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
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.