The number of children who do not attend school in India is estimated to be over a 100 million. Rural India accounts for an overwhelming majority of this figure. This extremely disturbing statistic is further skewed by the fact that boys form much higher percentage of children in rural India who gain a high-school diploma, making the girl child, especially ignored, and denied of a basic education, writes Kartik Bajoria - writer, educator and moderator.
As the country leapfrogs into a new millennium, there is constant talk of us finding our place among the powerful nations of the world. However, with basic, elementary education not reaching millions, are we really in a position to bill ourselves as an advanced nation? Is it not incumbent on us as a society to ensure that rural India receives an education?
With growing advancement, development, and industrialization; there is already a need, one that will continue to rise steadily in the foreseeable future, of skilled manpower. Skills sets of various kinds, in each sector, is going to make for promising careers. Rural India, with its millions of untapped youth that are currently not receiving even a basic education, can unlock a huge potential of fulfilling this mutually beneficial need. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken with education. A young person from rural India typically grows up without a basic education. At some point in his teens or early adulthood, he or she is lured by the razzle-dazzle of the urban jungle and decides to move. Only when that move does take place, that person inevitably finds himself or herself with no work and no prospects, having, as a result, to resort to menial house-help jobs, or worse still, a life of petty crime that is further embroiled in debt-cycles.
The only fool-proof way of breaking this decades-old system is for us to ensure that rural youth receives an education, and then, after their basic education, also gets some specific skills training. Then, even the move to the big city will not be an anticlimactic pursuit. Move to the city, seek and find respectable, permanent work, and build a new life. That promise can ONLY be fructified by a robust elementary education.
Assuming we are in agreement with the above, and that there is little debate of the importance of educating rural India, how do we go about ensuring it happens?
CHANGE IN MINDSET
A tectonic shift in mindset is required. The general belief tends to be that children need to be at home to ‘support’ the household. Is it not true though, that this perception of help & support is very short sighted? Sure, a child saving the first half of his or her day, being home to help with household chores, supporting the farming-related work of the family, assisting with the livestock, are all crucial ‘benefits’ of being home (rather than at school). But is it not these very children who will grow up, uneducated, illiterate even, and once they are not interested in farming (or are not required as such, owing to the increasing machining of the farming sector), be of absolutely no use to their families? In fact, not only will they be of no help, they will in fact grow up to become liabilities, incapable of earning and contributing to the family, compelling them to a life of frustration and possible waywardness. If we can make rural India see this clear trajectory and help them understand and appreciate the long-term benefits of an education, of gathering skills through studies, and how these children will then be able to supplement the household income, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.
The other big problem, aside from a mindset issue, is the actual, on-ground infrastructure, which is in shambles in many parts of rural India. There are multiple problems but if we have a clear sight of the impediments, we can work in a targeted manner to mitigate them. The first thing that comes to mind is schooling itself, specifically, the lack of teachers. Even if the government schools (that are the overwhelming majority of schools in rural India) are fully staffed, there is an epidemic of absenteeism. We have already spoken to the point of students not attending school, even teachers don’t. First, we need to make teachers more accountable and ensure they are present.
Second is the problem of nutrition. Millions of these children do not receive basic nutrition, rendering them entirely unfit to receive an education. Their minds and bodies are weak, and this, we need to address forthwith.
Lastly, an education today, even more-so in rural areas that may not have the kind of proximate opportunities that urban centres present (libraries, museums, etc), has to be ‘connected’ and digital. It is the language that has no language. It is the language the youth is interested in, and enjoys. So we have to work towards digitization of schools and classrooms even and especially in rural areas so that we empower our students to be exposed, and experience just what any other student anywhere else would, effectively rendering that student’s remote location, redundant.
Rural education holds the key to solving many of India’s primary problems – youth disenchantment, poverty, crime. A life that holds the possibility of a good livelihood, I am confident, will propel families and their children to adopt a good education across rural India. All we need to ensure now, is that foundation is in place.