Rural schooling a challenge

Narinder Singh Sumbria
No single definition exists to define rural schooling. All that is not metropolitan is often said to be rural. As noted earlier, one should remember that rural J&K is quite diverse from one part of the region to another. Issues and trends in rural education may be place (region) specific for any number of factors. Generalizations about education in one rural area of J&K may or may not be true for another. Nevertheless, generalizations can provide a foundation of information for examining issues and trends in a regional and local area. Compared to teachers in central city schools and urban fringe schools, rural teachers tended to be less well educated, slightly less experienced, younger, and less likely to belong to a minority group. Rural school principals were more likely to be male and less likely to belong to a minority group compared to principals in central city schools and urban fringe schools.
* Teachers in rural and small town schools spent more time with students at school and outside school hours, had smaller incomes, and were less likely to have benefits of medical insurance, dental insurance, group life insurance, and pension contributions.
Challenges and Issues
Many of the challenges and issues that confront rural schools are not new, and in large measure they are linked to regional and local circumstances of change and reality in rural areas.
Adequate funding
Rural school districts, with their modest fiscal bases, usually cannot generate sufficient local resources to supplement adequately the state school finance programs the way that more affluent localities can.
Setting standards
Students want schools which must meet some standard of achievement. But who sets the standard is a critical issue being debated in rural schools and their communities. Local versus state (or federal) control of public schools is at the center of the controversy of setting standards. Rural schools and community advocates, such as the Rural School and Community Trust, believe that standards should originate within the community in which the students live.
School facilities
One in two schools have at least one inadequate building feature, such as a roof, a foundation, or plumbing. Technology needs also force building modifications. Many older schools lack conduits for computer-related cables, electrical wiring for computers and other communications technology, or adequate electrical outlets. Without the necessary infrastructure, schools cannot use technology to help overcome historical barriers associated with ruralness and isolation.
Diversity and poverty
Addressing issues of education in rural areas includes confronting the realities of people in poverty and the growing diversity of rural J&K. Geographic diversity best defines the issue of diversity in rural J&K. . Rural minorities often live in geographically isolated communities where poverty is high, opportunity is low, and the economic benefits derived from education and training are limited. Addressing rural education will require solutions to both the poverty gap of minority groups and the persistent impoverished conditions of all rural poor, especially those who work for low wages.
Teacher recruitment and retention
Attracting and retaining quality teachers will be critical in creating and implementing higher standards for student academic achievement. The rural teacher shortage affects all subject areas but particularly math, science, and special education. Causes for a teacher shortage in rural areas include: social and cultural isolation, poor pay and salary differentials, limited teacher mobility, lack of personal privacy, rigid lockstep salary schedules and monetary practices, the luring of teachers away by higher paying private sector businesses and industries.
The most critical issues in managing and running small rural school districts are finances, regional economic conditions, state regulations, salaries, and providing an adequate variety of classes. . In the decades ahead, leading rural schools and school systems in ways that contribute to community and economic development appear essential for sustaining a prosperous school and community in much of rural areas of J&K.
Policy action
Lack of a precise demographic rural definition frustrates those who work in setting educational policy. Rural schools tend to harbour untrained or unqualified teachers. School inspectors do not like walking or riding in canoes for a number of days, so remote schools rarely get visited. Where population densities are small, rural schools tend to need only one or two teachers. This requires either staggered intakes–a class every two or three years–or multigrade teaching The solution to this problem in the Majority World has been boarding schools or primary schools with hostels for students from remote communities
(The author is a JKAS officer and posted as Treasury Officer Banihal)