Theories of social change follow a course that is regular or has a definitive pattern. Ordinary social life is organized in cyclic changes that evolve over the day, week, or year. These are short-term changes that are necessary to maintain stability in society. However, changes that are radical follow a path that is noncyclical, nonlinear and unpredictable.
Education is a key parameter for social change and for sustainable rural development. In developed countries, education leads to continuous transformation, culminating in positive social change that evolves over a period of time.
As one of the world’s largest developing economies in its own right, India’s development has been skewed and inequitable. Economic progress in India has been limited to a select few, and the disparity is stark. After almost seventy-five years, the struggle for a level playing field continues, and this has not been helped by occupation opportunities that are heavily loaded toward agriculture. The ignored structural issues in education have led to a class divide, and the rural areas of India have failed to keep pace with their urban counterparts. While the government has realized that to bring youth from rural underprivileged backgrounds into the mainstream, it is necessary to invest in education. However, the thrust in rural education is disjointed and leaves a gaping hole in anchoring quality and equity. Going forward, the system and the thought processes require a rethink and radical redesign to derive the intended benefits.
Issues with Rural Education In India: Quality And Equity
India is a diverse and large country with a population of about 1.38 billion. This huge number is broadly divided into two social sections: urban and rural. While the rural population of India represents 65% of the total population, it contributes a paltry 25–30% to the country’s GDP. The way forward to take this figure higher is recognized to be education and gainful employment. The human development agenda can only be realized if the primary issue, literacy in rural areas, is improved.
The thrust in rural education notwithstanding, suboptimal schooling and poor learning outcomes are rampant. The various survey reports amply demonstrate that the problem is acute in rural areas. What is the reason behind this? As we have discussed for many years, some of the issues that plague rural education in India are brought about by:
- Lack of proper Infrastructure
- Poor quality of teaching faculty
- Low incomes
- Social inequalities
- Lack of access to technology
The education policies and school system design contribute to the failure of the system in a major way. The numbers are impressive, in 2019–20, we had 1.25 million (of a 1.5 million total) schools located in rural India. We have schools with two or five-room dilapidated buildings in every village, and teachers must indulge in multi-grade teaching due to lack of staff. Comparatively, the urban schools are large, well equipped, well-managed, and adequately staffed. Though the positive of quantity is achieved on paper, the quality is found wanting. The65% rural population has tiny, ill-equipped schools with dismal enrollment. Lack of resources with state governments means that full-time teachers are often not available or forced to multitask in the absence of qualified manpower.
The academic support infrastructure in rural schools is missing or only on paper. No library or proper teaching aids are available. The Digital divide is accentuated with no provision for teaching software, course content, Wi-Fi connection, and electricity costs.
Government spending is constrained by small allocations to the education budget. Though investment in infrastructure is on the rise, lack of higher-education opportunities leads to a further failure of the system. With employment opportunities giving far spread rural areas a conscious miss, no wonder the rural education system pales in comparison to urban successes.
This socioeconomic stratification gives rise to disparate access to quality education in the country and leads to a disparity in quality and equity.
Reimagining Rural Education: Equality and Quality
Rural education in India is both economically and educationally unsustainable. This leads to suboptimal and inequitable schooling for rural children who are often unable to transition to higher education and fall by the wayside.
Article 21A of the Constitution of India envisions primary education as a fundamental right. Reading this in conjunction with Prohibition of Discrimination (Article 15) would suggest making upgraded to acceptable standards.
Reimagining and upgrading rural education in India to achieve the vision of accessibility, quality, and a level playing field is the need of the hour. Achieving this could be possible with:
- A policy of uniformity in academic and infrastructure and establishing standards for schools across board.
- Providing resources for education managed through expenditure per child.
- Establishing standards for teaching staff avoiding multitasking and multi-grade teaching.
- Mandatory transportation facilities financed through RTE.
Egalitarian education is the way forward to an inclusive India. Higher education and adequate employment opportunities in conjunction with primary education can work wonders for human development in rural India.
Transforming Lives One School at a Time
S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation) is a rural development NGO in India that has been working since 1999 to improve the quality of life of rural communities in India. S M Sehgal Foundation is involved with identifying gaps and creating sustainable rural development in India. One of its main program areas is Transform Lives one school at a time. The idea is to be a partner in the progress of India and help implement and deliver last-mile development programs.
The Transform Lives program provides schoolchildren access to drinking water, better sanitation facilities, a learning-conducive school environment, and digital and life skills awareness training. 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 school.
Lives Transformed: From Under the Trees to Smart Classrooms
An objective was to transform the government schools of Bhandari in Sitamarhi district, Bihar, and provide a harmonious environment for learning. S M Sehgal Foundation in collaboration with PTC Foundation and Power Finance Corporation Limited, under their CSR initiative, implemented the Hamari Paathshaala initiative. As a result, two schools in Bhandari Panchayat have intact classrooms, safe drinking water, working toilets, solar-powered energy, and digital smart classrooms. The transformations undergone in Manchi and Bhandari schools were based on BaLA (Building as a Learning Aid) accreditation so that the classrooms, floors, walls, pillars, corridors, and outer spaces also act as added sources of learning.
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.
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 to stay in school longer and make learning an easy and fun process. This endeavor to bridge the gap in education outcomes for rural India has led to leveling the gap.