Image by Kiera Fahey

Image by Kiera Fahey

The Importance of Education

by Kiera Fahey

During my two months in the villages of rural southern India, I was struck with the clear message that education represents ability, opportunity, and empowerment.

Each day in the villages, the mornings were full of activity. Mothers fussed as they helped their children pack their bags and put on the uniforms that they had so meticulously hand washed. The children eventually lined up waiting for the buses; each child’s uniform spotless and neat, and the girls’ hair perfectly braided with two ribbons.

Conducting door-to-door surveys in village households in Anjanpur and Bagalur in the state of Karnataka, the importance of education was immediately obvious. Our aim was to determine the villagers’ needs and concerns. Education came up frequently as an issue of large importance and concern. Nearly every family told us that they were sending their children to school, although worries about the cost were very high. We discovered that many families took on huge amounts of debt for their children’s education.

For some families, this was not an option. The line ‘If my son goes to school, who will work?’ shows the existing financial desperation and roadblocks to universal education.

Education was clearly seen as one of the greatest privileges in life. Many families wanted to give their children the education that they themselves were not able to undertake. Education was described as an equalizer. A lady named Vara in the nearby village of Mylanahalli said that a ‘solid education can empower women to become unstoppable and be their own agents. It can devalue the caste systems and the prejudices associated with this.’

Education is not only important for job prospects and employment, but gives children skills to overcome discrimination, gender inequality and infringement of their human rights.

In 2012, the Indian government passed an act for free and compulsory education for all children aged 6-14, and provides 14,000Rs (approx. AUD$300) per primary school student per year. Past the age of 14, education is optional, and families must front their own costs.

However, the country still faces a 42% primary school drop out rate and high teacher absenteeism rates of 25% in government schools, almost one day a week. Issues are exacerbated in rural areas. Technology or lack thereof creates further challenges; only 2.2% of students in rural India have access to a computer. Commonly, rural schools are at a disadvantage, as qualified teachers often move to the cities in search of higher pay and better facilities, leaving rural children with a much lower education standard. Primary teachers in Anjanapur need to complete a large amount of administration work, taking time away from their teaching and hindering education quality.

As a result, private schools are rapidly increasing in popularity. They are believed to be of higher quality, and, desirably, often teach all subjects in English. With over 122 languages in India alone, the state language of Kannada is insufficient for a future outside Karnataka, and so English represents increased prospects and opportunity. Concerningly, private school fees are far out of reach for most households; sending one child to school for a year will cost over 50% of the median household income. This is sending families further into debt.

The stakes are high. Lack of education can mean a lifelong struggle to provide for oneself and family, lack of understanding of issues such as health, water and nutrition, and being stuck in the cycle of poverty and disadvantage. Without education and basic skills, some of the children face a future of backbreaking and tireless work in nearby illegal quarries, where they will earn only 60 cents per day.

It is important that education is not only available, but that it is affordable and effective. It is not enough to have children attending school if they are not learning, and are not given skills to pursue careers to lift them out of poverty. This focus on quality is an important cornerstone of Australia’s Strategy for aid investment in education for 2015 to 2020.

On World Education Day we can look at what a difference we can make. The aid given by the Australian government bilaterally and through multilateral organisations has the potential to provide quality, inclusive education to the children of India and the world.

Kiera is currently interning at RESULTS working on research and advocacy for the education campaign. She in her second year of university studying Bachelor of Economics and Arts at the University of Sydney.