It is said that 65% of the population of India live in rural areas. The major concern across of educators in India is to make the present generation learners future-ready and achieving universal education. Relatively, India is young as a nation with around 28 million youth population being added every year. More than 50% of its population is below the age of 25 and more than 65% are aged below 35. In 2020, the average age of an Indian is expected to be 29 years, while it will be 37 for China and 48 for Japan.
After getting selected into the India Fellow Social Leadership Program, I got placed with Kshamtalaya Foundation. It is a non-profit organisation founded to support school children in disadvantaged settings so that they develop into socially and economically active young adults. We intervene to improve school enrolment, attendance, academic outcomes and life prospects for the students in rural and marginalized settings. We want to actualize an India in which children successfully make a transition from compulsory school education to life afterwards and go on to live happy and productive lives. Here, I am working with children to better the education quality through the interactive medium of art, music, and play. Also, I will be using my knowledge and understanding of nutrition for curriculum building and health interventions around the same and to ensure better health practices.
From being a public health nutritionist, to get into the education sector has been a whole new experience for me in the past 3 months.
Currently, I am working in village Bhoola which comes under Sirohi district. Sirohi is a city in southern Rajasthan state in western India. Literacy rate in rural areas of Sirohi district is 48.95 % as per census data 2011. Gender wise, male and female literacy stood at 64.62 and 32.66 percent respectively. As per the Census 2011, the literacy rate of Bhoola is 19.9%. Thus Bhoola village has lower literacy rate compared to 46% of Sirohi district. The male literacy rate is 31.06% and the female literacy rate is 8.41% in Bhoola.
As I started working in this school, the initial weeks were spent in relationship building with the school staff and children. The major observation which I made was that the children in the school do not dare to speak at all in front of their teachers, neither have they tried to raise their eyes nor they make any sort of eye contact when someone asks them about anything. To break this barrier, I spent my initial weeks in rapport building with children by playing games, showing motivational short movies, spending Sundays, listening to their personal stories and sharing my experiences. Firstly, there was a lot of apprehension from children’s side, and it’s obvious, why wouldn’t it be there? Has anyone tried to ask them about their likes and dislikes, what do they like to eat, what are their hobbies, what do they like to play? Is everything going fine with you? The answer is no!
One day while sitting in the class, Naresh*, a student from 9th standard came up to me in front of the whole class and said, ma’am, I want to say something. When asked, he complains about 2-3 guys of the class who in his absence, used to draw pictures of male genitals in his notebooks. He didn’t know who exactly did it but was worried about getting beaten up the class teacher. Being a sensitive topic, I handled this topic very calmly, and at the end asked them that whosoever did this shall confront honestly and to my surprise 2 of the boys confronted and apologized for their actions. In the middle of the conversation, the girls of the class opened up and complained that such incidents have happened with them also, as some guys used to leave paper chits with such drawings in our school bags.
What made these children confide about this incident to me? Is it because of the bond I share and trust I have gained with these children?
On the same day, I asked teachers if they knew about this incident? To this, they disagreed. I expressed them, that, the teachers should be closely related with their children in school so as to have a stronger relationship and greater outcomes in terms of learning in class. The teachers defended themselves by saying that, “Ye pyaar se nahi sudharte madam, zyaada pyaar se baat karte rahoge, to sir pe chad ke naachenge, in logon ko dande ki hi bhasha bas samajh aati hai, chahe wo padhai ho ya anushasan ke liye.” (these children do not understand things with love, if you’ll talk politely with love, these children will dance over your head in few days, they only understand the language of punishment, be it while teaching or to maintain discipline).
In India, there used to be a very pious guru-shishya culture where the guru or teacher used to transmit spiritual, Vedic, moral as well as academic teachings to his students. The word guru itself means a person who can enlighten the individual stuck in darkness (gu means darkness and Ru mean light). During those times, the objective was to transform a child with a blank mind into a knowledgeable mind, balanced personality with high moral values. In return, students used to help gurus in their household work and the one who could afford it used to pay money as gurudakshina. This kind of mutual relationship was shared between the teachers and the students. In such a relationship, everything was left on the shoulders of an able guru who used to shape the future of his disciples or students.
Nowadays children spend 6-7 hours in a whole day with their teachers and in this time, a teacher apart from only teaching the subjects is a person who sets good values that are imbibed by the children. The initial years of a child are very crucial, as this is the time, a child learns about himself, others and the whole world around them. But today’s’ scenario is no longer the same. It is completely different. The parents and teachers consequently pass on their fears to the child.
After being paid with good salaries, teachers are not motivated to teach children. They do not believe in trying new methods to teach children. Most of the teachers are in hurry to get a transfer from a school of the tribal village to a well-established school, some are sitting in the class for the sake of their duty and then there are few who are not regular in school.
During a recent community visit, when I talked about the importance of education and sending their children to school, the response from parents seemed like they have a fear that if their children will keep on going to school, who’ll look after the work in the farms or who’ll support them while doing the labour work. This is the reason, why a lot of children miss our regularly and in the end dropout from the school, as they miss out a lot of subject in the meanwhile and are not able to cope up, and ultimately get thrashed by the school teachers. This creates a lot of fear, pressure and anxiety in a child, as to whom to question, ‘What to do exactly?!’
The main problem India now faces is that all the pedagogical innovations are fit to improve the quality of urban education while the rural learners and their education remain largely neglected. With 65% of the population residing in rural India, education here truly deserves much more attention, especially when it is plagued with so many problems – a dearth of teachers, teacher absenteeism and poor quality of teachers. Children in urban areas might be seen scoring better grades than children from rural villages, but it is not the calibre which has affected their performance, but the lack of resources and opportunities they have received.
In this school, I have seen children from other standards, which are so eager to learn that they have copied everything and tried to learn what I have taught to the students of 8th and 9th class. Teachers and parents should understand that every child is different, so should be the method of nurturing each of them.
I still remember that day, entering a room with damp walls, no electricity and furniture, no privileges at all and then there are those eyes … you see children who are eager to learn something new and that smile on their faces after the accomplishment. At that very moment, I realized that coming to this journey to have a grassroots level experience, one makes a romanticized notion of how things will be so easy to achieve our goals and maybe at some point even I felt like so. But working with these children every day has gotten my determination to work for them stronger.