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The Truth Behind “India Shining”

Posted on April 9, 2011 in Society


By Amritapa Basu:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Thomas Gray

No words could better describe the consequences of neglect in rural India. So much talent remains hidden and eventually gets lost merely due to lack of resources. It is sad to see that in this globalised era, when many rich and fortunate urban children are so tech-savvy, their rural counterparts do not know about the computer itself. Opportunities have increased in leaps and bounds in the metros but the outskirts of these metros itself represent the grotesque picture of the ‘developing’ India; ‘developing’ being a sophisticated term for ‘poor and backward’.

“Even after five years in school, children studying in rural schools don’t reach the level expected of them after two years in school” — reads a report in The Statesman. “The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2010 [a survey of seven lakh school children over 13,000 schools in 522 districts in the country] said that only 53.4 percent of all school children studying in Class V could read a Class II level text.” In 2009, 69.3 percent children could recognize numbers between 1 and 9. The percentage dipped to 65.8 in 2010. Doesn’t the mere statistics appear preposterous in an age of ‘India Shining’?

The scheme of free mid-day school meals might have been successful in luring poor children into the school rooms but what about the infrastructure and resources — be it material resources or human resources? Projectors in schools are becoming a reality in schools in metros but here we are talking about schools without blackboards. Naturally a drab verbal explanation becomes a substitute for an easy-to-understand diagram on the board.

Leave alone black-boards, many village schools have only one teacher who deals with all the subjects. There have been reports that three classes are accommodated in a single room because of lack of infrastructure and one single teacher is juggling between the three classes. An individual with a slightly higher qualification will naturally try and grab a lucrative offer in the cities. Dr. Vinod Raina, a member for the Central Advisory Board for Education and helped in drafting the Right to Education Act, says “We have done much damage to our education system by recruiting para-teachers to get the work done cheaply. To attract quality teachers, we need to pay them well. Following the implementation of the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, a peon employed with the government now gets Rs 15,000 a month. So, you cannot get a good teacher for Rs 2,500 ~ something that is paid to para-teachers.” – (The Statesman, 21 January, 2011)

Often children in absolute remote areas have to travel long distances to schools which kills their interest for learning and thus become early drop-outs. To evade the hassle of registering and getting an affiliation from recognized board, schools do not go beyond the eighth standard and the children bear the brunt. Being oblivious of the outer competitive world, the children as well as the parents do not feel the compulsive urge to make an effort on their part. Only a few strive hard on their own to carve that niche for themselves, but these are only mere handfuls. Proper resources, guidance and training as also influencing and goading is required to ignite this zeal to work towards better future.

A report in The Times of India on 23 February, 2009 reads –

The recently constituted Rural Education Cell, department of educational surveys and data processing, NCERT, organised a national seminar on ‘school education in rural India’ at its Delhi headquarters. The seminar provided a platform to policy analysts, administrators, researchers and practitioners to analyse the current scenario in rural education, identify problems and come up with recommendations to improve the situation.

Seminars and surveys add pages to the year-end reports but where is the implementation?

Here are some measures that we can take to help our rural counterparts realise their dreams —

  • A college/school can offer voluntary services (by students and faculty) in the nearest schools in rural area.
  • Keeping in mind the lack of specialized teachers, student volunteers can come forward to teach their own subject in these schools and handling primary syllabi should not be a problem (as is being done by the Teach for India programme).
  • With involvement of young teachers, learning becomes fun for these children and can be instrumental in drawing more children.
  • Authorities must focus on practical hand-on training rather than rote-learning. Children in rural schools can be trained in plumbing, carpentry, advanced techniques in agriculture and also basic computer skills.

Let’s move our focus from academics for an instant. Swaroop, contestant of Indian Idol 5 and Harshit Saxena, runner — up of the Voice of India, 2007 bear testimony to the fact that talents thrive in small towns and villages too, waiting eagerly for that one ray of hope, for that one opportunity. The Super 30 in Patna has taken the country into whirlwinds and proves that talents are not born in only families with money. Opportunity and training is what has to be provided.

We proudly count and declare the number of medals we have received in Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. If we notice, many athletes come from humble backgrounds and each one of them complains about the lack of infrastructure. Only a few can survive the struggle and go on to become a Preeja Sreedharan (athlete from rural Kerala, she lost her father at an young age, her mother and brother worked as domestic help and carpenter respectively; Preeja Sreedharan won gold, 10,000 m and silver, 5,000m in Asian Games, 2010) or an Ashwini Akkunji (born in an agricultural family in a nondescript village of Siddapura in Karnataka; Ashwini won two golds in the Asian Games, 2010).

In the wake of India winning the World Cup, 2011 newspapers and television news channels are delving into extensive reports about Indian team comprising of cricketers who have come from districts and modest families and how they have struggled to make that place in the team, the captain himself hailing from Ranchi and working as a ticket collector in Kharagpur station. But it required these young brave-hearts to shed their sweat and blood until the authorities in their respective regions realised that coaching centres need to be established. As Sportstar puts it — Only after Sreesanth’s success did Kerala Cricket Association spread the base and open as many as 28 coaching centres in all the 14 districts.