WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO RURAL EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS IN NORTH EAST INDIA.
- THE OVERALL PICTURE IN INDIA:
India has nearly 300 million kids enrolled in about 1.4 million schools. Almost 70% of the schools are run and managed by government bodies. This fact indicates that India and its education system are in for a major crisis given the circumstances in which 300 million children are being impacted by the COVID 19 Pandemic Lock Down. Leaders, Intellectuals, social workers and policy makers should have to take this matter seriously like any other priorities they are tackling with on a war footing basis. In fact, this is the worst nightmare of a 21st century wherein (if) taken lightly would tremendously affect the progress of a nation for 3 generations. Education is the backbone of a Great Nation, and if education is affected the quality of human development Index (HDI) is automatically affected.
Now, considering the seriousness of this issue, we need to introspect on the important aspect of where India stands to face these humungous challenges. How are we going to deal with this sudden calamities besetting in front of us? Do we have the resources, capabilities? And how quickly could we avert this spiraling crisis?
To start with I would like to start with the government allocation of funds for education in India. The Ministry of Human resource Development (MHRD) which caters to the development of education in India is placed in the lowest category (Category-C) the lowest category in expenditures with restrictions of expenditure within 15% for 2020-21 financial budgets. Given this situation, India will go nowhere to fight this huge crisis brought upon us by COVID 19 Pandemic.
The ministry with its limited resources is planning to develop high Quality ED-tech applications like ‘e-patshala’ using e-resources. This is an attempt to move classroom education to online mode across the states in India. Lately, the whole discourse of discussion and planning by thinkers, educationist, and policy makers are all centered on providing online or digital mode of education as recourse to mitigate the impact caused by this COVID19 lock down on education. However, there has been hardly any discussion surrounding the practical issues of implementation and the socio-economic factors that define the Indian education system.
The 75th report of National Sample Survey Office (NASSO) of 2017-18 gave a grim picture that may hamper the transition of classroom mode to online mode of education in India. It says, the all India percentage of households having internet facilities stands at only 23.8% with rural availability at 14.9% and urban at 42%. The report also further reveals that the percentage of people who can use internet (all India) is 20.1% with rural areas accounting to 13% and urban 37.1%. And only 10.8% of people in India used internet in the last 30 days! This statistics depicts that if we are to use internet as a means to educate the students, majority of the students will be left out.
Another significant challenge on implementation of digital online education system is the responsibility of parents/guardians who have to play a major role in educating their wards. NCERT have come up with progressive guidelines on the methods of teachings to improve the analytical, quantitative and logical reasoning abilities of the students. However the guidelines presume that the parents (core educators at home) are academically fit to understand the concept. But this is not the case in India. Statistics says that 26.1% of population above 15 years is illiterate. 18.9% only attended up to primary schooling. 16.2% each have studied only up to class V and VIII. This shows that 77.4% of Indians are not in having intellectual capacities to teach their children at home. The situation it the rural areas are even worst with 69.6% of rural population being in the category of not literate to primary schooling.
- Nutrition Security to be the Key Priority to Alleviate Poverty in India
- Over 1 Lakh Children did not Get Mid-Day Meal amid lockdown in Uttarakhand
Yet another disturbing fact is the loss of nutrition due to closure of schools. Mid day meal schemes has been providing food and nutrition to about 12 crore children as of 31st march 2019. This is about 60% of the total students enrolled throughout K-12 education. Mid day meals are an important contributing factor for increased enrolment (about30%) in schools across India. This is a very dangerous situation for K-12 institutions across India. The fact of possibly loosing half academic year or full academic year 2020-21 will complicate the matter as students will have difficulties in resuming schooling after a long break.
Loss of employment opportunities and reduction in income is another big challenge. EMIE’s data shows that 11.9 crore people have lost employment/jobs in 2 weeks of COVID19 lock down. As such investment in education will no longer be a priority for those affected households. Hence enrolment in educational institutions may tumble when educational institutions open up post lock down.
