Education: Sibal’s Priorities and Rural Education

Sibal has too many reforms on his platter. He has started well and has already pushed the right of education bill through Rajya Sabha out. But will it substantially improve the number of students going to the schools or the quality of the education particularly of rural schools? Will it make the teachers in rural schools more responsible or accountable? Will the bill impose some responsibility to the failing parents or teachers? With 100 million children still out of schools, perhaps a door to door drive such as one for polio plus will be essential to realize 100% enrolments-the basic goal of Sarva Shikhsha Aviyan.

The most worrying aspects are the dropouts at different stages in rural schools. Nearly 30% don’t complete even five years at school, and a horrifying 50% of Indian children don’t go beyond eight years. And even in these years at school, they mostly absent the schools and hardly learn anything, mostly because of the lack of any innovation in teaching by the teachers to make the teaching or learning any more interesting and perhaps more so by the total lack of appreciation for education in the parents. The latest estimates from 2008 ASER report indicate that 44% of children in Class 5 cannot fluently read Class 2 level text nor do a division sum of three digits divided by one digit.

Unfortunately, no one talks about the parents’ accountability, may be because of political reasons for displeasing the reliable vote bank. And if a study is undertaken, it will reveal that the children who absent from school are not engaged in any other productive activity at home or elsewhere, as many activists and NGOs claim. Many a times the parents hardly know that.

Sibal will not be able to do much to push education at the primary level in rural India as it can be done only by the respective states. The standard of education in rural area has much to do with fixing of the responsibility of supervising the performance of teachers who play the major role as a majority of the rural schools are one teacher schools. Panchayats, its education supervisory committee with parents of students and responsible members of the community as envisaged in the right of education act must take interest in the education and related activities at the rural schools. I wish it would have included even the selection and appointment of the teachers. Sibal’s enthusiasm must permeate down to the state and panchayat level. Unfortunately, many panchayats are headed by persons with vested interest with hardly any concern and appreciation for the role of education. However, the work on educating the women promised by the first women President of the country may bring the miraculous change. It must start immediately and must proceed to keep the time frame. It will certainly improve the education significantly at the rural schools. I wish the education of the illiterate use the already proven TCS computer based learning. Another promise of taking broadband to every panchayat can make it very much possible, if the work is taken sincerely.

Many a times it appears that the children from the BPL families will have to be taken out to good residential schools away from the families to educate them in conducive surrounding. Only very few such institutions have come up. India Today in its issue of July 27 has reported about the wonderful work being done by some. Vidygyan, Bulandshahr promoted by Siv Nadar Foundation, the government of UP and the former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian is one such institute. However, most of the institutes and individuals, be it Sikhya, Chandigarh, Prem Jyoti Prangan, Jamshedpur, or Thermax Social Initiative foundation, Pune are focusing on urban poor children.

Samarth Bharat Abhiyan of University of Pune is certainly a model with great potential where its 500 affiliated colleges have adopted 487 villages. Why can’t all the universities and institutes of excellence emulate that for equitable development?

Kanavu in Kerala and Friends of Tribal Society, West Bengal are doing admirable job for educating tribals. Sibal will have to discover a solution for upgrading the existing schools in the rural India for quality education. And rural India with 60% of the country’s population is still deprived of a good infrastructure for education. Nearly one-third of schools do not have a pucca building and classes function either in tents or under the open sky. How can one think of any education under this condition?

Instead of going for a new idea of model schools for each block, why can’t the idea be integrated in already existing educational facilities of Kendriya and Navodaya Vidyalayas, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas? Why can’t these institutes be set up in every block or in every panchayat and its quality is upgraded to be in the line of the best ones? If 199 KVs can have a 100% result in the class X CBSE examination in 2008, why can’t all of 980 do that?

Who are the teachers in the rural schools? Has someone checked if their degrees or certificates are not fake ones? Have they attended a training course somewhere outside their own state? What were the feedbacks about their performances? Who takes actions on those feedbacks? Sibal can and must help in this area easily. He can come out with some innovative programme for training the rural teachers with a month’s practice in good private schools. It is necessary, as presently most of the teachers’ population constitutes of persons who scored very lowly in their examinations, and who couldn’t get any other job for living. As some opine, the teaching has become the domain of the ‘bored’ or ‘failed’ individuals.

Will Sibal discuss these issues with the chief ministers and education ministers of the states and make them agree to take some positive steps for the rural education?

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