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SHIKSHA: The Challenge of Indian Education edited by Amit Kaushik. Tehelka and Buffalo Books, New Delhi, 2007.

THIS excellent collection of essays by and interviews of prominent educationists, intellectuals, NGO activists and public personalities – many of them with vast experience within and outside state agencies – tries to map the challenges facing Indian education largely with reference to the elusive triangle of Indian education – ‘Equality, Quality and Quantity’ formulated by the late J.P. Naik in the 1970s. Edited by a senior civil servant, this volume helps one to understand the meaning and interrelationship of the different sides of the triangle in contemporary times through a discussion on a range of issues from the exclusions and barriers in access to schooling to concerns about the quality of education and the integral relationship of curricular reform with change in teacher training and systems of evaluation to bring sustainable educational reform. It also brings issues like the meaning of child rights and child’s right to education, relationship and implications of hierarchies of schooling for democracy, educational experiences of dalits, efforts to provide education to the children of the migrant families and make schools inclusive, and so on, within its ambit. Thus, it makes one think about questions of universalism, discourse, state, agency, resistance, alternatives, inclusion and change. It is at this moment that one realizes both the strength and silences of this collection.

What are the disabling effects of any attempt to conceptualize the challenge to/for education in India that does not take sufficient note of the ‘interesting time’ of neo-liberalism, the discourses emanating from both international and national centres of power, the changes in economy, polity and society, and the increasing power of the Hindu right in the last two decades? Is the state an enlightened, rational liberator acting against the exclusionary social practices and heralding an age of modernity and progress and/or is it itself implicated in the sustenance of the structures and practices of oppression, dominance and marginalization? Can educational exclusion be addressed through ‘inclusive’ educational policies and programmes without any reference and opposition to the ongoing processes of exclusion? Why can government not ‘deliver services to the last mile’ and ‘is a poor implementer’? Is this intrinsic to the nature of government and is the private sector necessarily the better performer and implementer? Why do the schemes of vocationalization strip the idea of work from its relationship to resources, labour, or creative satisfaction and takes little note of the national and international division of labour? Why is it that attempts to make private schools inclusive for the children of the labouring poor and the differently-abled children remain isolated cases and what exclusions continue to be practiced alongside these inclusions? Given the limitations of space, this review will confine itself to only some issues raised in this collection.

Several contributors to this volume advocate the idea of a common and/or neighbourhood school. It is argued that such a school would provide a meeting ground for the children from different class, caste and religious backgrounds to interact, discuss each other’s experiences and prejudices, serve as a deterrent to ghettoisation, challenge the hierarchies of a differentiated schooling system and thus pave the way for a shared vision of education and citizenship. It is said that the function of schools is to harmonize societies, bridge gaps and foster equality. This argument elides over both the question of education as an agency of reproduction and socialization in the dominant ethos and how the marginalized resist and rupture this agenda. Can we thus conceptualize the common school as a strategy to usher egalitarianism without taking note of the groups that benefit from, and have an entrenched interest in, the maintenance of exclusionary private schooling? How do the policy prescriptions informed by neo-liberalism deepen the inequalities of resources and opportunities and promote private schooling? Further, in the contemporary period of forced communal ghettoisation by the forces of Hindutva and the drive to ‘cleanse’ and ‘decongest’ the cities through removal of migrant labour settlements and slums, what would a neighbourhood school mean and look like? How does this idea address the fears of minorities about the homogenization and cultural exclusion in such a school and their urge for space for cultural and religious identity?

