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Posted at: Oct 1, 2018, 12:48 AM; last updated: Oct 1, 2018, 12:48 AM (IST)AGRICULTURE: HIGHER EDUCATION

Rejuvenating rural mind

Lack of proper education in rural India is the root cause of numerous socio-economic problems, including drug addiction, environmental degradation, debts, farmers' suicide, malnutrition and alienation, says Milkha Singh Aulakh

A study by Punjabi University, Patiala, has revealed that mainly urbanites study in institutes of higher education. The proportion of rural students in five universities of Punjab —Guru Nanak Dev University, Punjabi University, Punjab Technical University, Punjab University and Baba Farid University of Health Sciences — is between 3   and 5 per cent. The situation in other neighbouring states are almost the same.

Students from rural India (where 67 per cent population lives) lag behind in higher studies because their fundamental education is not that strong compared to their urban counterparts. It is because the standard of education in government-run primary, high and senior secondary schools in rural areas has deteriorated progressively and notably in the last five decades. On the contrary, the standard of education in urban areas has improved significantly primarily due to private schools in cities.

Reasons of decline

Educational standard in rural schools has deteriorated due to several reasons, including poor performance of teachers and unaccountability, low or negligible teaching strength, inadequate infrastructure and avoidable additional duties to teachers, such as responsibilities for midday meals, election duties and official surveys.

Another issue that hampered educational standared in rural areas is non-availability of qualified teachers. Transfer of teachers from cities to rural areas is a Herculean task. In order to get a government job, candidates are initially willing to join any school. But, soon they start pull political strings to get transferred to the cities.

Non-availability of well-equipped senior secondary schools with science streams is another reason for the poor representation of rural youth in universities. 

Socio-economic condition is also responsible for this rural-urban divide. Aware and relatively affluent parents of urban students make a difference in the educational career of their wards. But, parents in rural areas lack both awareness and means.

These are the major reasons why candidates from rural areas are unable to compete with their urban counterparts during  entrance tests for renowned universities and other centres of excellence. 

This rural-urban divide needs to be bridged for a robust agriculture education in the country. Punjab has taken several initiatives in improving rural education, such as minimising the involvement of teachers in non-teaching activities and rationalisation of staff in urban vis-à-vis rural schools, but it has a long way to go. A transformation is possible with the following measures. 

Transfer policy

Effective transfers of teachers from cities to rural areas seem to be impractical keeping in view 'the links' used in our society. Although the state has decided to have separate selection of teachers for border areas, the challenge of rationalisation of staff in urban vis-à-vis rural schools within the border zone would continue. One suggestion is to hire the staff with an undertaking that they would serve three to five years in rural schools before seeking transfer to city schools. Two, hire teachers for individual schools, as is being done in Canada. When a teacher wants to shift to another city or school, he/she has to resign, and compete for new recruitment in the next school when a post is available. Three, provide some financial and promotional incentives to those who opt for rural schools.

Upgrade knowledge

It has been a burning issue that government school teachers do not possess desirable knowledge of their subjects. Therefore, accountability of teachers, upgrading, periodical monitoring and rigorous evaluation of their desirable knowledge/capabilities are very essential components.

Model schools

The issue of poor academic facilities, especially for science streams in rural schools, can be resolved by strengthening existing schools instead of opening more and more high and senior secondary schools, which is often done for political reasons. 

Catch them young

Another way is to take over rural students after class-X  and provide the two-year senior secondary education through an integrated degree programmes in universities. For example, at the PAU, the intake of rural students was enhanced by initiating a six-year B.Sc. Agriculture (Honours) degree programme and a two-year certificate course in agriculture that were developed and commenced in the 2008-09 academic session. In these programmes, admission was done on the basis of students’ class-X  result and marks obtained in the interview for farming aptitude. It proved to be a successful initiative.

Positive discrimination

In order to promote rural youth, there is an urgent need to make appropriate reservation for them in higher education. As students from rural areas cannot compete with those from urban areas. This is possible only through legislation as universities cannot provide for reservations on their own. 

Right affiliation

Several private universities and agricultural colleges have been established in Punjab and other states in the last two decades. Unfortunately, most of them lack the requisite educational standard and research facilities. In order to maintain uniformity in educational standard, it is desirable to affiliate all such institutes to state agricultural universities (SAUs). This is in line with other sciences. Most of the technical colleges have already been brought under Punjab Technical University and medical colleges under Baba Farid University of Health Sciences. Another alternative is to establish state councils for agriculture education to monitor such institutions.

Real India lives in villages. The country's development is not possible unless development of rural population is ensured. Educated rural youth will take agriculture to its next stage. They will also act as catalysts to eradicate social evils such as drug addiction, a scourge in  northern states, particularly Punjab. Educated and well-informed farmers will not only help in crop diversification and production of quality food, but also minimise agricultural-based environmental pollution while conserving natural resources such as water. It is, therefore, necessary that we must revive and strengthen rural education. This is what should be the commitment of the national education policy.

The writer is former Dean, College of Agriculture,  Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, and Founder Vice-Chancellor, BUAT, Uttar Pradesh

Centre's action plan 

Union Cabinet cleared it in June 2018

Continuation of the plan from 2017 to 2020

Total Rs 2,225.46 crore approved for the plan 

Rs 2,050 crore: strengthening, development of higher agricultural education

Rs 24.25 crore : ICAR-NAARM

Rs 151.21 crore: ICAR-CIWA-AICRP-HS efforts

ICAR: latest achievements 

795 high-yielding variety crops

495 of them tolerant to stresses

20 bio-fortified crops rich in iron, zinc and vitamins

150 pulses seed hubs to produce quality seeds 

These hubs produced 1.12 lakh quintal of certified quality seeds

 

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