To improve education, improve infrastructure

To improve education, improve infrastructure

Representative image

Children are allegorically considered clay that is ready to be shaped. Looking at an ant or at the vast night sky, children absorb information at a remarkable pace. For this reason, schools are fast adopting innovative learning methods to give young minds an in-depth understanding of concepts. 

According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018, the proportion of children (age 6–14) not enrolled in school has fallen from 3% in 2016 to 2.8%. The responsibility for continuing this improvement falls to the pedagogies and scholars who design curriculum to ensure positive outcomes. But other factors come to play when looking for answers on how to further improve these outcomes. One of these factors is related to school infrastructure.

Even though various initiatives under Samagra Shiksha Abhiyaan are essential, the school buildings and related amenities play an essential role in motivating students to attend classes. A few state governments have taken a holistic approach to academic performance, and their results serve as a case study for others to follow on how infrastructure contributes in positive student performance. Till the previous Union Budget, 2019-20, where Rs 94,853.64 crores were allocated for education, out of which Rs 56, 536.63 crores were dedicated to schools. The rest was assigned for teacher’s training, higher education, research, and an initiative ‘Study in India’ for overseas students. It failed to make space for the development and maintenance of school infrastructure. But, recent Budget 2020-21, has opened the doorway to hopes and possibilities. This Union Budget, the FM has earmarked Rs 99,300 crores for the education sector. 

The role of a “complete” school building was witnessed in Government Senior Secondary School, Beejwad in Alwar, Rajasthan, where student enrollment rose by 75%—from 280 to 490 in 2018–19. The teachers report a visible improvement in the attendance ratio as well. The school witnessed a major migration from private schools in the region. Similarly, students of Government Middle School, Kota Khandevla, Taoru in Haryana, have developed greater interest in attending classes since their school has been reconstructed. The biggest contributing factor to this massive difference is the pleasantly renovated, functioning school building. 

The earlier situation of crumbling walls, undrinkable water, and unhygienic washrooms failed to provide students with basic necessities. For female students, this is an added worry in terms of security and attending to menstrual concerns, which led to inequitable learning outcomes. 

The gloomy pictures of government schools without renovation in rural areas are highly demotivating for students. The results were poor attention and retention in class, disinterest in attending school, and finally to dropping out.

Initiatives like ‘Transform Lives, one school at a time’ have helped correct the image of government schools in remote regions by providing access to clean drinking water; secure, separate, and functioning toilets for girls and boys; intact infrastructure; and informative positive messaging throughout the school premise for the overall shaping of a child’s personality.

Students in Zila Parishad High School, Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, have shown a major positive change in their attitudes toward learning. The attendance ratio has increased by 15%. Students no longer skip classes or leave their school premise during school hours. Heightened boundary walls keeps them secure within the learning environment. Students now demonstrate improved general knowledge and are showing interest in environmental concerns.

The situation is hard enough when some children still have to walk miles or rely on bullock cart rides to reach schools. And improper infrastructure widens the pre-existing gap in making school education a priority for rural inhabitants. Working in the development sector and emphasizing school education provides a firsthand view of how infrastructure maintenance reduces the number of school dropouts and improves overall enrollment and class attendance. A huge strata of young people in rural India are still without basic requirements in educational institutes, while the urban populace is leaping ahead. 

Confucius said, “I see and I remember.” Rural children have only seen the impoverishment of government schools; their “clay” is imprinted with images of bleak future. For effective education, the learning space shouldn’t be obsolete if betterment in learning is the priority. The approach of renovating a school is a trait of progressive nation.   

(The writer is a communications associate at S M Sehgal Foundation)

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