By Ana Kandwal:
Michael Ward, Senior Advisor for the UK department of International Development India country program, stated that education is the doorway to a wider world. The future of a country on the path to development has education as one of its components that contributes largely to the growth and the development process. India is the second largest education system in the world, however, in spite of being the second largest education provider in the world, a huge question over the quality of education remains unanswered.
India’s literacy rate has seen a rise i.e. it has risen from 64.38% (2001) to 74.04% (2011). The government has been making large efforts to spread education and it is observed in the budget of 2011-2012 where the allocation of fund was increased by 24% and the consecutive year saw an increase by 21.7% for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and 29% for the Rashtriya Madhaymik Shiksha Abiyan. Moreover, for easier access of funds for students, a credit Guarantee fund has also been set up by the government. However, according to 2013-2014 budgets, India is spending only 3.85% of the total national budget on the education sector. This has resulted in the government being critiqued by many education reformists. Anita Bose, daughter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s said that India will benefit if it spends more on education and social welfare rather than on its defense for dealing with any possible external threat.
Right to Education (RTE), which came into being during April 2010, is a fundamental right for all those children who are in the age group of 6-14 years. Through this act, the government is entitled to provide education to every child up to the eight grade, free of cost and irrespective of class and gender. RTE is the first legislation in the world that lays such duties on the government.
This is due to the fact that there are nearly 220 million children in the specified age group, and out of which nearly 9.2 million of the children are out of school. This accounts for 4.6% of the total children.
Even though the recent budgets seem to have been contributing largely towards the growth of the country’s educational growth, but due to various socio-economic factors, the standard and quality of education in India continue on to be poor. Moreover, it is the process of implementation of the policy that has raised many questions and caused serious problems.
Even though the RTE makes certain obligations on the government towards the children, rural children continue on to be deprived of quality education due to several factors such as lack of competent and committed teachers, non-availability of text books or teaching materials, refusal of teachers to teach in rural areas, unqualified teaching staff etc.
Moreover, the efforts of the government to control the dropout rates via the mid-day meals has also failed to produce any positive result and the dropout rates continue to go up. This has been mostly observed due to misappropriating of funds meant for schemes, mismanagement, lack of seriousness amongst the concerned authorities, fund diversion and lack of awareness among the parents. Moreover, the mid-day meals have been found to be of sub-standard quality as well.
Coming to the infrastructure of these rural school, it has been found that 82% of these schools require a necessary renovation, books are not available and the teachers are mostly absent. This has been so concluded in the Public Report on Basic Education (PROBE).
Also, though the government has taken several efforts in the rural areas to start anganwadis. This is largely done to firstly reduce infant mortality rate and secondly to impart education to the children from the right age. However, it has been observed that in many places there is either an absence of such institutions or even if they exist, there is the absence of the required resources. Moreover, at times it is observed that the human resource required are either under qualified or happens to be local women who work on the basis of their experience.
Another major problem of the Act is the “continuous evaluation of children’s understanding of knowledge and his/her ability to apply the knowledge”. Now this comes in complete contradiction with the ‘No Holding Back’ policy of the Act. On one side the Act says that no child would be demoted till the completion of elementary education but on the other side it talks about continuous evaluation of knowledge. The act also does not define what is knowledge? During this evaluation if a child fails to gain knowledge or ability to apply the knowledge, then what would be the next step? The Act does not have any such provisions under it. Also, talking about the evaluation, the act doesn’t define as to how, what would be the procedure and on what basis the child is to be evaluated?
Also a large number of private schools, which solely prefer taking the elite and the rich and middle class children, oppose this act especially on the basis of the ‘No holding back’ policy and also on the quality. Private schools mostly function not for imparting a quality education but rather to compete in the race to be the best school. For this, they admit students who are knowledgeable and bright and completely ignore those who come from the deprived section. At times, even the middle class children face huge problems. This comes in complete violation of the act.
One critical aspect I would like to make about the act is over the ‘No holding back’ policy and ‘ensuring quality education’. How does the no holding back policy ensure quality education in schools? When one is promoting the continuous failing students to the higher class, students who cannot read and write even basics at times, then how does quality education being imparted is being ensure? This is the reason we observe that the dropout rates usually increase immediately on a very high side post 8th class. This is another reason as to why the private schools oppose the act and refuse to take children from the marginalized section of the society.
However, these are just few of the aspects of the issues of rural education which are now being looked into by the government. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is shifting its focus from universal inclusion to universal quality. Schedule tribes and schedule caste children are now being largely included into the class IX and X by handing out pre-matriculating scholarships.
Also, when one looks into the issue of education and its spread, we need to look into the fact the different class and section of the society as well, especially the tribal section as education to them comes as a cultural shock as they live in a very basic environment and the concept of inclusiveness and modernisation is very unknown to them.
I would like to sum up by taking reference of Amartya Sen who regards that solution of all problems whether they are related to economy, development or population lies in education. Also, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (First Education Minister) stated that no programme for industry, science, and agriculture, commercial can be achieved without improvement of the human material which serves as the basis of the national wealth. Hence, education should be highly prioritized.