that a girl can study maths as much as a boy can choose home science. The gender does not define the interest or capability of a child in any subject.
Teachers should be told to make a separate group of female students who are interested in mathematics, and make sure their parents are convinced to let them choose that subject. One successful case of a group may change the mindsets of many.
Lack of digital education
Every school has been given CDs and computer labs have been equipped to educate children using digital methods. Looks good on paper, in reality, kids have admitted to studying nothing but how to draw using paint.
There is a big gap between the digital education systems that we talk of, and the ones that exist in rural India. Where on one hand we dream of digitising India, the graduates in the villages have no idea of how to use a laptop. This is not because they have poor minds, it is because they lack in resources.
From school, children should be taught to use the latest technology and that is possible only when the school infrastructure and the teaching staff is capable of doing so. Showing interactive videos and study material would help in increasing the understanding of the subject for a student, this can also help in balancing the teacher to student ratio to some extent. If a teacher is not present for a particular subject, maybe, the videos on the same will help the student to understand, and make it easier for their examinations.
What can be done? As mentioned above, strengthening the staff and infrastructure will help in providing the students with the kind of digital education apt to compete with the students from other cities.
Introduction of auxiliary study material
The main reason children in these rural villages do not appear for competition exams is a lack of study material. The children here do not have access to books apart from their regular academics. They need to read other books to get a hold on current affairs, technology, language skills and so on.
For the overall development of a child, not many resources are available. Hence, the child is limited to what is available. There are very few who have used colours to sketch or paint, played games to enhance their memory and focus, read books to improve on their creativity and imagination. All this is required for overall development of a child. I was once told by a school staff that the kids are low on IQ and have no sense of imagination or creativity, a few days later we handed a box of crayons to the same kids and they did wonders.
What can be done? Addition of creative classes like painting, drawing and reading where the teachers actively participate is needed. Once the teachers participate, it gets easier to involve students.
These are my personal views as per my observations of a few schools I got a chance to visit, and after discussions with staff and students. Also, there are some government schools setting an example of providing exemplary education to children. While these schools and their dedicated staff need to be recognised, the others need to be pushed to go beyond the norms of education in a government school.