A Hurdle Race: Education in Rural Areas

Can you imagine running in a hurdle race for 12 years?

Completing formal school education from a school based in rural areas can feel like a 12- to 15-year-long hurdle race! These hurdles spare no student. The cultural, social, and economic factors make special provisions for female students. They have to move past additional hurdles in the presence of more restrictions and safety concerns. Most of the time, these additional hurdles disqualify them from the race to complete their education. As an AIF Clinton Fellow working in the education space, I’ve encountered the following major issues:

Lack of Motivation and Awareness: There is a lack of motivation amongst many students and their families in ensuring any form of education. The importance of education is not perceived as a priority by many families. They believe that the children have to ultimately join the farmlands and will not get a job after completing school education, so there is little value in it. Providing education thus seems like an unnecessary and expensive step to take – or even a risk. They rather prefer getting some help from their children at their farmlands or at homes. Veerni, my host organization, provides free and safe educational and boarding facility to the underprivileged girls of Rajasthan. Despite Veerni’s support and facilities, almost every year 1-2 students drop out due to family and economic pressures.

Inaccessibility: Even if the students and their families value the importance of education, inaccessibility of resources becomes a hurdle. These hurdles include the absence of schools in villages, the absence of secondary schools in villages, bad economic conditions, remote locations of schools, the absence of basic facilities (such as clean drinking water, toilets, and benches) and motor vehicles for schools located in remote areas. There are multiple schemes and programs run by the central and the state governments. However, many of these remain unknown by the majority of people. Before Veerni’s intervention through secondary education, there were several villages in which completion of education was a far-fetched dream.

( Image Courtesy: Veerni Institute)
(Image Courtesy: Veerni Institute)

Compromised State of Teaching Staff: Factors like teacher absenteeism, lack of adequate teaching staff, poor quality of the teaching, lack of regular training sessions, and lack of accountability compromiss the quality of education. While teaching spoken and written English at Veerni to the students of class 6th to class 9th, I witnessed first-hand the unfortunate state of education at public schools in villages. Students who were learning English grammar struggled to understand the difference between small letters, cursive writing, numerical values in words, basic spellings, and elementary conversational words.

Social Factors: Earlier, girls were not allowed to complete education as the society would then deem them as unfit and unsuitable wives and daughters-in-law. This thought has been changing due to the increasing demand of educated females by the semi-educated or educated males. Caste and communal issues also lead to dropouts. A few years ago, several students belonging to the lower castes were forced by the upper castes of the same village to leave Veerni. To shed light on this: ‘Under the Adarsh Scheme [1], the merging of the schools has forced the children to drop out. It becomes difficult for Dalit children to attend school when educational institutions in their neighbourhood are merged with those in upper-caste localities. Many female students from conservative families also drop out when girls schools are merged with co-ed ones.’[2]

To a large extent, these issues can be resolved with the help of the non-governmental organizations, governmental organizations, and civic bodies. These problems can be controlled in the following three foundational ways:

Infrastructure and Capacity Building: These organizations can focus on capacity building of the existing infrastructure and construct additional schools in the areas where there is an absence of schools or secondary schools. The 2019-20 budgetary provision of ₹1,581 crores for education in Rajasthan under the Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan School Infrastructure Scheme would be utilized for construction of over 14,000 classrooms, laboratories and libraries and 23 new school buildings as well as the renovation of 83 buildings.[3]

The Rajasthan state government with the help of the Boston Consulting Group, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Central Square Foundation implemented the Rajasthan Adarsh Yojana in 2014.[4] Under this scheme, more than 12,000 elementary and secondary schools have been merged to create “Adarsh” schools which will be properly staffed and equipped with sufficient resources to provide quality education.[5] However, these schemes shouldn’t be considered as a straight-jacket solution. These issues require transformation from below and steps should be taken considering the social and cultural standing of the community.

Safe Boarding and Educational Facility: Another change can be brought by establishing safe boarding and educational facilities for students. Motivation can be drawn from the Veerni Institute, SMART Academy of Tech Mahindra Foundation and others. In this way, they can provide quality education, reduce student-teacher absenteeism, ensure a proper student-teacher ratio, support physical and mental health and development, and prepare them for higher education.

