Poor state of elementary education in rural Uttar Pradesh

A Right to Education Act, passed in 2010, requires all children aged six to 14 to attend school. The Annual Status of Education Report, carried out in rural areas by the non-governmental organisation Pratham, reveals that though enrolment is higher than 96% (a free mid-day meal is a major incentive), students do not learn a great deal. After three years of being in school 60% of them can barely read their own names.

What is the reason for this sad state of affairs? It is true that enrolment to schools have increased. After all every parent wants his child to find education. But what is really going on in these schools? Has anyone bothered to find out?

Well it seems that someone did. A TV news channel, Punjab Kesari recently exposed the shocking state of affairs in a primary school in Uttar Pradesh.

What are the children really learning there? It seems that neither the district administration nor the state education authorities are paying any attention at all to these vital issues which concern the very future of our country.

The most glaring of the problems with government-run schools is that of infrastructure. Poorly maintained buildings, dilapidated and dingy classrooms do not make for a learning conducive atmosphere. Proper shade and lighting, comfortable seating, good ventilation and pleasant surroundings are all essential and add value to the very experience of going to school and of learning. Good sanitation facilities and clean drinking water are also essential.

While the infrastructure of most government primary schools in the state is in pathetic condition, more worrying is the abysmal state of education of the teachers who are in charge of imparting simple and basic education to their young wards. With adequate learning material and a good teacher a child can absorb knowledge even while sitting under a tree or in an open verandah. But when the teacher himself or herself is not adequately educated then the very word ‘education’ becomes a farce. A famous couplet by Kabira says, that when the charge is led by a blind guru, the result is that both fall into a well (of ignorance). This seems to fit the case exactly.

The role of the teacher is critical in getting positive results in the classroom. Only a bright teacher can create and nurture bright students who can be the pride of the nation some day. Elementary school is the basic building block of any student and if that foundation be weak then how strong can the edifice be in the future?

The problem seems to be that due to lack of teaching staff, para teachers are often hired on a temporary basis with a much lower pay scale. Often these teachers are untrained and even lack basic education. Untrained teachers are given three years to complete their qualification but mainly from long distance institutions like IGNOU.

It cannot be overemphasised how important it is that the teacher be a good teacher. A highly qualified, experienced and competent teacher will obviously be more effective than an untrained, poorly educated and inexperienced teacher. Teachers must love learning firstly, be knowledgeable themselves and then have the necessary skills to pass on that knowledge competently to their young wards.

As an example of how vital it is to have good teachers, asked in 2006 about how Finland had such a high level of education the education minister replied, “the high quality of our teachers, nothing more and nothing less.”

But in our country there is no accountability for either students or teachers. Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, both professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in a recent article in the Indian Express, that in government schools, “there is no obvious reward for performance” and “children are promoted automatically”.

It is no wonder then that more and more parents are opting for their children to go to private schools often at great costs to themselves. Parents say that at least they have a proper timetable with subjects and the students are actually learning something. The idea of a private school implies success.

How do we improve the quality of our teachers? Teacher quality is firstly dependent on the academic qualifications, their level of education and professional teaching qualifications. Elementary school teachers must have at least a BTC (Basic Training Certificate) if not a BEd or M Ed.

But where is the political will to make a difference? When will the bureaucrats shed off their complacency and exert stricter control of things? When will adequate resources find their way to government rural schools?

It seems that lack of infrastructure may be to blame for other things as well. Statistics report that state schools teachers are generally absent one day in five. World Bank and Harvard researchers found that on surprise visits to schools, 25 % of teachers were absent and only half of those present were actually teaching. It was also found that absenteeism was likely to be low when the proper infrastructure was present in schools, which means that good facilities motivates not only students but the teachers also to attend school diligently.

India adopted a National Policy for Children in 1974, declaring children to be the nation’s most precious asset. The child population of a country are its human resources of the future and the social, economic and cultural growth development of any society or community depends totally on what we can offer to that child by means of food and education.

A focus on education, quality improving efforts, accountability of teachers would all help to improve the state of education in the state.

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