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Rural India Deserves Better Schooling

Context:

The recent release of the ‘Annual Status of Education Report’ (ASER) by the NGO Pratham has once again captured the attention of those concerned with education and India’s journey toward becoming a knowledge society.

Relevance:

GS2- Education

Mains Question:

The recently released Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) suggests that despite the Government’s support, the urgency for educational reforms is not uniformly recognised across States. Comment. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

ASER on School Education in India:

  • The inaugural ASER report emerged in 2005 with the anticipation of not only prompting changes in the education system but also sparking a collective reflection on the state of India as a whole.
  • At that time, the credibility and public acceptance of government schools were already quite low. Those with the financial means made considerable efforts to enroll their children in private schools.
  • The decline in the reputation of government schools has persisted, evident in the increasing demand for admission to preschool classes in private schools in cities and towns.
  • People are willing to pay substantial fees, with the aspiring middle class even willing to cut back on other essential family expenses to ensure their children receive education in reputable schools.
  • While there has been significant progress in school education in India over the years, various concerns have emerged regarding quality, skill acquisition, and the work culture within educational institutions.

ASER on Owning Smartphones:

  • One notable achievement in recent decades has been the social acceptance of educating girls, which has become widespread even in rural India. However, the current report highlights that 43.7% of boys own smartphones, compared to only 19.8% of girls.
  • It is noteworthy that 90% of youngsters have access to smartphones at home. The survey focused on rural children in the 14-18 age group across 28 districts in India, spanning 26 states, with a sample size of 34,745 children.
  • The report sheds light on the quality of the upbringing, as reflected in the percentages of children expressing their career aspirations.

ASER on Occupation Preferences:

  • It is concerning that 21% could not articulate their future career preferences. Among those who did respond, 13% expressed a desire for a job in the police force, and 11.4% aspired to become teachers.
  • Agriculture-related occupations are aspired to by only 1.4%! It can be reasonably asserted, based on other studies and interactions, that in rural areas, the prospect of becoming a teacher is still perceived as an attainable goal by parents and family members.
  • Pursuing a career in the police force, it should be noted, is now viewed with suspicion due to the widely prevalent public perception that it demands significant resources and connections.
  • Even in the case of teaching jobs, perceptions are evolving rapidly. There is no certainty regarding regular recruitment or consistent hiring.
  • Even if one secures a position as a Shiksha-karmi or an honorarium-paid teacher with another fancy title, the uncertainty persists for an extended period with no assurance of transitioning into the regular pay scale and grade.

Other Relevant Findings:

  • A universally shared expectation is that the education system should become more compassionate, empathetic, transparent, responsive, and supportive to the learner.
  • The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP-2020) has been announced and is now in its fourth year of implementation. It is anticipated that the proposed innovations and changes will become visible soon.
  • However, it must be acknowledged that improvements in the quality of school education, particularly in rural schools, largely hinge on the priority given by state governments.
  • While the central government promptly supports states in educational reforms through various means, including academic and professional assistance and financial contributions for infrastructure enhancement, education is not receiving sufficient priority in several states.
  • This is particularly evident in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where educational reforms are urgently needed.
  • Upon reviewing the ASER report, one can deduce the critical importance of nationwide discussions on ensuring that every child receives a high-quality education and develops essential skills, including the ability to acquire new ones throughout their active professional life.
  • It is imperative that everyone recognizes the paramount role of teachers and schools in shaping a new India, a recognition that is currently inconsistent.

Conclusion:

The ASER report should serve as inspiration for individuals and institutions to expedite accurate and effective reforms. The neglect of practical work in schools, vocational training centers, including polytechnics and engineering colleges, is a cause for concern. The closure of numerous engineering and management institutions has highlighted this issue, but tangible improvements at the grassroots level are not yet evident. Such a situation is unacceptable in a dynamic and responsive system.


February 2024
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