(An image of a classroom from the visit to the Tech Mahindra’s SMART Academy, Delhi.)
(An image of a classroom from the visit to the Tech Mahindra’s SMART Academy, Delhi.)
(An image of the boarding facility at Veerni. Image Courtesy: Veerni Institute.)
(An image of the boarding facility at Veerni. Image Courtesy: Veerni Institute.)

Outsourcing: In the due process of making arrangements for the above two solutions or in case of unavailability of the resources, external resources can be utilized temporarily. The government, the non-governmental organizations, schools and civic bodies can collaborate with individuals or organizations that can provide their services on a temporary basis to provide interim healing. These services can be of spoken and written English, physical education, arts, vocational training, self-defense and career counselling. They can be delivered either through an offline medium or an online medium. These structural issues shouldn’t become a reason for hampering the education, growth and development of millions of students studying in the rural areas of the country.

(Image of a computer class being conducted at Veerni's campus by an outsourced computer teacher.)
(An image of a computer class being conducted at Veerni by an outsourced computer teacher. Image Courtesy: Veerni Institute.)

Lastly, there are certain issues especially socio-cultural issues which will keep increasing the hurdles in the race to a complete education. This will require the stakeholders to contribute years of effort to revolutionize the ground reality. Consistent efforts, cultural understanding, awareness campaigns amongst others will play a significant role in transforming the current reality. Veerni Institute is an inspirational example.

(An image of Class 12th students’ farewell celebration at Veerni. The students, sitting in the right corner of the room with garlands, are dressed in their traditional attire.)

Sources:

[1] Ankit Tulsyan, April Stewart, Kathy Quintero, Shoikat Roy, and Sonia Dhawan, A Focus on Smart Implementation, June 30, 2016, http://www.iic.uchicago.edu/blog/team-spotlight-adarsh-yojana-rajasthan.

[2] Urvashi Dev Rawal and Salik Ahmed, School Mergers, Privatisation: Rajasthan’s Education Reforms Fail To Hit Bullseye, Hindustan Times, October 18, 2017, https://www.hindustantimes.com/education/school-mergers-privatisation-rajasthan-s-education-reforms-fail-to-hit-bullseye/story-e5WtlqRE6k3gIOT1KavXqJ.html.

[3] Mohammad Iqbal, Rajasthan Education To Get A Boost After ₹1,581 Cr. Allocation In Budget, The Hindu, July 25, 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/rajasthan-education-to-get-a-boost-after-1581-cr-allocation-in-budget/article28706106.ece.

[4] Transforming Government School Education in Rajasthan: Rajasthan Adarsh Yojana, The Bridgespan Group, https://www.bridgespan.org/bridgespan/Images/articles/bold-philanthropy-india/bold-philanthropy-india-rajasthan-profile.pdf.

[5] Supra 1.

Ayushi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Jagori Rural Charitable Trust, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. For her Fellowship project, she is assessing the implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 with respect to the role played by the Protection officers in the Kangra district and the Himachal Pradesh state government. Ayushi completed her B.Com LL.B. (Hons.) in 2019. She believes that the world would be a happier place to live in if we learned to treat all living beings with humanity and basic dignity, irrespective of our biological and psychological differences, belief systems, and distinct genetic makeup. Through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, she will be working with issues related to female education and child marriage. She wishes to help the women and the LGBTQIA+ in utilizing their innate power and channelizing that energy in breaking societal chains, gaining inner liberty, and happiness. In order to educate herself with the realities, she studied subjects such as law and social transformation, liberty, equality and justice, and completed a credit course on comparative human rights. She interned at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and at the Centre for Civil Society under Fellowship91 in New Delhi, and the Alternative Law Forum in Bengaluru. She visited villages in Madhya Pradesh to understand the difficulties faced due to water scarcity. She enjoys writing blogs and research papers and has written on several issues related to drug usage as a criminal justice problem or a health problem, lawyers becoming casualties of their profession, homosexual marriages, sin taxation analyzing the taxes payable by prostitutes in India, and hate speech and freedom of speech and expression. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, singing, writing poems, and reading books.

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