I was reading Nandan Nilekani’s Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation looking for parallels with conditions and opportunities in India and within my region of Southwestern Virginia. I was finding more than I expected. Then, diverting, I read an article about a recent White House conference on rural education and realized a clear parallel. There are real, beautiful, hopeful children at stake. They need education. When people live in remote rural areas, the costs of education are high for they now must be transported to centralized schools (once said to be economical) at increasingly high and uncertain but likely higher-than-now cost. People are leaving for the cities; taxes paid to the community are leaving; teachers’ salaries cannot be paid; teachers are leaving, education for children is leaving…encouraging parents to leave for the cities.
Francisco Guajardo, who attended the Washington meeting, said that the group there described fiscal needs: to build more school facilities in rural areas, to recruit and retain more qualified rural teachers, and to strengthen and support the government’s federal trust responsibility to Native American schools, most of which are rural. Participants also described the adverse impact of high stakes testing on rural schools.
She thought that the right people were present to talk policy but “the conversation also struck me as unimaginative, stuck in a deficit-driven and antiquated discourse on rural communities. The collective argument was emphatic about the struggle and plight of rural education but devoid of the spirit, vitality, and force of what I have experienced with children in rural schoolhouses across this country.“
I now believe that the old thing called an “education system” will not work for the near-future. The new will not be pretty compared to the past, but nothing will be judged pretty in the energy-short, changed-climate world. Change needs to be started immediately for the benefits for the children in:
• Developing local household teaching teams
• Developing community computer kiosks
• Providing access to computers in homes
• Developing proven-effective distance-learning media
• Developing behavioral objectives to replace curricula
• Developing behavioral performance criteria for success
• Developing periodic community educational assemblies
• Eliminating “adequate time in school” as a criterion of educational success
• Providing financial incentives for learning and opportunities for continued financial rewards
• Paying partial costs of education from a proportion of financial advances made by students after their later continuing-learning events