A peep into the mind of Ashok Gurjar – Part 1

What is playing in the minds of children in rural areas?

I am in the process of setting up ‘learning centres’ in rural India. On my last visit to Bhanwata, a village in the Alwar District, where we are setting up the first learning centre, I made great friends with this boy called Ashok. He was kicked when I told him that I had films on my laptop, though of course he was not quite happy with my choice of films. He requested that on my next visit, I should show him ‘fighting wala films’. He was also keen to play the ‘car wala game’ on the mobile.

In order to peek into the mind of a young boy living in rural India, I asked him to say whatever he wanted to — his dreams, his aspirations, what he envisioned as his future, about his life in the village, and this is what he came up with.

On hearing him out, I realized that the youth in rural India, just as in the urban areas, too have aspirations. Of course, I am drawing my conclusions simply based on what this one boy said. However, based on my experience in the rural areas, I would presume that this mindset runs rampant. So here are my key takeaways:

  1. Kids in the rural areas want to learn how to use and operate the computer. In other words, they simply want to do all those fancy things that you and I do using technology — play games, watch movies, social media, etc.
  2. They want to learn how to speak, read and write English.
  3. They want a good ‘naukri’ (for those who do not understand Hindi, naukri means a job) when they grow up.
  4. They want to move to the city, which at least from the villages appears to be a passport to all the comforts in life.

Let us now deal with each of these one by one.

1. Computers / Technology

Most Government schools do not use any technology. In the few Government / Government aided schools where I saw a computer, they were either non functional or were left untouched with the fear that the kids would ‘spoil’ them. I have strong doubts as to whether the present generation of teachers in Government schools would also know how to operate a computer. In short, the digital revolution seems to be bypassing the rural youth.

By the way, I showed Microsoft Excel to Ashok and told him how this application could perform all the mathematical functions, and why there wasn’t a need to rote learn the tables. With minimal input from my end, within 10 minutes, he had learnt how to feed formulae in Excel and do addition, subtraction, etc. This taught me 2 things:

a. The problem is not a lack of intellect but simply a lack of access. You give these kids these gadgets and they could match up to any of the city bred children.

b. Children have the capability to learn on their own. All they need is a facilitating environment — in this case, simply the access to computers.

2. Speak, read and write English

Thanks to British domination and the slave like psyche that we seem to have developed, a person may be a Ph.D in Sanskrit but would yet be labelled an illiterate if s/he did not know English. More so, from a functional point of view, the knowledge of the English language is extremely necessary since the language is spoken the world over. With a multilingual and a geographically spread workforce increasingly being the norm, good communication skills are becoming increasingly important, and this of course includes the ability to read, write and speak English.

The kids at Bhanwata told me that English is introduced as a subject only in Grade 6. While interacting with the villagers, I was told that when the teacher himself did not know any English, how could we expect him to teach the children? And by the way, this is how English is being taught in schools. I took this recording at the local Government school on the occasion of the Independence Day.

Learning anything new is such a wow! process. However, when it is taught in such a mechanical and a drab manner, it becomes such a pain. The bottomline is that the best way to learn any language is simply to speak the language. With hardly anyone in the village knowing the language, it is quite unlikely that these kids will pick up any meaningful skills in English. Thankfully, there are various applications today that aid in the learning of the language. More so, the need of the hour is for people like you the reader to go into the rural areas and simply converse with the kids in English.

3. The ‘naukri’ syndrome

What I have been able to gather from my interactions with grown-ups in rural areas is that most of them want Government jobs. One, that comes with a ‘lifetime guarantee’. Two, there is hardly any accountability, though things are beginning to change. And three, Government jobs are big money these days, at least in the rural areas. I have been told that the starting salary for a Government teacher is around Rs 25,000 per month, which is big in the villages, and possibly also in the urban areas.

No wonder that boys like Ashok also aspire for a ‘naukri’. There is no harm in that but this desire simply seems to emanate from a historical overhang rather than the exercise of a conscious choice. Despite all the talk of skill upgradation, I saw none of it in Bhanwata. Hardly any of these kids dream of starting an enterprise. Come to think of it, the rural folks have all that it takes to run a successful enterprise. They have plenty of land, water and soil. They have plenty of workforce, a lot of it unemployed. What they possibly lack is hope, the will and the confidence to solve the problems that plague their life.

The need of the hour is for someone to sit and talk with these kids, for someone to show them the world outside and to open up their minds. True empowerment would happen when these kids own their destiny rather than simply choose the first Government job that comes their way.

4. ‘Shehar chale hum’ (Let us all move to the cities)

Due to lack of economic opportunities in villages and due to the harsh life in the rural areas, most of these kids want to move to the city once they start working, or even when they pursue higher studies. And why not? People in the cities have access to all the basic necessities which are not available in the rural areas. People living in cities move in cars, go to cinemas, dine in fine dine restaurants. Cities have neon lights, while many villages do not even have lights. By the way, Bhanwata has no street lighting and I was told of stories of leopards attacking human beings after dark.

As a result of this mentality, while the men move to the urban areas, they leave behind the vulnerable sections of society — children, women and the aged. However, what is more irksome is the long term effects that this mentality has. While most of the young do send money back home, bulk of the spending happens in cities. Since the youth want to build a life in the cities, all investment happens in the urban areas. As a result, hardly any development happens in the village.

(to be followed in Part 2 with the solutions to the problems discussed)

PS: This blog was initially posted on October 22, 2016

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