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regular-article-logo Thursday, 20 June 2024

Urgent lesson: Editorial on why education policy should be geared to the needs of rural children

Are governmental policies adequately attentive to the many-sided needs of children from diverse backgrounds, languages — even within a state — and different economic strata?

The Editorial Board Published 20.01.24, 06:57 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo.

High enrolment in schools at the initial stage is truly reassuring. But the question brought up by the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2023 relates to what these children are being taught. This report, titled “Beyond Basics”, studied 34,745 14-18 year-old children in 28 districts of 26 states. The report showed that almost half the rural children studied had not gone beyond basics, since over 40% of 14-year-olds and above cannot read an English sentence correctly. Even more alarming, around 25% of them struggle to read a Class 2 level text in their regional language. Foundational numerical skills are far from ideal too. Simple division, taught in classes 3 and 4, eludes more than half the students. Clearly, achievement in learning the basics has not improved in a decade, and this poses an acute danger for students who are poised to enter a highly literate and digitally oriented world as adult citizens.

The responsibility for this overall pattern, not for one year but for 10, must be laid squarely at the door of the government, or governments. How does the government understand education? Are governmental policies adequately attentive to the many-sided needs of children from diverse backgrounds, languages — even within a state — and different economic strata? What is so wrong with the recruitment of teachers and their training that they are unable to reach their students? If a 14-18 year-old cannot calculate the number of hours of sleep after being given the times of going to sleep and waking up, or cannot measure an object on a scale if it is not placed at the baseline, it cannot be his or her fault. Some help could have come from the use of digital devices — another aspect of the survey — although boys appear to have greater access to these than girls. But very few know about safety applications on these, or use search machines and learning programmes. In any case, basic language skills would be required to gain from this resource.

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It is hardly surprising that under these circumstances, the majority of children from rural areas opt for humanities subjects, perceived as ‘easier’ than science ones. Among the small number who choose STEM subjects, girls are a marked minority. In a society where STEM subjects are highly prized and hold out promises of well-paid jobs, this could divide rural students from urban ones. A thorough training in the foundational skills could have brought talents to the fore that would have made science subjects accessible, even though learning engineering or technology may need heavy funding. Dreaming is difficult in the situation charted by the report. So it is not surprising that the survey found most rural children vague in their aspirations, unsure of the kind of work they want or why they would want it, and unable to identify role models. High enrolment should mean the spread of education, not another, if yet invisible, division.

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