State of Education in Rural India

SOURCE: ASER

SOURCE: ASER

With an education budget as large as $16 billion, one would expect the Indian education system to really flourish. The ground reality, however, is in stark contrast to this; especially in the rural sector, where schools even after 60 years of independence are begging for reforms. Though, pro-education laws like the right to education and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan found their way to existence, the ground reality has not changed. Schools still lack basic amenities, students still lack trained teachers, teachers are still under-paid, and parents are still reluctant to send their children to schools. In stark contrast to this, the schools in cities are offering a plethora of add-on services like smart classes, state of the art laboratories, etc. to provide the latest education tools to the students. There have been voices emerging from all corners that the schools in the rural sector should also provide modern teaching facilities but the fact is when the schools lack amenities as basic as drinking water, how can one even contemplate about asking for more “modern tools”. Moreover, it is not that the children studying in rural schools should be taught different things but it would be wise to recognize that children in metropolitans have different skills and tools in comparison to their peers in cities.

State of education in rural areas

A study was conducted in schools in the rural areas where it was found that 32.5% of children belonging to class 5 could not read class 2 level texts; in 2010 the figure was 13.4%[i]. Although many studies have been conducted in the recent years on the plight of rural education but the recent study by the Annual Study of Education Report is dreadful to say the least. Now these are very shocking findings as the amount of money invested to improve the state of education in rural India has been considerably increased, however, at the ground level situation has become worse. Schools in rural areas have become grounds of mockery and teaching standards have never been so low. Additionally, the reasons for such a miserable performance aren’t limited to the poor teaching skills and are spread more deeply in the education system of India.

Lack of Infrastructure
SOURCE: National Planning Commission

SOURCE: National Planning Commission

In an effective ecosystem, which is paramount to the growth, infrastructure acts as the back bone of the education sector. However, in rural India – where requirements are as basic as availability of clean drinking water and separate toilets for boys and girls – the backbone of the system is found missing. Almost 35% of schools in rural India lack useable toilets for boys whereas the figure is 44% for girls. Clean Drinking water, considered a basic necessity for life is found missing in 25% of schools.[ii] For many, these will be just numbers, but in reality they should be a symbol of shame. The government talks about building smart cities, however, for some, availability of clean water is still a hope.

Then comes the other infrastructural needs like playground, laboratories, desks, computers, etc. As many as 68% of the government schools lack chairs and tables, compare them to the state of the art schools in cities boasting their air-conditioned classrooms. The fact is: furniture is not provided to schools in rural India as a matter of policy[iii].

Low Income of Families

Sometimes limited income/resources forbid parents from sending their children to schools. Children are forced to work at a young age to assist the family in earning. Although the constitution of India prohibits children below the age of 14 to work, however, in most areas the rule is flouted more out of necessity than as a sign of rebellion. Even teachers are not paid at par their counterparts teaching in the private schools. Low wages and humiliating infrastructural conditions impact the teaching ideology hence hampering the growth education in the rural areas.

Lack of transportation facilities

In metropolitan cities, schools in order to attract students and monetize their facilities, have started offering air-conditioned luxurious buses. In contrast, rural schools lack connectivity, for instance, in many villages of Kerala children have to travel in a boat to reach their schools; in other schools, children have to walk for miles before they can reach schools. For many girls, dreams of going to school end with the inaptness of the authorities to provide such basic facilities.

Under the constitution of India, education is a concurrent subject with sharing of equal responsibilities between the state and the central government, hence the failure to provide quality education lies with both. Although, last few years have seen the rise of the education-specific reforms, however there hasn’t been a considerable amount of change at the ground level. In schools better facilities will only come about with development of infrastructure, both within and around the schools.

[i] http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/ASER%20Reports/ASER%202014/National%20PPTs/aser2014indiaenglish.pdf

[ii] http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/ASER%20Reports/ASER%202014/National%20PPTs/aser2014indiaenglish.pdf

[iii] http://www.iitk.ac.in/3inetwork/html/reports/IIR2007/12-Rural%20Education.pdf

Sanitation and Hygiene in schools

sustainable_sanitation_web-1

It is imperative to stress the importance of hygiene and sanitation from a young age; though sanitation and hygiene in schools, especially in India, is not given much importance. Sanitation is considered as one of the most challenging sectors to improve upon. An effective hygiene and sanitation requires an even stringent and effective public policy where schools under various government programmes can improve the appalling condition of Indian schools.

Supporting children’s right to clean and healthy surroundings, such as toilets and safe drinking water along with information on hygiene, positively inspires a generational change in the attitudes and behavior of a society. Schools, after the families, are the best demonstration centers to bring about such positive changes on a sustained basis. Hygiene is necessary for a child’s health, safety, and development. This applies particularly to schools in rural areas since they may lack certain facilities; as an example, the media often highlights periodic instances of students being forced to defecate in open. Without access to sanitation facilities, including clean water and toilets, and without hygiene practices like hand washing with soap, children may get sick.

There is a need to include hygienic practices in the school curriculum and to teach children about the importance that hygiene plays in their lives. In educational institutes lacking such amenities, separate hand washing stations and drinking stations should be setup with proper drainage provided for safe disposal of waste water. This highlights the importance of sanitation, another area where schools need more investment. The lack of adequate water impedes hygienic behavior, allows the toilets to remain both dirty and unfit for use. Schools should celebrate Global Hand Washing Day, as events like these provide special impetus to the cause and spread more awareness.

Additionally, it is important to distinguish between the separate needs of boys and girls. Often, schools have poorly designed facilities for girls, disregarding the consideration for the disposal of menstrual wastes; in some areas, girls even drop out from schools because of lack of sanitation facilities. Government schools lack way behind private one’s in terms of sanitation facilities, an area where the Government literally has to clean up its act; additional funds need be allocated to construction of adequate urinals and lavatories in accordance with the strength of the school. Parents should choose schools that offer proper sanitation facilities for their children, along with the other, more typical factors such as distance, school reputation, and so on; this will also force those schools found lacking to provide these very important facilities. Pilot projects can also help in this, by providing schools effective areas where they can work upon to improve the condition. Such projects have been neglected from a long time, thus hampering the overall state of schools in India.

Hopefully with the initiation of programmes like the Swachh Bharat” (Clean India Initiative), our schools can also have a better fate and can look forward to improved facilities which are paramount to success. Importance must be given to improve the coordination between communities and local schools to ensure proper hygiene standards are maintained in institutes. Above all, the ability to learn is influenced not only by the quality of teaching but also the cleanliness of surroundings, accessibility to potable water, sanitation, and good hygiene practices. To learn well, children have the right to be as healthy and happy as possible. Having clean water and proper sanitation facilities significantly contribute to a happy childhood. Good co-ordination between government programs and schools can help in the improvement of these facilities. If given due attention, India can truly achieve the dream of becoming a clean and healthy place to live. The mantra, though has to be – My India, my responsibility.