An insight into why our children in rural government schools are performing poorly

By Dr. Rajugopal Gubbi and Prabha Mysore

We at Suvidya Foundation have been working with rural government primary schools since 2013 and visit schools on a daily basis. The general observation has been that the children in rural schools perform way below par. Every year we hope that our observation is limited to the rural schools that we visit. But unfortunately, time and again, the Annual Status of Education Report(ASER) about rural schools across India has validated our observation.

Before we delve into the causes, let us take a look at some vital statistics from the ASER 2018 to convince ourselves that children studying in our rural government schools are indeed performing poorly.

  1. Just 44.2% of children in rural government schools in grade 5 can read grade 2 level local language text.
  2. About 69% of children in rural government schools in grade 8 can read grade 2 level local language text.
  3. An abysmal 22.7% children in rural government schools in grade 5 can do division.
  4. About 40% of children in grade 8 can do division.

By no stretch of imagination can the above figures be projected as acceptable performance. So, what are the reasons for this poor performance? In this edition of our blog series we present what we at Suvidya Foundation think as the key factors affecting the performance of the children in rural government schools.

Lack of trained teachers

Indisputably, the single largest issue that is plaguing our Primary Education is a severe lack of trained teachers. There are just not enough trained teachers to cater to all our rural government schools. This problem is not likely to go away anytime soon either, owing to a lack of good teacher training institutes. The more remote the school is the worse the scarcity becomes. At the moment, there are a good number of single teacher schools, especially, lower primary schools. Among the myriad duties thrust upon them including the purchase of grocery for the midday meal, getting the LPG refill, reviewing and signing various applications brought in by the people of the village, conducting census for the government and so on, if teaching the children assumes a lower priority, who can blame these teachers? And again, where is the time to catch up with new teaching methods or renewed syllabi unless the teachers take the initiative after school hours or during vacations?

Lack of quality infrastructure

The next big issue is the lack of quality infrastructure in our rural schools. Thanks to the efforts of the government and that of many NGOs (helped by the CSR policy) the number of schools with proper buildings, school supplies, water and sanitation is increasing. Still, the number of schools with continuous availability of electricity, adequate number of computers, internet connectivity etc., is far too few. In some schools the infrastructure that has been put in place has been rendered useless due to lack of proper maintenance. Consequently, the rural children are denied the kind of technology intervention that urban children are benefiting from these days. A few motivated teachers are using their smart phones in class to give children whatever little exposure they can using the freely downloadable content available on the internet. However, they are severely hindered by the lack of local language curricular and co-curricular content available. Also, small mobile screens are not conducive to learning in classrooms, especially when the whole class has to look at just one small screen.

Lack of free educational material in local languages

Most of the material available online is in English and hence its effectiveness is limited by the ability of the teacher who interprets it for the children. Hence, the impact from such content need not always be effective. The precious little content that is available in local languages is mostly ad hoc, being put together as a hobby by some good citizen. Consequently, it cannot be used to teach primary school children in a methodical fashion. Hence there is a dire necessity to build content in local language, specially tailored for rural government schools, in an organized manner.

Lack of desire among parents to send their children to government schools

Owing to the issues described so far, parents in the rural area are naturally not inclined to send their children to government schools. In the recent past, alternatives in the form of second and third tier private schools have sprung up at a decent pace. Parents who can afford to send their children to these schools are not thinking twice about it. Thus the enrolment in government schools has rapidly declined and is largely confined to children from the poorest of families. This has resulted in a vicious cycle of closure of many schools, reduction in the number of teachers in many others, declining motivation among the remaining teachers, deteriorating infrastructure and a general state of hopelessness pervading the education department over the future of government schools. All these in turn are generously contributing to further reduction in the enrolment.

As a natural consequence of all these issues, the reading , writing and basic arithmetic skills among our rural primary school children is deteriorating at an alarming rate with each passing year.

Read about Technology for rural schools in our next blog.