Teachers in rural schools themselves discourage students to pursue education resulting in an increase in the dropout rate. The alarming fact came to the fore during a literacy enhancement project undertaken by the Diocese of Amritsar, Church of North India (CNI), in the border belt.
The project was initiated seven years ago with the aim of negating the dropout rate and improving attendance in the rural schools. Needless to say, it has attained success in all the rural schools that it has covered so far.
Giving details, the Most Reverend PK Samantaroy, Bishop, Diocese of Amritsar, and the newly elected Moderator of the Church of North India, said the project was started in 2008 with a view to promoting attendance in schools. Initially, the project covered eight villages, where school dropout rate was said to be the highest. Seven years down the line, it covers 20 villages and almost 900 students studying in the schools here.
"At the initiation of the project a study was conducted to assess the magnitude of the problem. Our volunteers met teachers in rural schools only to find that it were the teachers themselves who were discouraging students to attend schools and were instead asking them to pursue their familial vocations, resulting in enhanced dropout rate," he said.
Besides the apparent lack of infrastructure in rural schools, the church came across the obvious lack of will to execute their duties on the part of the teachers employed in these schools. "An interaction with the locals in these villages revealed that children were dropping out of schools at the behest of teachers, which was quite an alarming development for us," said Samantaroy. "Besides this, in villages having only primary schools, students, especially girls were not studying beyond Class 5 as they were not allowed to join schools in other villages," he added.
"The Diocese of Amritsar then conceptualised a project that entailed involvement of community organisers, who are actually teachers, working in the midst of the dropouts, their families and teachers. Their involvement has helped ensure 100% attendance in village schools, which is a major achievement for the diocese," he said. Samantaroy maintained that the Diocese of Amritsar was running 23 centres in these villages, where the dropouts were enrolled for continuation of their studies. He added that the toughest part was convincing their parents to send the dropouts to these centres. "To encourage them to do so, the diocese is even providing scholarships to take care of their fees," he said.
Samantaroy said the aim behind the endeavour is to empower the masses through education so that they themselves can fight for their rights, besides forging the much-needed change in society. "Being a Christian organisation, our focus definitely is on evangelism (preaching about Jesus Christ), but not for religious conversion as we are focused more on social change and helping people become responsible citizens through education," he maintained.