IntroductionDoing something new and doing it so differently from others is quite possible, just about anywhere. In the rural areas of India, such innovations need to be spearheaded by highly motivated individuals. This is key to the success of any initiative that seeks to bring the rural educational institutions on par with their urban counterparts. Innovation will essentially relate to a) Teaching methods b) Involvement of significant others c) Making internet resources available in local languages d) Enabling motivation of teachers and e) Constant learning from peer success stories.
Teaching methodsAfter months of lockdown, and total online classes in schools, it is gratifying to note that even rural schools in many parts of the country are trying their best to catch up. One reads in the newspapers about some innovation or the other. However, since I do support some initiatives, here is one such innovation in a rural school in the backward Perambalur district of Tamil Nadu. The concerned teacher had come over to Chennai on personal work. She showed me all visuals of whatever had happened in the past two years, in the pre-COVID period.
This Government school has education up to the twelfth standard. It has received support from some wealthy Alumni who are now settled in Australia, Singapore, and the USA. Almost single-handedly, this eighth standard teacher had introduced many innovations. In the fifth and sixth standard, with the active involvement of the peer teachers, she had tried out innovations similar to that of the playschool method. The nearest railway station is some forty kilometres away. Yet, the students were taken by bus to that station, made to interact with the station master, and even see a couple of goods trains pass by.
When she got back to school, the fifth and sixth standard students were made to narrate, only in Tamil, all that they saw. The most imaginative of them were made to draw the picture of the goods train on the chart paper. The teacher would then go on to explain how the food grains, wheat, etc were transported by the goods trains. Since it was a rural background, it was easy for the students to understand the basics. A Government doctor in the same district was invited to talk about all water-borne diseases and the entire session was put on video. None of these is prescribed in the State Government syllabus. However, there is some mention of the diseases in the regular syllabus, at some point or the other. This is exactly what the teacher refers to as " associative learning". She did not stop there. Volunteers who had done commendable work through organic farming were all followers of the late Namvazhwar, a notable environmentalist who is quite famous throughout Tamil Nadu.
She spotted them from somewhere and made them explain all the basics. The students were then encouraged to plant many trees ( eighth standard and above), in their village. This sort of teaching where the students actually experience something and then learn, is reportedly the staple diet of most playschools, at least up to standard five. We need to encourage all such innovative methods. The teacher said the school teachers found it very difficult to conduct online classes, because of a lack of resources and the normally will be restored only after June 2021.
At the Indo-American college at Tiruvannamalai, a predominantly agricultural town, but now fully developed as a good trading centre, the teachers are supporting an external agency to provide the vital personality development efforts for all students. The cumulative record of such efforts is now seen -- the placement record of this semi-urban college is quite good. Though this college is an art and science college, it is one of the leading colleges of Tiruvalluvar University.
Involvement of significant othersWhether it is a school or a college, all that matters is the vital involvement of the local population. The significant others like opinion leaders, the panchayat leader, the leaders of the particular community who are powerful in the local area, and so on, is essential. A dramatic improvement in these areas has been periodically reported from the three states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. However, a lot more needs to happen in the Hindi-speaking areas, where the rural areas are still very much backwards and the industrial culture, still underdeveloped.
To give a specific example, schools in and around Coimbatore city that aim to have the same exposure as those of the Chennai schools, are now hiring city-based teachers and providing all facilities like semi-furnished accommodation, free food, etc, in the residential schools. These are not the elite schools. They also do some service to the rural population, by providing free or nominal cost education. Such initiatives, if multiplied all over, can make a vital difference in breaking the urban-rural divide.
Making internet resources available in local languagesOne is told that in several hundreds of villages near Hyderabad and Vishakapatnam, in Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, the internet facilities in Telugu is so comprehensive. The students get vital exposure through the internet and this makes quite a bit of difference. It is also reported that further reading of texts in English, becomes that much easier. Of course, all this information has been obtained from friends who have reported such practices. The local Telugu newspapers also seem to publish news items on such improvements. We need to encourage all such initiatives. In Tamil Nadu, YouTube is already doing a great service. There are thousands of rural area graduates who land in Chennai and then adapt themselves to the metro city atmosphere, through a process of socialization.
Enabling the motivation of teachersThe single-minded devotion of some Government teachers is being mentioned in the press. Here is one Government teacher in some school in Tamil Nadu, who has spent over a lakh of rupees from her funds to purchase and donate smart phones to her students, so that they can easily attend the online classes. Though such instances are rare, such initiatives should be supplemented through community efforts. It is once again gratifying to note several good stories of many teachers who are self-motivated and want to do their best in the rural areas. As already mentioned, rural residential schools are already doing a good job in this regard. We need school and college Managements to continuously engage the teachers and motivate them. When they rally around a purpose, they will easily reciprocate.
Constant learning from peer success storiesNothing happens in a vacuum. Notable success stories of teachers who do everything differently to bridge the urban-rural divide should not only be encouraged, the local traders and other rich people should donate liberally to give them all encouragement and motivate them. We have to travel a lot more distance to realize the goal of every rural area school or college is as good as their city counterparts.
The local Universities and the Government departments should now have a big wake up call and do something that has not been done before. They should make teachers accountable for results after learning from the success stories. Once this is done, everything else will follow.
ConclusionOnly a basic outline, with some examples from known and verified sources, has been provided as a sort of template, to bridge the urban-rural divide. Perhaps when we can collect a lot of published data and draw some lessons from them, there will more viable and durable action in this regard in the years to come. I shall endeavour to write on such learning from successful experiences, that have been published in the press, in the months to come.