Chhattisgarh recently celebrated its 10th year of inception, a momentous landmark in the life of a young state and an old region. It is a challenging region; rich in forests, mineral wealth, home to a large tribal population representing a way of life, culture, language and customs unique in itself, the cultural ethos and socio-economic patterns needed to be factored in while charting a developmental course by the founding fathers of the state and successive governments.
Sadly today, the forested regions particularly of south Chhattisgarh, the erstwhile undivided 'Bastar' has become a hotbed of a fierce battle between the state and the Naxalites whose professed aim is to capture power and to establish a society which in their lexicon stands for social justice. The ongoing battle , the resultant violence, insecurity has taken a toll of development processes which in an area of peace or normalcy would have played itself out in the normal course that sets the pace for these. In an area of conflict the dynamics are distinctly different. .
Let us focus on Education which would to my mind be one of most accurate indicators, a mirror of societal progress, and a measure of where the region is positioned today, of where it is going. In particular, the 'Vananchal' region, in the south. A recent statement from the Prime Minister touches upon 'knowledge based" economies being the key to reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. He spoke of investments into both basic and higher education which has led to the setting up of eight new IIT's and five Indian Institutes of Science and Educational Research across the country over the last five years.
The Minister of Human Resources, Kapil Sibal has on several occasions emphasized the need to broaden the rural base of higher educational institutions. A vast educated and skilled workforce is being increasingly seen as the basis for India's growth trajectory and its importance amongst the nations of the world. If this indeed is the national mood, why should those starting out on the journey, coming from poor tribal families in Chhattisgarh not partake in this? Why should the educational opportunities not gear them to march in step with the current times?
Let us begin with the mind-set which prevails amongst the young tribal population in the region. What holds them back? What is the extent of exposure to the developments in any field outside their limited areas in the forest land? Yes children do go to school; the government cannot be faulted for providing a network of schools across the region. Yet sadly, it does not equip them to explore options of new fields, areas of knowledge or expertise which can help them in the professional path.
They remain very much confined to the options they have been 'fed' by their environment. Even if they have the talent or interest in something new and different, it remains untapped. Invariably and predictably almost all school students see themselves as 'school teachers'. That would be fine, even laudable but the question is "Is this an informed choice"? If it was taken amidst multiple options, it is another matter but in this case, it is clearly the restricted information flow and understanding of the world beyond 'Vananchal'.
It is equally true that given the family socio- economic backgrounds, guidance from their families is not forthcoming. That is not surprising. The older generation in most cases did not go to school instead living their lives as agricultural labour, forest-produce gatherers and occasionally farmers.
Students who have passed Class 10th and 12th examinations are thrown into household work. Even scholarship students are not encouraged. In what can only be called flagrant violation of the scheme to encourage tribal children, scholarship money by the government is used for domestic expenses. This does not stem from a deliberate move to subvert the scholarships but because of a genuine lack of awareness or sense of accountability. In such a situation, where will the impetus for students to chart out their own path come from?
In Bastar, Education is not seen playing a role in either getting a job nor has it become a tool in the people's hands to get their entitlements. For most people, its value remains ambiguous in the context of their life patterns they have been following for generations.
What is unfortunate is that the current educational system does not throw up the answers either. The world beyond is made up of the conventional degrees of B.A., B.Com., B.Sc., M.A., M.Sc. and B.Ed. Engineering and medical sciences are seen as almost 'elusive' and not in the realm of possibility. Admittedly these are tough courses but should this not even in the feature in the radar of student aspirations? Limiting the vision is probably more severe than obstacles along the path. .
Majority of the students are unaware of even common courses like MBA, BBA, MCA, Library Science, or Media courses. They think law and computers are promising fields but have no clue as to how to pursue these. Small wonder then, that the ultimate aspiration for almost all students is a ' Shiksha Karmi' or a school teacher.
In Chhattisgarh, there is no lack of governmental measures to support Education. Infact practically every Block and Tehsil has a college. Nor is there a dearth of courses available in educational institutions in district headquarters. Jobs in government and private sector also are available.
Here the root of the problem lies elsewhere, perhaps in an arena where the government cannot directly or tangibly intervene. . What is sorely missing is the thread to link up with the sphere of educational network with the scope for different fields which need to be thrown open to the student who remains still confined to an inherited mind-set of old..
The new world, the wave of information and technology seems to be bypassing them. This is what needs to change, says Niranjan Kumar columnist in Charkha Features. Quickly and drastically if at all the young lives in these forested regions are to move ahead and chart not only their individual growth but bring light of knowledge and economic benefits to the region. By Niranjan Kumar (ANI)