Jul 26, 2008

India - Teach India,Degree of Difference

Think of 787 million people among whom male literacy is 88% and female literacy is 75%. Then think of another 314 million with only 71% male literacy and 50% female literacy. Looks like two different countries, one much more developed than the other? Actually both are in India — the high literacy rates are in urban areas while the low ones are in rural areas. In 2004-05, one fourth of rural families had no literate member of age 15 and above while in urban areas, there were only 8% such households. Over 82% of urban people are literate compared to just 61% in rural areas — a daunting gap of over 21 percentage points. Consider the fact that it took 20 years to raise the national literacy rate by 22 percentage points, from 43% in 1981 to 65% in 2001. One can only imagine how long it will take to bridge the rural-urban divide. While more than half of urban literates have studied beyond class VIII, for 70% rural literates middle school is the end of the road. Only 4% of rural literates have a college degree and only 1% have formal technical education compared to 18% graduates and 5% technically qualified persons in urban literates. It is not as if there are no schools in rural areas. In 2005, India had 10.2 lakh primary and middle schools of which, 9 lakh were in rural and 1.2 lakh in the urban areas. As a result, attendance rates in rural primary schools have increased from 69% in 2000 to 80% in 2005, moving closer to the urban attendance rate of 89%. But this heart-warming story ends at the primary stage. By the higher secondary stage, attendance drops to 40% and dips further to a meagre 8% for college level, in rural areas, while in the urban areas nearly 58% students were attending higher secondary schools and around 20% were in college. For every stage of education the gap keeps widening. In the primary stage (age group 5 to 14 years) the dropout rate is 4.4% for rural and 3.7% for urban India. But by the higher secondary stage, 42% rural students of 15-19 years age group drop out compared to 34% urban students of the same age group. Poor infrastructure, which plagues rural as well as urban schools, is a more acute problem in rural areas and this remains a major obstacle in bridging the divide. Moreover, in rural areas government-run schools are often the only option. Not too many private schools exist as is the case in urban areas where many people, even the poor, opt to send their children to the mushrooming private schools. This makes it all the more imperative that government-run schools in rural India have adequate infrastructure. A school with merely one classroom and a single instructor teaching every student from class one to five may sound bizarre, but more than one lakh schools in rural India have only one classroom and 1.3 lakh schools are run by a single teacher. Another 87,000 schools don't even have a single classroom. More than 6.1 lakh rural schools have three or fewer classrooms compared to 43,000 similar urban schools. Nearly 80% rural schools don't have electricity and only 7% have computers compared to 68% urban schools with electricity and 26.41% with computers. Nearly 5 lakh schools in rural India don't have a regular headmaster and teachers and 7.3 lakh schools have five or fewer teachers. Apart from the fact that schools are already suffering from a shortage of teachers, nearly 20% of them are also involved in non-teaching assignments. Although the average number of instructional days are higher in rural schools as they have 209 working days compared to 201 working days in cities, students of different classes study in the same class and the data for class-wise instructional days is not available.

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