- CHALLENGES FACED BY EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS IN NORTH EAST INDIA WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO RURAL EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS:
North Eastern part of India is presented with mostly rugged terrain as a part of the Himalayan mountain ranges continuum. This part of India is besieged with many obstacles ranging from lack of development infrastructure to socio-political unrests. Still the literacy rate is amongst the highest in the states of India. Unlike other parts of India, in the north east states private educational institutions are almost as many as the government run institutions. However, more than 50% of these educational institutions are located in the rural areas. Another disheartening fact is that these educational institutions are not well equipped to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Like what is mentioned in the All India scenario, internet is still not a daily happening for most of the households in rural NE India. Perhaps the percentage of internet users will be much less compared to other states in mainland India. In one of our school experimental study on the activities of the parents/guardians of our school students enrolled in 2019-20 session, we came across a glaring fact that out of the 500 odd parents/guardians studied; only 21% has smart phones. The parents/guardians are mostly classified as wage labourers, small farmers, vegetable vendors and small traders. Since our institution caters to the rural population, we are not able to enforce a changed system of education in their mindset suddenly. In fact the parents and guardians are not in a position to adept to our changing environment till date. Their main priority now is to feed their families with whatever means and ways they could to survive through this lock down. Livelihood is a priority for the poor now as clearly seen from our case study of these parents unless the government is willing to provide with an alternate means.(This opinion and fact pertains to a case study conducted by North Point Hr. secondary School, Khabam Lamkhai, Manipur during March- April 2020).
Another glaring challenge we are facing at this current juncture is sustaining our institution with limited resources. Since we are a private unaided institution, our source of income is mostly through school fees collected from the students. As parents are currently undergoing huge livelihood crisis themselves, we cannot force them to pay fees. This has impacted us a great deal as we are increasingly facing the financial crunch to manage our day to day administration. Hence the longer the lock down the harder our challenge will become.
Counseling and educating the parents and guardians of the students on the changing scenario and also making them understand the importance of letting their ward engage in the activities the teachers instructed them during this lock down period is draining our resource and energy. But we consider these activities as an important achievement even though we are not able to initiate online classes. Our teachers are bravely following COVID protocols and are doing home visits on a regular basis to monitor our student activities at home. We design practical and simple home based study materials for students and monitor their progress through phones and home visits. This way we make the parents understand the seriousness of our commitments to educating them.
Despite all these efforts, the students are still willing to go back to school as early as possible. As during our home visits, most students often ask us when the school will be re-open again. This fact indicates that the students still needs social interactions that are provided by the school environment. Good social interaction is also a very important and integral part of a holistic education system. Without social interaction, children will become stunted in their psycho-social development and may greatly affect their carrier in the future. The perfect platforms for psycho-social development of the students are given in conducive educational institution. Without it man will merely become mechanical object like robots.
This is the same case and scenario in most of the private educational institutes of rural Manipur. In a recent meeting organized by (URSOM) Union of Recognized Schools of Manipur, the above issues are discussed and deliberated upon by all members of the schools. It is evident from this fact that, online education system will still take a good deal of time to be developed (if) government does not come up with some excellent solutions.
Even though I am highlighting with reference to our home state (Manipur) I believe that it will be of similar experience for all rural schools of NE India in particular and for that in all Rural India as well.
- SUGGESTED POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: (WRITER’S OPINION):
It is important that we support the current Lock Down situation in order to contain the spread of COVID19. But it is also equally important to thoroughly analyze the impact of this lock down by the competent authorities and draw up a plan to systematically control the containment process considering the huge crisis brought upon by this lock down to economy, education, industries and livelihoods etc.
Few of my suggestions may be as follows:
- Segregation: The authorities need to segregate the affected areas termed as (Green, Yellow and Red Zones). Those educational institutions which fall under the green zones should be allowed to slowly open up their schools as done in other parts of the countries like Japan, China and Korea. Then the yellow zones will follow the suit with precaution to contain the affected areas only. This action requires immediate intervention, the earlier the better for educational institutions so that the schools/colleges will be able to catch up with the lost days.
- Educational Institution Management: Institutions should judiciously manage their (time and human resources). Classes may be run on 4 hour shifts. Curriculum should be shortened and summarized precisely by retaining the most important ones. Social distancing should be strictly maintained and protocols followed to the letter and spirit.
- School Teachers: They are the frontline warriors in educational scenario. Hence they should be properly encouraged and given incentives. This area could be aided by government for private institutions on a case to case basis.
- Red zone areas: Institutions which falls under red zone areas are the ones which will require maximum help from the government. The government will have to back up their efforts to educate the pillars of the Nation by providing some packages either for online mode or through other creative means.
- Alternative mode of learning: For those areas where internet facilities are not working out, we can use ‘Doordashan’ channel, All India radio and community radio channels to reach them through voice messages.
Principal- North Point Higher Secondary School, Imphal, Manipur
Msw-Master of Social Work- Madras Christian College, Chennai
Pgdm- Post Graduate Diploma in Management- Entrepreneurship Development Institute, (Edi)-Ahmedabad.
Academic Counsellor: Uttaranchal University, Dehradun
Chief Project Manager: Udyogini Madhya Pradesh Projects
Senior Project Coordinator: Action Aid India, Guwahati
Empenelled Academic Counsellor: Ignou, Imphal