The new education policy 2020 lays emphasis on the development of the creative potential of each individual. “It is based on the principle that education must develop not only cognitive capacities – both the foundational capacities of literacy and numeracy and higher-order cognitive capacities such as critical thinking and problem solving – but also social, ethical and emotional capacities and dispositions.”
To impart such quality education, various changes have been made and many ways suggested in the new policy. However, the new education policy has not given any significance to rural education. Public education in rural areas continues to grow weaker. Do the policymakers not consider the rural people worthy of quality education? Is it a conspiracy of the rich to let the poor be poor, so they are forced to provide labour for the rich?
I was a victim of the government school system in Kalipora, my native area in Kashmir. The school has no alumni to be proud of, barring a few who have government jobs in low clerical positions. Our school only produced a bunch of idiots every year who worked as labourers in and around our village. I blame the system for not appointing good teachers, the reason why Class 8 students were unable to do simple arithmetic and read their textbooks. It is the story of every rural government school in Kashmir that has received no attention from the authorities for decades. It hurts me to speak of my school in this way. I am a proud Aligarhian (AMU alumnus) and I am a proud Jamia alumnus, but I would never want to attach myself with the village school because it has contributed absolutely nothing to my education. Instead, it destroyed the careers of thousands of students and continues to do no good.
School is a place where the foundation for education is laid, the basics of knowledge are taught, and where the learning process begins, but not in our school. I consider school education particularly up to Class 10 as a pillar for higher education but children studying here are provided with such weak education that their chances of higher education are always shaking. When I was a student here, the school had only primary-level education. About 60 students were enrolled, all from Kalipora, and only one teacher, who had studied up to higher secondary only, was posted here. The teacher would come once or twice a week, sometimes going missing for almost a month depending on the season and weather. When it was rice farming season, he would call the senior students for farming, and the day he was in school pretending to teach (he was never competent) he would idly relax outside in the sunshine. He would even ask his students to massage his legs there.
A ray of hope surfaced among villagers when he was replaced with two new teachers, but again only higher-secondary qualified. They were recruited under Rehbar-e-Taleem scheme when the government was recruiting teachers on wages of Rs 1500 a month from every village. These newly appointed teachers could not even pronounce English words. Their conduct was the same as of the earlier teacher. They would come to school any time they wanted and leave as they wished. They left the school keys with us and asked us to lock the doors at 3:30. We were more like workers than students, being sent to procure tea, sugar and what not for their entertainment. The girls were asked to prepare tea and juice. I still recall the female teacher sitting in the school lounge calling her favourite student to massage her head, during which she would fall asleep.
In the past one-and-a-half decade, quality education continues to elude students in our village. The teachers are the same as before, +2 pass-outs, even though the government has made teacher training and Bachelor’s in Education (BEd) compulsory. Our kids have suffered enough. Like others, they deserve quality education and proper school infrastructure. The teachers appointed under Rehbar-e-Taleem scheme are not eligible for transfer beyond their Halqa panchayat –a small group of villages. Our Halqa consists of Kalipora, Nassoo, Narsingpora and Harkarpora. All these villages fall in socially, economically and educationally backward areas. Almost all teachers appointed in these villages have had no higher education. The government needs to rethink its rules so that better and more qualified teachers are appointed. The New Education Policy itself states: “The teacher must be at the centre of the foundational reforms in the education system. The new education policy must help re-establish teachers at all levels as the most respected and essential members of our society.”
Teachers from cities and urban areas must be transferred to rural schools, as that would expose rural kids to better teachers and quality education. Government’s sole focus on urban education needs to end and rural education must be given priority. Poor infrastructure and lack of quality teaching are the major reasons that discourage students from attending village schools. Such schools are rarely monitored by the authorities. There is also a dearth of teachers in village schools. There is an immediate need to increase the number of teaching staff, besides improving co-curricular activities in village schools.