It seems many people are trying to find innovative solutions to improving the quality of education in rural areas, especially among the poor. Since most rural children study at government-run schools, the focus of any effort to improve quality and performance must be on those institutions. Without waiting for the state government to act, NGOs can directly interact with the administrators of those schools, especially the headmasters, and village leaders to implement measures that can yield positive results. That is precisely what The George Foundation has been doing since 2004 in the 17 villages surrounding its own school, Shanti Bhavan.
Three years ago our foundation initiated a community development plan that included working with government-run schools in our area. Deverapalli Government School was the first one we took on, and within two years of starting the program, it was judged as the “best” in the district by the educational authorities. Based on this project and our Shanti Bhavan experiences, I have tried to compile what I consider as simple and low-cost measures that NGOs can take which will, in my opinion, make much of the difference we are looking for:
- Hire young motivated teachers (even those who may not have teaching degrees or prior training), especially for lower grades, and give them 1 month training. In our case, we hired high school graduates from the local area as teachers and teaching assistants to complement government teachers.
- Make sure that all students have the required text and note books, and teachers/classes have black boards and chalk.
- Offer 1 hour after-school individual tuition to students who require special assistance.
- Provide snacks for all students around 10 am, as many come to school hungry without sufficient breakfast. Government offers lunch.
- Make sure that roofs are not leaking, classes have benches and desks, and toilets are functioning.
- Have frequent (once a week) medical consultation for children who come to school sick. Also conduct an eye, ear and general check-up once a year.
- Offer special “bonuses” to teachers if children do well in independent testing every 6 months. Let teachers know ahead of time what will be tested. No need for surprises.
These measures are relatively economical and easy to implement. Computers and libraries are lower priorities for most rural schools, though some reference books are essential. As and when financial resources permit, computers may be introduced when teachers trained in information technology can be found and electric power is reliable.
In summary, I urge everyone to figure out ways to motivate children. Make coming to school a fun event. Provide financial incentives to good teachers. Everything else will fall in place automatically.
I have copied below the response to my email on the subject from Bhamy Shenoy who has been involved with rural schools.
Extract from Mr. Shenoys email on his experience at a rural city school in Bantwal town in Karnataka State:
“I think you pretty much covered most of the essential elements. I would say with the first point you have mentioned, it should be possible to meet 90% of the needs. All others are useful and will contribute. But it is the first which is the most important.
Right now we are having an interesting experiment in our rural based town. As I wrote to you, I have been holding series of seminars for 30 students. My wife is taking classes in a government school where its strength has fallen from 250 to 35 over ten years. The reception she is getting and the level of interest shown in her classes are not matched even among college students. She had given as assignment last Friday to 7th graders to write a poem on any subject. Today when she had gone to the school, all the eight students in her class had written poems. They were not all of same standard. The important thing is that all of them had attempted. Each time she goes there for teaching, they ask her to come the next day. The difference is that she is making learning fun, she prepares before going to each class, tries to bring creativity in the students by asking them to do some activity. Can we inculcate such interest and concern in our teachers? She has found a very precocious student and we have decide to help him as much as possible by sending him to a private school in the town by giving scholarship after his graduation from this school. In fact we are even thinking of inviting him to the valedictory function at the college to distribute the certificates as a VIP.”