“Education should be that which imparts the light of culture through word, thought, action and perspective.”
Most education in India’s small villages takes place in a local government primary school where children between the ages of five and ten attend classes from the 1st to 5th standard. There is one primary school in every village and often just one teacher for the entire group of children. With today’s education system, where standardised curriculums and centralised examinations are definitive, such a setup puts rural children at a great disadvantage.
Many constraints such as a lack of teachers as well as an unclear relationship between formal education and day-to-day village life present obstacles to improvement. The Central Government has launched several far-reaching programs to address the shortcomings of the Indian education system, including the Right-To- Education (RTE) Act of 2009, which has taken up the goal of delivering elementary education (1st to 8th standard) to all children between six and fourteen years of age.
Over the last decade, the government has proactively addressed issues of infrastructure, qualified teachers and enrollment, which has lead to significant improvements in the education levels of the rural poor. However, at least as important as enrollment is the continuation of studies. According to the official 2016 government statistics (U-DISE Report), 29% of children drop out nationally before completing their elementary education (1st to 8th standard), at which point they would be considered literate.
For Scheduled Tribes, the same rate is as high as 50%. This is an area of serious concern. While the systemic reforms underway will take a long time to trickle down to the villages, there are several areas where immediate support can be offered to aid the government’s initiatives.
Amrita SeRVe carries out a range of activities to promote education, support the children in their studies, as well as supplement academic learning with value education.
Amrita Tuition Centers
One of the first steps in each new village is to identify a tuition teacher who can conduct daily tuition classes for the local children. The aim of these Amrita Education Centers is not to replace formal education, but rather to supplement the government education already received by the children in the 1st to 8th standard. Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham’s Amrita CREATE manages the tuition centres by providing the teachers with a curriculum, extensive training and materials.
A tablet containing CREATE’s own learning resource platform, RITE – Rural India Tablet enhanced Education, is provided to each teacher and used in the classroom for multimedia demonstrations and adult-literacy classes. Educational games and apps provide interactive learning for the children.
In 2018, the Government of India’s Ministry of Tribal Affairs awarded Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham with the status of ‘Centre of Excellence in Tribal Education’for work done by the M.A. Math and CREATE in the field of tribal education.
Swastha Kanya Saakshar Kanya
In April 2017, the Amrita SeRVe Swastha Kanya Saakshar Kanya, “Healthy Girl, Educated Girl,” campaign was initiated in support of the government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Bathao, “Save the Girl, Educate the Girl” initiative. The government’s program is aimed at ensuring the education and participation of girls, as well as improving the efficiency of welfare services intended for girls. The Amrita SeRVe Swastha Kanya Saakshar Kanya program seeks to support these national efforts by bringing about awareness in rural India on the issues affecting young girls and uniting people in the villages to provide girls with complete education and appropriate healthcare.
Every month, parent-teacher meetings are organised to emphasise the importance of parental support in the children’s studies. This includes sending the children to school and to the tuition centre as well as preparing for a continuation of studies after primary school. The meetings are typically held at the primary school, but can also take place more informally. Our priority is to have a monthly follow-up with the parents and their children.
Dropouts – monitoring, tuition and re-enrolment
Preventing school dropouts is one of the most crucial tasks in the area of education. After the completion of primary school (4th or 5th standard depending on the state), most children are required to enroll in a middle school that is often a few kilometres from their small village. Although admission fees are low and government fee waivers are available, paperwork, deadlines and distance pose significant obstacles to both children and parents. Amrita SeRVe not only encourages a continuation of studies, but also facilitates the process.
Throughout the year, coordinators are vigilant in reaching out to dropouts and helping them reintegrate into the education system. There are various reasons for dropping out. Some children are simply not interested in studying and skip school to go play instead. These children are usually not receiving sufficient encouragement from their parents and relatives to pursue their studies. Another type of dropout are the children who help their parents in the field or with household chores instead of attending school.
Once identified, our staff talk to parents and teachers, help file necessary paperwork and guide them through the re-enrollmentprocess. In some cases, the coordinators and tuition teachers conduct special classes to help the child enter the new class.
According to the 2014 National Sample Survey (NSS), 29% of the rural population in India is illiterate. In Amrita SeRVe villages, that leaves about one third of the population below an 8th standard education, which is recognised as the qualification for an elementary education. It is important to note the vast differences in educational standards from village to village. As such, there are some places, especially tribal settlements, where the rate of illiteracy can even exceed 50%.
To address these deficits, several approaches have been tested for an adult-literacy education. In some places, Amrita SeRVe staff, the village coordinators, health workers and tuition teachers have been teaching smaller groups of adults basic reading and writing skills. The ability to read even a bus sign or a notice board is a great step of empowerment for previously completely illiterate adults.
The inability to read or write has an enormous negative impact on life. Besides severely limiting the variety of jobs that can be taken up, commonly confining illiterates to low-paid manual labour, it also acts as a barrier between government services and the community. Amrita SeRVe has witnessed many cases where illiterate villagers were reluctant to visit the nearby Primary Health Centre (PHC) for free medical services or were unable to apply for health insurance, social security and pensions.
An ‘Each-One-Teach-One’ approach is simultaneously being used as a way to bridge the gap between literates and illiterates. As our own surveys show, there is a mixture of literates and illiterates in all of the villages. Consequently, our coordinators have identified not only illiterates willing to learn, but also literates willing to teach. This empowers the villagers to take matters into their own hands as well as to share and spread the valuable message of the importance of education.