Empowering Teachers in Rural India (ETRI)

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Rural India is in many ways the most diverse part of the planet. Its 833 million people include distinct societies speaking well over 700 languages, some of them thousands of years old.

Majority of India still lives in villages and so the topic of rural education in India is of utmost importance. Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), shows that even though the number of rural students attending schools is rising, but more than half of the students in fifth grade are unable to read a second-grade textbook and are not able to solve simple mathematical problems.

People living in villages have understood the importance of education and know that it is the only way to get rid of poverty. But due to lack of money they are not able to send their children to expensive schools and hence depend upon local schools for education.

India has the second largest education system in the world. The scale of operation involved to ensure the quality of Education for India is unique and challenging because in a rural part of India, teachers have to face many difficulties to teach.

The number of teachers admitted to schools has risen, and the percentage of vacant posts has been decreasing. But the competencies of the teaching staff are below par—according to DISE data, 18% teachers in India, in 2016-17, had no professional qualification in teaching.

Even when teachers are on-roll, high rates of absenteeism have been recorded. A World Bank study found that one in four teachers are absent at a typical government-run primary school. Absenteeism rates were seen to be higher in low-income states of Jharkhand and Bihar, with the former reporting a rate of 42%.

Teachers, especially in rural India, often take on auxiliary tasks such as attend to the maintenance of school infrastructure, mobilise students & sensitise community on the importance of education, ensure implementation of social schemes at the school level, etc. All of this takes away from teaching time and takes a toll on the quality of learning delivered.

Education in India is afflicted by many difficulties such as poor infrastructure, access, lack of financial support and poor quality of educators. In this year’s budget, the Finance Minister announced an allocation of Rs 72,394 crore compared to Rs 68,963 crore for last year, which is a 4.9 percent increase in the education budget out of which approx. 30 percent is spent on higher education. Out of the remaining funds, a meagre amount is spent on education in rural India as a result of which more than half of India’s population is left uneducated. The state and central governments are trying to tackle these issues by pumping almost Rs 310 billion (approx. $5.7 billion) into improving rural school infrastructure and recruiting teachers. (Union budget 2017-18)

It is time that we recognize not just literacy, but also quality education and applied knowledge as a basic need and fundamental right of every child.

Lack of well-trained teachers and a highly skewed student teacher ratio are major drawbacks that abate the advancement of the education system in rural India. Most rural areas have primary schools that provide free of cost education, but due to lack of highly trained teachers, we are not able to establish a firm foundation and love of learning in the younger children, because of which they lose interest in continuing further studies. The quality of education should be high right from the start which needs to be laid down at the primary level itself. This will become a factor which can turn India into a strong nation.

The traditional teaching methods also need to be revised to enhance engagement and interest of the children in the classroom and beyond. Simple things like relating the textbooks to the children’s cultural values can pique the curiosity of the kids, making them attentive and responsive. The school curriculum should involve extracurricular activities and fun-learning exercises to improve the morale of the students. The reasons for dropouts and low attendance should be investigated in spite of free education. This becomes a major hurdle on the way to progress. Improvements should be made in the school infrastructure, and teachers should be given performance-based incentives as motivation to bring out their best in the classrooms.

Many teachers who have the formal degree in teaching are unable to comprehend the changes needed to bring about effective learning employing newer and more relevant techniques.

Poor employability is a direct outcome of poor education. With 70% of India’s workforce residing in rural areas, it is rural India that will form the majority of tomorrow’s workforce—half of the total population is expected to be in rural India by 2050 (according to NITI Aayog). A major cause for rural to urban migration is the search of better employment opportunities. The net migration from rural to urban areas is about 20 lakh per annum, of which 10 lakh are expected to be job-seekers (MSS Research). The poor quality of education in rural schools will surely affect the employability of rural youth. Handicapped with low employability skills and poor educational foundation and the resultant low productivity, their struggle to find better-paying opportunities will likely follow them wherever they go. Against this background, India’s positioning to convert the benefits of the demographic dividend into increased national income is weak.

Towards this end, Academy for Creative Teaching (ACT), Bangalore has envisaged a project called, “Empowering Teachers in Rural India, (ETRI)”. This is the mission visualised by Swami Vivekananda who desired that knowledge and skills should flow towards rural India so that India gets awakened. This project needs the support from all stakeholders – Government, Managements of schools, Teachers, Students, parents and donors – to make it real.

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