Today, the word “education” seems like one of the most abstract words to define. Some say it is necessary to wipe out poverty, others use it to climb the ladder of success, while some use it to make conversation. Google says it is “The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university” or “an enlightening experience” – how romantic.
No matter how much the definition of this word/process differs, everybody will accept that it is essential to know how things work, how to engage in productive activity, how much to move forward – it is essential to know.
I believe that a successful education is one after which I can engage in any productive activity. I have personally grown up around a village school in a predominantly Muslim village in Tarapur. Children from all castes, gender and race come to this school in the hope to learn something new.
This place is as obscure as obscure could get, and as I say this, I can already feel people taking out their DSLR cameras, wanting to visit this quaint little village in the interiors of Assam. “Oh, what colours, oh the happiness and simplicity of the children, oh the tea gardens! Ultimate serenity! ”
Well, I am sorry to have to break it to you, but taking a “perfectly imperfect” picture with a smiling kid on your fancy camera and captioning it with some existential quote is not what entails teaching at a village school. There is absolutely nothing romantic or free-spirited about it.
There are very few people who can commit to that kind of a lifestyle and one must be patient, tolerant and if possible, selfless to endure being part of a village educational institute. If you want to smell of your Victoria’s Secret perfume all day long, you can’t; if you want to wear your modern clothes, you can’t; if you think the kids are going to come clean and bathed from home, they’re not; the entire place smells of hay and cow-dung.
Two main things that come into the dynamics of a functioning rural educational institute are: religion and gender. “What!? How sad. Must take more DSLR pictures and bag an internship at this place. After that I can always go back to my modern liberal society back home where I can finally smell of my Chanel No.5 and start an NGO.”
The reality is that religious and gender differences in the village are too real for people to talk or even think about hypothetically. Questions and concerns of sending one’s child to a Christian school is very relevant, and rumours about conversion and biased behaviour are always rife. In the event of any accident that takes place within the school premises, you’ll notice how quickly it could take a communal turn. These issues that we debate about, have tangible consequences somewhere else.
The way you dress, especially if you’re a woman is yet another important factor in a village society. Personally I prefer wearing loose pyjamas and kurtas to the village. You might say that I am encouraging their narrow mind-set about women’s clothing, but here’s the thing, the pace of a village community is very slow, the fact that people trust us, spend their already small income on this new idea of learning for their children is itself an improvement.
Today they send their daughters to study and encourage the idea of further education, even allowing them to tailor clothes into stylish salwar suits. Today sons don’t simply loiter around the village but also help their mother cook at home and takes care of their siblings. Today young people are coming back to their villages to teach children. Today you will see a small kerosene lamp in the middle of the night with a child reading a story book or doing his homework – this is improvement.
This is why I believe your dynamism and goal to change something in two months is not going to work. If you want to channel the change that you have experienced and give back to the place that has taught you so much, it is going to be difficult. You are going to have to give the place time as well as sacrifice some things in your life.
For those of us who might want to contribute towards rural education in India, it is important to be honest about our intentions. Education, as a concept is essentially a debatable topic and so is the productivity of a person. So, the most important thing in the rural set up is to simplify the idea of education into something basic and easy to digest and most importantly something that is not intimidating.
Rural education in India is much more than an urban artist’s muse for poetry, music and art. So, stop treating it like it’s something exotic and niche. If you are able to make a child pronounce Zebra correctly, that is more than enough.
So urban India, just stop trying to make fetch happen!