By Jessica Bahr:
With a population of over 1.27 billion, the world’s third largest market size and steadily increasing growth rates, India is rapidly becoming one of the planet’s most significant economic powerhouses.
In 2014, India’s Global Domestic Product (GDP) climbed to 2066.9 billion US dollars; representing 3.33 per cent of the world economy. In 2015, the growth rate is expected to reach 7.5 percent and will almost certainly surpass that of China. The country is home to over a million millionaires and a booming middle class yet a vast majority of those living in rural areas remain impoverished and lack access to basic resources.
While the economy continues to progress in leaps and bounds, the education sector in India is constantly facing a number of significant challenges. Education is regarded as a fundamental right and is held in high esteem throughout the country, yet literacy rates continue to fall far behind those of other countries.
Amanda Day, Education and Resource Counsellor of the Australian High Commission in New Delhi, says Indian government and public schools differ greatly from those in Australia and other Western societies.
“They are quite different, so the literacy rates, whether the teacher turns up, whether the teacher is trained, whether there’s a quality curriculum … there’s a whole range of issues Indian children in rural and remote areas really suffer from,” she said.
“I think there’s an aspiration amongst Indian people to be more like a western country in terms of their education delivery and their systems, but the sheer size of it is too overwhelming. State governments have responsibility as well here for education, so what you’ll see is teachers might not have qualifications to teach, so they might be an 18 year old who suddenly becomes a teacher in a village. So they may not have a degree and then suddenly they’re teaching. They may get to grade 8 when they’re 13 or 14 and then they might become the teacher because there is nobody else in the village who can do it.”
In addition to a lack of access to quality education, many children – particularly girls – in rural communities face social and cultural issues wherein families and society often prioritise home skills and work over education.
Shivani Singh is a full time volunteer at an NGO called Samarpan which works to support children from poor communities and assist them in catching up with their studies and continuing their education.
“There is a little extra effort to bring girls to school. Because boys still come, parents still send them; but girls are expected to be home and do the household work and help the mother or help the whole house. But the mindset is changing,” she said.