“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
~ Nelson Mandela
Education In Rural India: The Historical Perspectives
As India gained independence, education was characterized with inequalities due to socioeconomic inequities. Article 45 of the Indian constitution provided for free and compulsory education for children. The preamble stated that the “State shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.” This meant that every citizen should have access to primary education without discrimination. But the reality is far different.
In view of major policy efforts by the government and other external initiatives, the position has been improving over time. Though official statistics would like us to believe there is overall progress in primary education enrollment, the reality is only a small fraction of the population has access to it.
More recently, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 was passed, also known as the Right to Education Act (RTE). The inequities that still exist constrain its implementation in rural India. With a majority of the Indian population still living in rural parts of India with minimal facilities, we must look at a faster and effective dissemination of education goals.
Importance of Rural Education In Development
It is universally acknowledged that education is THE fundamental way to achieve development and growth. Education is the guiding light, and investing in this area is the only way for the nation’s development to move forward. It is impossible to achieve sustainable rural development in India without investment in human capital. Education leads to improved quality of life, improved productivity, and economic and social progress, thus improved income distribution among the masses. Promoting literacy will ultimately lead to a lower unemployment rate and higher GDP growth. Therefore, it becomes essential to look at design and development of infrastructure in a way that improves accessibility and effectiveness of delivery of education.
Where We Lack and Why
With India’s large population, translating policy to action is a challenge. Numerous issues lead to inequities in education, such as:
- Availability of Resources and Poor Infrastructure: Lack of resources leads to poor infrastructure in schools situated in rural areas. Buildings are in dilapidated condition with little or no benches, playgrounds, laboratories, or toilets. Learning material and stationery is not available in adequate quantity, and children do not have financial resources to cover those costs. With poor density of educational institutions, transportation is a challenge, and lack of connectivity often results in poor enrollment and/or early dropouts.
- Poor Awareness Due to Socio-Cultural-Religious Issues: With child labor rampant in agriculture and allied sectors, education is not seen as a priority in rural areas. Children are viewed as an extra earning hand and thus kept away from schooling. Social and religious mores often convey a belief that girls should concentrate on household chores and not on education.
- Density of Primary Schools: The ratio of primary schools to population is low, and children often have to travel long distances, often on foot, to reach them. This is a deterrent for children and parents alike that leads to increased dropouts at early stages. In addition, girls are kept away from school due to safety issues.
- Availability of Teaching Staff: While the number of teachers has increased in rural primary schools, their expertise is poor. Teachers are not qualified or trained to impart appropriate educational content to their students. In addition, these teachers are often asked to carry out auxiliary government tasks such as election duties, census, etc., diverting them from their productive time. Absenteeism is another issue that leads to underproductive teaching.
- Digital Divide: Reaching remote parts of India with quality education can be achieved through digital means. With the lack of infrastructure, poor internet connectivity, and the technology divide, education initiatives are not able to reach the hinterland. Poor knowledge and improper training of educators and the intended recipients are barriers that must be addressed.
Partnerships: The Way Forward
S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation), a rural development NGO in India, has been engaged in improving quality of life for rural communities in India since 1999. S M Sehgal Foundation has five main program areas: Water Management, Agriculture Development, Local Participation and Sustainability, Transform Lives one school at a time, and Outreach for Development. A skilled and dedicated team is actively involved in creating programs to address the most pressing needs of rural development in India. With the support of donors and global partners, S M Sehgal Foundation’s grassroots programs and development interventions have already reached more than three million people across India. Their underlying mantra is to achieve sustainable rural development, thereby empowering individuals and communities in need to escalate and enhance their own growth.
As part of the Transform Lives program, S M Sehgal Foundation provides schoolchildren access to drinking water, better sanitation facilities, a learning-conducive school environment, and digital and life skills awareness trainings. Parents, teachers, and children are encouraged to increase enrollment and reduce dropouts in rural government schools, especially for girl children. School Management Committees (SMCs) are provided with support and training to build their capacities for improved and sustained functioning of the schools.
Lives Transformed: S M Sehgal Foundation, in collaboration with PTC Foundation and Power Finance Corporation Limited under their CSR initiative, implemented Hamari Paathshaala (2018–2021).
Under the Hamari Paathshaala initiative, two schools in Bhandari Panchayat now have intact classrooms, safe drinking water, working toilets, solar-powered energy, and digital smart classrooms.
Rajkiya Buniyadi Vidyalaya, Manchi Bhandari, is now equipped with eight newly constructed classrooms and a new toilet block, including separate toilets for girl students, boy students, and teachers. Both schools now have drinking water stations and smart classrooms. Powered with solar energy, electricity is no longer a problem for the school, as schools have an uninterrupted power supply at all times. Each classroom has necessary furniture such as desks, benches for students, teachers table and chair, a computer room, and others.
S M Sehgal Foundation under its Transform Lives one school at a time program also renovated one room that serves as a smart classroom for the school, half-constructed rooms, and the veranda in Rajkiya Buniyadi Vidyalaya.
A student from grade 7 at the school shared that previously they had no place to sit, and no toilet, so students had to go home. “Now we have enough furnished rooms and toilets in the school, this will make learning easy,” she says.
The transformation of schools has been very beneficial for both students and teachers. Students have a better place to learn. Enough classrooms, furniture, working toilets, and smart classes all help students stay in school longer and make learning an easy and fun process.
Education is integral to the development of every community and culture. Jean Dreze the noted Indian welfare economist aptly puts it, “Educational disparities, which contribute a great deal to the persistence of massive inequalities in Indian society, also largely derive from more fundamental inequalities such as those of class, caste, and gender.”
The RTE Act stipulates that every school should have a playground, a fence or a boundary wall, a library, and drinking water facilities. The compliance also requires school infrastructure to include keeping the building and classrooms in proper condition, with functioning toilets, meals, electricity, qualified teachers, desks, and chairs. With government funding and private-sector contributions (through CSR) being channelized in the education sector, there is a need for committed and selfless partners to break the barrier and carry forward the vision of education for all. Only then will rural education in India reach all parts of the country, and the vision of development can be turned into reality.