This volume deserves appreciation for bringing to the fore the different barriers for survival that children from the marginalized communities face with regard to nutrition, immunization and health even before entering school. Different essays in this collection elaborate how the entire conceptualization of the school – premised on the ideal of an upper caste, middle class child – ‘welcomes’ children from marginalized backgrounds and forces them out of school. That the state does not make provision for their entry into the next stage of schooling, because it presupposes they will drop out by then, speaks of its complicity in violation of child rights. Even as the contributors critically examine the universalist western assumptions of the international discourse of child rights, one equally needs to be wary of the justifications of exclusion in the name of cultural context and norms and the attempted equivalence of the discourse of duties vis-à-vis rights. That the international discourse of child rights entered Indian policy discourse in a period coinciding with neo-liberal policies and limiting the rights perspective vis-à-vis the state without conjoining it to a vision of social transformation may allow for hegemonic appropriation of the transformative vocabulary by both international agencies and the nation state, is also something the contributors need to reflect on.

The questions about the colonial legacy of education – the meaning, experiences, consequences of and relationship to colonialism of different colonized groups – also figure in this volume. On the one hand, we find opposition to the dominance of English because it leads to a loss of one’s own language, is a form of exclusion and is a tool in the hands of rulers; on the other, the dalit-bahujan critiques see it as liberating and a road to opportunities once all the schools are English medium schools. After reading these positions one is forced to ponder over the relationship of language to the relation and location of dominance, knowledge and culture of the productive castes and classes. To enrich this debate, we need to emphasize that curriculum and the content of the textbooks should not only be anti-casteist, decolonizing and feminist, but must allow for multiple-speaking selves with attention to the historical locations, and simultaneously be accompanied by a child-centred critical pedagogy.

Written in a lucid manner, this collection needs to be read by anyone interested in the education of children in India. That certain issues such as the meaning of globalization for education, consequences of foreign loans and involvement of foreign agencies in elementary education, challenges to promote secularism and respect for diversity or the exclusion of denotified and nomadic groups are not taken up in this volume, speaks less of the silences of this collection and points more to the marginal position of these questions in the dominant educational discourse in India.

Manish Jain


EDUCATION AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN SOUTH ASIA edited by Krishna Kumar and Joachim Oesterheld. Orient Longman, Delhi, 2007.

THIS collection of essays deals with the intersections between education and the social forces of colonialism, culture, nationalism and development. The canvas in which studies of these themes have been undertaken is South Asia. This is important for we tend to look at social forces like colonialism in insular ways; these essays help us to break this pattern as also help us connect with those whom we are linked to geographically, socially, culturally and historically.

Education appears such an everyday topic that everyone has a response to it, usually philanthropic. This book should help both the ‘lay’ reader as well as the scholar to build greater understanding of the complexities involved.

The book is divided into four sections along the dimensions of colonialism, culture, nationalism and development – each dimension serving as a transition point from British rule to contemporary times.

Education under colonialism looks at the impact of the missionary endeavour in terms of the space for religion in education (Seth). Secular education was perceived as problematic as it weakened the moral pulse of its beneficiaries. Paradoxically, those in favour of evangelization felt the need for moral teaching even if drawn from other religious traditions. Margret Frenz looks at education as a zone of contact and negotiation amongst various players like the state (Travancore), the British resident and communities. In George Oommen’s article, missionary intervention does not bridge the schisms between communities nor does it efface dalit identity into a Christian one. Yet education serves an emancipatory role. Heike Liebau elucidates on the Lindsay Commission, set up by Indian missionaries to figure out how to Indianize and take control of their destiny sans the external community and be a relevant national force.

What culture defines education in the subcontinent and what happens when the culture of the home and the culture of school is different, are questions that are explored in the second section. Antje Linkenbach Fuchs’s essay elucidates on the interface between nationalism, culture and education, more specifically how education helps create a cohesive national culture in the image of the ruling classes. Joachim Oesterfeld revisits the educational proposal of Basic Education and the responses to this initiative in developing a national curriculum. He argues how, in not acknowledging the Muslim community’s unease and fears of cultural subordination, various Congress governments only helped strengthen the Muslim League position. Krishna Kumar analyzes the pedagogic processes that do not allow the child’s cultural norms to square up with any critical thinking. The pedagogic culture that obtains is formed by the troika of professionally weak teachers, the centrality of text and the dominance of examinations. This, according to him, weakens the space for secular socialization that the state considers an important goal. The gendering of the liberal space makes it more difficult for women to question patriarchal norms and often, education for women becomes a site for contestation between liberal, centrist and conservative thinking – in terms of the purpose of educating women. The author, Sonia Nishat Amin, analyzes the formative debates on Muslim women’s education by tracking popular writing in colonial Bengal in the early part of the twentieth century.

