Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Roadmap for strengthening the role of education in rural empowerment



Darwin once remarked that in this world its survival of the fittest. Many would like to disagree to this comment yet it has defined the way man has survived in the world today. And the only thing that has separated man today from other animals making it the prime species is the power of knowledge. And this knowledge disseminated through education has been the source of power for man for centuries now. The role of education in the lives of modern man perhaps cannot be defined to one particular arena. From health to food education has become the primary tool of change. Education itself has been able to absolve itself from the binary discourse of good and bad and has stood out for itself.

Today 60% of the Indian population lives in its villages. By 2050 almost 50% people would still be residing in the villages. Thus it becomes imperative to empower the rural population of this nation. According to the latest census the literacy levels in villages have shown a marked increase. Yet it remains much below the desired national level. Apart from this “empowering education” like vocational training etc which would help in employment generation is still low Thus to achieve an equitable just society and an India where the gap between “India” and “Bharat” is bridged education has to be used as a potent and powerful force. The policymakers need to chalk out a comprehensive strategy as to how education can bring about an effective change.

In terms of effective change the first step we must understand is the target sections. Experts have shown around the world that targeted programs work more effectively. The 1990’s Adult Literacy Mission had failed to take off while the recently revamped Shaksar Bharat Mission targeting especially women population has worked wonders. Hence effective stress must be laid on educating the women and children. The ongoing ICDS and MDM programme must be linked with Mother Committees in lines of Tamil Nadu. These Mother Committees can act as the vigilance authority for checking out the effective implementation of schemes. Targeting female education   a rural women literacy mission must be launched in Mission Mode so that the targets are achieved within a stipulated timeframe. This scheme must be linked to the Shakshar Bharat Mission .Children below 3 years can be taken care of in crèches while the mothers devote atleast 3-4 hours a day to education. To achieve this purpose the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche schemes must be further strengthened. Crèches and Day Care centers can be established in the PPP mode which the private players can operate on a BOT basis.

Another area is to widen the definition of education in the realm of the rural population. Today literacy levels merely count some basic arithmetic and reading writing skills. However such skills are not enough to gain meaningful employment. While NREGA has acted as a social security net however much remains to be done in terms of strengthening the capital workforce of the rural population. This can be achieved by linking up vocational educational courses to the general literacy missions. Once basic literacy skills have been achieved the government must strive to empower the rural population with “employable skills’. The NSDC with a target of producing 500 million skilled persons by 2022 must look towards its village population as well. A part of the NSDC plan can be devoted to developing the skills in the villages. The Mega Handloom Clusters declared open by the government must also function as centre’s of training excellence. Established handloom weavers should take time out to educate new budding weavers. Special incentives must be given to women in such handloom craft institutes. The women must be motivated to move from traditional hand operated looms to powerloom which would generate far better productivity. The RUDSETI rural technical training institutes must be further institutionalised. New courses like computer hardware, mobile repairing etc must be added to the existing course framework. Agricultural centres must be set up in each district headquarters and they must be upgraded to function as Indian Agricultural Institutes in the lines of ITI. Such institutes can give basic vocational training in various agricultural practices, mixed farming, horticulture, pisiculture etc. These will go a long way in empowering the rural youth in terms of employable skills.

Another focus area is strengthening the PURA programme. The PURA programme a brainchild of former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam envisaged in bringing the facilities of urban areas to the rural villages. In its formative year it failed to take off however a new version of PURA ,PURA 2.0 has been launched which seeks to remove the anomalies that existed in the previous format. Further changes must be made to PURA 2.0 to ensure that education infrastructure is not left behind while developing the village model. In this case the frontline schools and colleges of urban India can establish rural centre’s of excellence while transmitting education via satellites. The rural CSC(Common Service Centres) can be upgraded to receiving end of virtual classrooms where the village children and youth can take advantage of the education model of urban areas. Such models could be achieved without any major investment and would not require creation of any major infrastructure either. It will merely extend the domain of the existing facilities. Such innovative schemes can be comprehensively addressed by the PURA model.

Thus multilateral steps are needed to widen the scope and impact of education in rural areas. Such innovative ideas will empower the rural population to make choices. Amartya Sen in his seminal work The Idea of justice has argued that true freedom and empowerment comes from giving the population choices .And innovative ideas can indeed give power of choice to the rural population thereby empowering them for good.

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