In India, caste is the single most significant factor that determines the social and economic status of an individual. In the past 70 years of freedom, India has progressed well in several fields – science, technology, economics, and education. However when we look closely at the growth data, we see there are sections of the society who are way behind in education and do not have a sustainable source of income yet. The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes form this group.
The rural India which was dependent on agriculture has been impacted due to small farm size, lack of irrigation, shift in agricultural practices from food to cash crops with overdependence on chemicals and pesticidesand lack of access to favourable credit and markets. Consequently, indebtedness among farmers is on the rise alongside a strong nexus between the local agriculture vendor (grain merchant, pesticide or seed vendor)and the middle-men in the local bazaar who buy these produce and re-sell them with a hefty profit. All these factors have made agriculture an undependable source of income for poor families.As agriculture is not giving them a sustainable livelihood in their villages, they are forced to migrate in distress.
At the same time, these communities have realised the valueof education for their children. Research suggests that rural households spend the most on primary education for their children. However, under circumstances as described above, they have limited access to viable education opportunities. Since seasonal migration has become a regular feature, they have to leave their young children at their village or migrate as a family. In the cities, majority of the children discontinue their studies, either to work and augment family income or because they are unfamiliar with the language / medium of instruction at the place they have migrated. Thosewho do enrol in local government schools achieve limited learning outcomes.
Let us see the status of rural schools. There have been many positive changes due to the Right to education Act. Today all schools claim almost 100% enrolment of children which is correct. However, the teachers have recognized the long spells of absenteeism of children due to work in agriculture seasons, festivals, migration etc. In addition to these factors, the most important problem, which is now recognized by the Government, is the dismal learning outcomes of children in rural schools. In India, there are about 600,000 teacher positions lying vacant. Different state governments are trying alternate approaches such as recruitment of education volunteers but these cadres are not qualified teachers and they do not receive any formal in-service training to bring them up to speed for teaching in classrooms.
There are a large number of single teacher primary schools in rural India where one teacher is expected to teach multiple classes. This becomes a significant factor for the abysmal learning level of primary school children.
When we look at the education of children from the scheduled tribe, the learning barrier in class 1 and 2 is the lack of knowledge of the medium of instruction which is usually different from their mother language. Even though the National Curriculum Framework and various policies emphasize the need for the promotion of such an approach, we find a limited practice in schools. Few progressive states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have started promoting this approach in pilot basis along with few NGOs such as NEG-FIRE and its network of partners.
In order to promote quality education for children from scheduled caste and tribes, here are few suggestions:
There is need to promote sustainable livelihoods among the scheduled caste and tribes in rural area while ensuring that the rural school system is further strengthened to focus on teaching-learning methodologies. It is important that the NGOs and social change agents recognize this inter-dependency factor while designing their intervention and ensure proper alignment with the Government programs.
The Government while trying to fill the teacher vacancy needs to consider appropriate teaching-learning processes such as ‘Multi-grade, multi-level’ teaching methodologies to improve learning outcomes of children in primary schools.
Ensuring these measures will eventually lead to the transformation we wish to witness – a better tomorrow for our children from the marginalized communities.