The third section looks at nation building as construction. Education both constitutes this construction as well as is shaped by its issues – social, political and economic. Martha Caddell traces education as a state enterprise in Nepal where change of regimes and external funding decide what constitutes national identity. National identity is consciously constructed in relation to the images of the external as a developing entity; at the same time an intra-national consciousness is constructed through the imposition of a uniform national language. Rubina Saigol looks at the creation of a modern state of Pakistan during Ayub Khan’s times. She posits that when time in educational discourse is constructed as empty of specific events and periods, both histories and identities have a tendency to get effaced. The failure of education to provide a sustainable economic future, while upholding a western development ideal, i.e. a capitalist model of development, leads to deep-seated frustration and competitive communitarian identities based on ethnicity, religion or language.

Padmini Swaminathan argues that discussion on structural rethinking is needed if economic development in terms of the quality of employment has to occur. The higher performing economies of South Asia have actively promoted vocational education and training (VET) in higher education. She feels that the state, industry and university need to rethink each others role to ensure that the context of the phase of industrialization that is usually overlooked in our theorizing is properly accommodated. She feels that since development in handicrafts preceded literacy in the western world – this lacuna needs to be addressed in our society. Anne Vaughier Chatterjee looks at the multilingual challenge in India, i.e. at the place of English, Sanskrit, Urdu and vernacular dialects while charting the history and issues with the three language formula in education. She concludes that the issue of language needs to be de-hierarchized and instead seen as differing languages serving different needs. This chapter needs to be read along with S.T. Hettige’s on Sri Lanka and Caddell’s on Nepal.

The fourth section reports from the ground on the interface of education and development. Development, according to S.T. Hettige, is held hostage to ethnic/cultural hostility if issues of diversity are ignored or dealt with in what seems as a case of obvious hindsight. Education reifies the segregation of ethnic communities of the majority Sinhala and the minority Tamil communities. Monolingual schools and universities add to segregated neighbourhoods, cultural and social activities. Economic unrest takes a communitarian form when opportunities are seen as stacked in favour of one community. The recognition that education should be the site of desegregation faces hostility in an environment of civil unrest between communities. Sadhna Saxena’s article identifies reasons why a programme of mass education – the TLC (total literacy campaign) petered out despite its enthusiastic start. The agents of the educated classes failed to conscientize the state towards the marginalized, and instead, ended up colluding with the state against them. She shows how a programme of change like mass literacy ended up as an ideology for maintaining status quo.

Patricia Jeffery, Roger Jeffery and Craig Jeffery report on the processes of privatization of secondary schooling in Bijnor district. They see privatization of education and the acceptance of neo-liberal policies as an aspect of the elite revolt against Nehruvian values of socialism, secularism and egalitarianism. Exclusionist private schools are, they argue, an abdication of the role of the state as a welfare agency. Francois Leclercq studies the extension and decentralization of the public school system in Madhya Pradesh under the educational guarantee scheme (EGS). His findings raise questions on the need to engage seriously with teacher recruitment, training and support, if decentralization has to translate into a more meaningful exercise.

This book looks at historic and contemporary issues in education that the subcontinent faces. It informs the debate and broadens our perspective on many matters that we encounter on a daily basis. Education as a field is the ground wherein forces of social change have their maximum impact, this book reifies the need for intense scholarship to precede initiatives either in policy or in curriculum, as unless the complexities are understood our responses will remain superficial. For those involved with the social sciences, especially education, this book is a must read.

Shirley Joseph