Rural education: Challenge or Opportunity for India

I was listening to a discussion on education today in Lok Sabha. Members appeared to be worried. Interestingly, almost all the MPs participating indiscussion were from the states of Bihar, UP, Odisha and Bengal and none from south. I myself wonder if the people who matter in this country, can take up this challenge of providing the right education in rural India, particularly in the backward states of UP and Bihar. Can the education in rural India be at least brought to a normal standard from the present dismal condition? I have written on this earlier too. I have some ideas but it requires involving all the stakeholders and I doubt if it is possible or can be made possible.
Years ago, I had been regularly visiting Japan for professional assignments and trying to understand the Japanese success in producing the world class quality products. China was nowhere on the horizon. I came to know of the use of radio transmission by a body of industry association to propagate the philosophy and techniques of building in quality at the production stage itself by building in the manufacturing process instead of inspecting it at the end of the production line that was usual all over. I am sure the mission of the necessity of the education to the parents in rural India requires a serious campaign. Somehow, over the years, the people in rural India, particularly among the categories of SC/ST/minority/girlchild or even in socially upper categories hardly appreciate the role the education of the children can play in the improved quality of life of the family and ultimately the prosperity for the country on long term.Reasons may be many, but most in rural India have got disenchanted with the necessity of the education. And educaton has become devoid of building any value or bringing prosperity.

It is essential to convince everyone in rural India that educating himself and his whole family –wife, children, parents, and even neighborhoods must be the first wish. It requires a lot of marketing by external agencies without any debate on its need. And all means and every Indian who can help it through any media must participate in it. Just few ads or discussion on TV channels or in a corner of some newspapers is not sufficient. The least that the country needs is the basic education not literacy limited to mechanically writing one’s name. It is possible using any audio or video gadgets but it must be a regular feature rather than kneejerk government programme.
One way of spreading the education must be to encourage every student in the school to learn in group and share the knowledge with each other and with even others, particularly elders in the family. The teachers in the rural schools must pick up the good students and encourage them to form an informal group of four-five students living in neighbourhood and study together helping each other. They must also be inspired to teach the elders in the family, their mothers and fathers too. It will repel the ignorance of their illiterate parents as well as provide the information that may not be having. Even the books in the elementary schools have information and knowledge that the elders lack and must know.

Rural education requires special attention to compete with the education provided in urban India. The government must help the mission by establishing the infrastructure and schools such as Navodaya, Kasturba Gandhi, or Kendriya with hostel facilities. And India Inc under its CSR must not miss the chance of helping the underprivileged and deprived in the rural India by providing quality education through already proven models of schooling as taken up by Nadar, Premji, Bharati Foundations. Digital technology will also make it happen. If Vodaphone can start a news service on cellular phones that have become so popular, others can help in having applications to education to reach everyone in rural India.

As the whole country is going to move faster in getting exposed to the best of quality education with tablets, the rural India must get priority. Let the government free the teachers in rural India from the extraneous work assignments such as election duty or census data collection. Let them be innovative in educating the future citizens effectively. Education among the deprived class is attracting maximum attention in all the nations of the world from US to Uganda; let not India be left behind.
And as a last caution to the teachers who fail to carry out their responsibilities under some pretext or the other, I insist: This time Eklavayas will not excuse them as he did in Mahabharat period to Dronaacharya.

Interestingly, as it appears, for almost all political parties and for even a person such as Mulayam Singh Yadav, the free distribution of laptops and tablets have become an usual feature in its manifestos. Course materials in digital forms are readily available and many education companies have come in the market. Will the rural India get preference? Will Mr. Sibal’s plan to provide optical fibre to each village be completed in time for the broadband required for using the digital gadgets for the education from KG-12? However, will the rural teachers be trained and more so motivated to use this technology to further the quality of teaching and learning?

Many education enthusiasts are trying to use the digital tools. Many are also experimenting in their own way to effectively educate the deprived rural children. However, the problem of education in rural India is stupendous. And it must be the top priority for all educationists, philanthropists, and also for the government, otherwise the thrust on higher education will be futile. The huge capacity built by the private sector for higher education such as in engineering and management will not get students and that of right talent.

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