Landmark survey tracks decade of changes in India’s rural schools
“… if he studies, he won’t have to do daily wage labour… he can get a small job or do some work somewhere. He can read and understand for himself…”
“… education is essential to make a living, to have respect in society, and to be joined with those who are making progress.”
In recent decades, the Indian government launched a number of policies and programs to improve elementary education and access to it. Among them, a National Policy on Education in 1986 was followed by Operation Blackboard to improve facilities. The 42-district District Primary Education Programme of 1994, aimed at universalizing primary education, had spread to 272 districts in 18 states by 2000. All of India was targeted by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan program, launched in 2002 to provide universal primary education through community ownership of the school system.
The bad news is that just as much has not improved. Despite a massive recruitment of teachers, the teacher-pupil ratio is still high. And, notes the report, as in 1996, many schools are failing to deliver education: “close to half the schools did not have a single teacher teaching” at the time of the team’s unannounced visit, say the authors. “Some teachers were absent, others were found to be sipping tea, knitting, or whiling away time simply chatting.” And “even in schools where teaching was going on, children were getting a raw deal,” says the report. “Mindless rote learning still dominates the classroom.”
- more than half the schools lacked a head teacher
- 19% percent of schools had only one teacher for all classes
- nearly 40% of teachers were “contract teachers” with little training or experience
- school enrolment does not mean attendance: only 66% of primary school students were marked present. Actual attendance was even lower.
The efforts continue
Nevertheless, the authors conclude that “the ‘good news section’ is perhaps more substantial than one might have predicted in 1996 at the time of the completion of the PROBE report.” And while there are no instant fixes to the problems that persist, they point to the 2009 Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act as “a tool that can be used in various ways to bring about further change.”
And there is a model, they say, in Himachal Pradesh, where a “schooling revolution” has taken place. The authors ascribe that to responsible management of the traditional schooling system, based on government schools and regular teachers, “with a little help from a relatively egalitarian social context.”
Michelle Hibler is Chief, Writing, Translation, and Publishing of IDRC’s Communications Division.
PROBE revisited, by Anuradha De, Reetika Khera, Meera Samson, and A. K. Shiva Kumar, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011. The PROBE project was a collaborative venture between the Institute of Social Studies Trust, New Delhi and CORD (Collaborative Research and Dissemination), funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).