December 8, 1995
Illiteracy Problems in Rural Indian Areas "We are bumbling along with this outmodeled system of elementary education, which is a real shame." (Tefft, 12) These are the words of Krishna Kumar, director of the Central Institute of Education in New Delhi, India. Unfortunately Kumars's views are shared with other educators concerning the state of India's deteriorating education system. Illiteracy rates in many third world countries are alarmingly high; nestled in the heart of Asia, India's education program is falling behind other nations. (UNESCO, 2) It is a country where the population will reach one billion people by the next century, while only one-third of them will be able to read. Due to various social and economic problems India's education program continues to be undercut. Of the biggest victims of the educational system are those living in rural areas. The attitudes of the children and teachers also affect the quality of the schools. Allocation of government funds and the conditions of the destitute rural schools contribute to the low quality of education by rural children. While there are many rural area school systems which are operating in poor conditions there is one in particular whose schools outperform most other rural schools and also those located in wealthy areas of India. Consequently, Kerala, a rural state of India remains a puzzle to many educators. Its illiteracy rate does not follow the trend of most rural schools.
Illiteracy Problems in Rural Indian Areas
Many children living in rural areas receive a level of education which is very poor. Overall enrollment in primary and middle schools are very low. Fifty percent of children living in these areas leave school before the fifth grade (Tefft, 12) These children leave school for variety of reasons: some leave because of lack of interest; most leave so that they can work in the fields, where the hours are long and the pay is low. A large percent of the dropouts are females. Forced by their parents, most girls perform chores and tend the family at home. These are some of the reasons why sixty percent of all females in India are illiterate, a figure much higher than those of males. (UNESCO, 25) As these children grow into adults, many are still illiterate by the age of forty. These uneducated adults are also reluctant to send their own children to school because of their failure in the education system. This in turn creates a problem for the next generation.
While the children living in rural areas continue to be deprived of a quality education, part of the reason why is due to their teachers. A large number of teachers refuse to teach in rural areas and those that do are usually underqualified. In recent years the number of qualified teachers. has increased because of increased efforts by the government and private groups to improve the general education and professional training of teachers. (UNESCO, 19). There is more of an emphasis on the training of rural teachers, whose educational backgrounds are generally not as sound as their urban counterparts. Those that refuse to teach in rural areas cite distance and lack of interest by students as problems. Many of the teachers also lack the enthusiasm to teach because of their meager salary - less than one hundred dollars per month. (Tefft, 12) Another obstacle faced by the schools is that obtaining more teachers for rural schools is difficult because of state guidelines that approve of high student-to-teacher ratios. (Barr, 14)
As the lack of teachers creates many obstacles for children in rural schools, another setback is the lack of resources which becomes detrimental to the learning process. Lack of books and other reading materials seem to be a widespread problem. (UNESCO, 2). The use of high-tech devices such as computers is very rare. Another condition of the schools are the inadequate facilities the classes are actually taught in. Some schools are located in warehouses while others in small houses. Many of the rural schools operate without electricity.
While many rural schools search for the proper resources, the distribution of government funds is major hindrance to the educational system. According to a recent study done by the World Bank, thirty percent of the total educational funding goes toward higher educational institutions (Tefft, 12) This is an important issue because the number of students enrolled in these types of institutions represent such a small percent of India's students. Other examples of the government's plans to undermine rural education can be found in the Constitution of India. In the Constitution it stated that the primary education of rural area children was a low priority in budget outlays. (Watson, 81)
Though rural children continue to be deprived of a formal education, the education system of Kerala, India is an exception. Located in the southern peninsula of the country, Kerala's illiteracy rates are lower than most other rural areas in India. (Wallich, 37) Because of its immense population of twenty nine million and high unemployment rate, a large number of its inhabitants are forced to work outside of Kerala. Many of the people of Kerala who work in a different country send lots of donations back to Kerala. These people believe that it is responsibility of them to donate back to their hometown. It is these donations which have funded many of the programs that make Kerala stand out from other rural states. Coupled with the government and private donations the education system has been able to benefit. More schools are being built and more teachers are willing to work there. (Wallich, 37) The unusually low illiteracy rate is attributed to the planned education programs. Although its economy is only growing slowly and unemployment rate is high, its illiteracy rates, mortality rates and life expectancy are comparable to richer regions of the country. Other rural areas can learn from Kerala so that its success can be duplicated. Receiving more private donations and government support is essential for those rural areas needing to improve the general lifestyle of its people.
High illiteracy rates in rural parts of India is an area of the Indian education system that cannot be overlooked. Hampered by the government and by other factors the quality of education in rural districts has been quite poor. High dropout rates and low enrollment by the children have contributed to the large illiteracy rate. Kerala, a rural state of India boasts many areas of progress and serves as a model for other rural areas and many of the wealthier parts of India. Without drastic changes by the government and by its citizens, India is well on its way to becoming the world's most illiterate nation.
Prashanth Mekala is a freshman at Carnegie Mellon, in the school of Engineering.
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