Children are among the most important assets of a nation. However, while they have become the focal point of development and education policy, effective implementation is necessary for the benefits of these policies to reach every child in India.
Child development policies over the last five decades are enshrined in the following documents: Article 45 of the Indian Constitution; National Policy for Children (1979); National Policy on Education (1986/92); Convention on the Rights of the Child (1992); National Nutrition Policy (1998); National Charter for Children (9th Plan) and the recent constitutional amendment that makes elementary education a fundamental right. Despite these policy initiatives and large scale ‘Education-for-all’ projects like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, little breakthrough has been made as far as the contextualisation and improvement in the quality of rural elementary education is concerned. The one positive thing that has happened in the years since independence is that access to primary education has improved tremendously. Today there is a primary school within a kilometre or two of practically every habitation.
Good as that is, in more than 80 per cent of rural schools there is just one teacher handling many classes. This sometimes means that students belonging to different grades are forced not just to sit together but to learn the same thing, irrespective of whether they are too old or too young. Thus, the whole system of rural education is designed to fail. Two other factors that contribute to the low quality of rural primary education are alienation of the local community from the school and inappropriate child care and protection both at home and school.
In view of this, a two-pronged strategy is required to improve the quality of life and education of rural primary children:
- Empowering families and communities to provide adequate care and protection to children;
- Making education quality-oriented by contextualising child development as well as making communities responsible for their schools.
For small rural schools, an integrated child development initiative is required. The rural schools need a non-graded system with appropriate teaching-learning material and a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:30. The community should be made responsible for the management of such schools including supervision of their mid-day meals. It will also help if empowered mothers’ groups are formed for rural schools. These groups can be educated about family life and child care, thus improving the way a child is cared for. Also, the awareness of government health schemes among such mothers will lead to an increase in their participation in the schemes.
The quality of rural schools should be judged by the enhanced academic achievement levels of children, increased participation of girls in education and successful completion of primary education by all enrolled children. There is a need to couple equity with quality. Unless proper attention is paid to the care and education of rural children, the development and progress of the country will remain biased towards urban society.
The author is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Unfolding Learning Potentials, Jaipur. He can be reached at