In India, education has the greatest potential to increase opportunities for minority classes and enable them to break the generational cycle of deprivation, by providing for social mobility. The equality of educational opportunities can only be met with geographical, economic, and social access of education to all children. It is heartening that the education policies of the Governments are attempting to make education an inclusive right for all, but there are still many issues faced in the rural areas of the country.
The Government of Maharashtra has always made the development of primary education a priority, almost since its very inception. As per the 2011 consensus, the literacy rate in the State is 82.34%, with an average rate of 77.01% in rural areas, as opposed to 88.69% in urban regions. Besides this, Maharashtra has also received a Level III score in the Performance Grading Index (PGI) on School Education in 2019-20. The highest achievable score is Level I, and the lowest is Level X. These scores are obtained by the States and Union Territories based on their performance in 70 different parameters. Maharashtra has improved between 5-10% since the PGI score in 2018-19. It’s clear that Maharashtra seems to be doing well in education.
As one of the leading economies of India, Maharashtra’s performance in education, health, and development are higher than the national average. However, when considering the inter-district performance in the state, several inadequacies can be observed. In a 2017 study titled “Reviewing the Status of Education in Tribal Districts of Maharashtra”, commissioned by the UNICEF, and undertaken by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS), Bangalore, it was found that –
Compared to the national average, Maharashtra has a higher literacy rate for both the tribal and non-tribal population.
Within the state, however, only half the tribal population is literate, suggesting that locational factors play an important role.
The state was also found to have higher schooling rates at all levels when compared to the national average, but even here, a large rural-urban gap exists.
The responsibility of primary education in the rural areas of Maharashtra falls to the Zilla Parishads. Students from rural regions generally belong to economically backward classes and, therefore, have no option but to attend Government run schools. These schools usually teach in the vernacular language and, consequently, the students attain a different level of academic knowledge compared to the students studying in schools with national or international curriculums.
Palghar is an agricultural district in Maharashtra and has several tribal talukas. Drawing from various studies and reports, the following are the educational issues found in the Palghar district –
School Dropouts: Over 90% of the families in Palghar are seasonal migrants, and over 20% of such families take their children with them when they leave. According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Palghar stands second out of the five districts in Maharashtra with the highest dropout rates. In a 2018 study titled “School Dropout: An Enquiry in the Rural Areas of Palghar Taluka”, several inter-related social, economic, and cultural factors were found to affect school dropout. These include –
Financial Constraints: Parents with lower socio-economic status face issues with bearing the expenses of their children’s education. In that study, it was found that almost 100% of the students who dropped out were in families earning a yearly income below one lakh.
Gender: It was found that when parents had to decide which of their children gets more education due to the financial constraints, the male children are given a higher priority than female children.
Other reasons include household work, lack of parental guidance in studies, failure in examinations, lack of time for study, punishment by teachers, ill-health, lack of interest in studies, and lack of parental interest in continuation of studies.
Physical Access to the Schools: Palghar has a diverse geography, and some hill or forest areas are not easily accessible by either public or private transport, especially during the monsoon seasons. This prevents both teachers and students from reaching school. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has made this situation worse. In an article titled “Maharashtra: Students Travel Over 10 km to Reach School in Palghar's Tribal Villages”, it was found that several students do not have the ability to pay for transportation, and thus walk for several hours to reach school. Although there exists a scheme under which female students can travel in the public bus for free to reach school, the bus services have not yet started due to the pandemic. Moreover, many of the villages are not even connected to the main roads, making it difficult for the girls to use the public transport anyway.
Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic: Online education seems to have widened the gap between privileged and underprivileged children, especially in education. Not all students are able to attend online classes at all. In Palghar, 37% of the population is comprised of the Adivasis, and this number crosses 90% in several talukas. In the forested areas, there is no internet connectivity at all, so even if a family might be able to afford a device, the students would still not be able to attend the classes. Another worrying issue is that such students have started working instead to support their families, leading to an increase in child labor and a fear that they would not return to school after this.
Multiple studies have been conducted to find out and fix the factors responsible for the deprivation of the tribal communities in Maharashtra. The enrollment ratios and overall dropout rates for the SC/ST population is relatively higher than that of the general population. However, there are ways to overcome these issues, such as –
Increasing Budgetary Provisions: The budget allocation for education is lower than expected. Besides, even the funds allocated were not fully spent. In addition to increasing the budget, it is also required that the spending of the budget be done in an efficient manner.
Updating Policies: The policy makers should be focusing their attention on the disparities in education and attempting to frame policies in a way that is beneficial to all sections of the population to achieve desired results.
Restricting Drop-Out Rates: Government policies can only work to a certain extent, but even there, the execution must be done effectively. One solution could be to involve the principal and the teachers. Providing the staff adequate training would, in turn, help them provide the students with incentives to attend the school.
Overcoming the Issues of the Pandemic: Several teachers at the Zilla Parishad schools have begun to visit students at home, which is a heartening effort. They send files of the syllabus and coursework to those students who do happen to have a phone with internet, but for the rest, the teachers attempt to meet every student at least once a week by going door-to-door. This is, however, only a temporary solution, and certainly has its own drawbacks. It is difficult for the teachers themselves to travel so much, and meeting teachers only once a week would still not be enough for these students to catch up to their peers who can attend classes every day. The government needs to step in with the first two points mentioned above. Besides this, a plan has already been made, that once physical classes are allowed with a limited number of students, the schools will call only those students who have been unable to join online classes, while also continuing those online classes for the others.
Historically, public support for education has been low in India. There is also a widespread issue of underutilization of funds, and deficiencies in the framing and execution of the policies. It is up to the Central and state Governments and the public to realize the important of education and work towards achieving equal opportunities of education for everyone, regardless of class, gender, and status.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.