Equity and equality in schooling processes
THE history of formal education in India managed by the state in the early 19th and 20th century was marked by a systemic exclusion of marginalized groups. The Brahminical and Persian systems of education catered to the elite and the nobility. The producing classes primarily received vernacular and vocational education that was largely informal in nature. The curriculum consisted of 3 R’s, i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic. Vocational education was inherited and acquired.
Schools imparting such education were largely held in makeshift arrangements, devoid of all kinds of patronage and state support. This system of people’s education was supported by Christian missionaries and followed by both the male and female intelligentsia and the community. In this scheme of indigenous education, the representation of girls and women was minimal. Several studies on girls and women’s education have pointed out that education of half of humanity was not seen as essential by families in urban and rural areas in the belief that household chores needed no education.
Prevalent notional beliefs and practices that education of girls would lead to early widowhood as also make them defiant, hindered the participation of girls in education. Further, prevalent customary practices related to child marriage and purdah acted as barriers to the education of girls. Initiatives by social reformers in Bengal and Bombay presidencies and efforts by private individuals in princely states helped in promotion of girl’s education and children from marginalized groups.
While these initiatives were like a drop in the ocean, the seeds sown by them helped in making education inclusive. Unfortunately, sources pertaining to this period give only a scant account of classroom processes. Some reference to Pandita Ramabai’s Sharda Sadan and the environment it generated for child widows, along with perceptions about their inclusive experiences in the Sadan, has been reported in newspapers of the time.
This legacy of the lack of providing education to all, including girls and women, has been taken care of in our Constitution that has committed itself to providing free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of fourteen. This commitment has been the guiding principle for several committees and commissions that were set up time and again to translate this commitment into practice. In the domain of school education, some of the significant commissions that focused on issues of quantitative and qualitative aspects of education were the Commission for Secondary Education (1952-53), the Hansa Mehta Committee (1962-64) and the Education Commission (1964-66).
In addition, two important policies that attempted to address issues related to equity, equality and quality concerns in education were the National Policy on Education, 1968 and the National Policy on Education, 1986. Both these policies laid special emphasis on removal of disparity and equalize educational opportunity by attending to the specific needs of those who had so far been denied equality. These policies lay special stress upon making education a vehicle of social transformation and empowerment. More recently, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009 has made elementary education for all mandatory by making it justiceable.
To give effect to the recommendations of commissions, policy initiatives and legal provisions have been made by central and state agencies and civil society to provide education to all irrespective of gender, caste, class, faith and location. A plethora of schools run by different agencies, i.e. government, government aided, private and those managed by minority institutions, provide access to children from diverse backgrounds. Also, conceptualization of several national schemes such as the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), 1994, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), 2001 upscaled to Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), 2010 have worked towards fulfilling the unfinished agenda of education for all at different levels.
In this context, the efforts of multiple non-government agencies working at local levels have contributed towards access, enrolment and retention of children from all communities, especially the hard to reach groups. This has made it possible for 98% children to access primary schooling within one kilometre of their habitation and about 92% to an upper primary school within three kilometres of their habitation. Also, recent school data indicate that nearly 18 crore children are taught by almost 57 lakh teachers in more than 12 lakh primary and upper primary schools across the length and breadth of the country.1 The gross enrolment ratio has increased significantly across all social categories, dropout rates at primary level have declined, and the transition from primary to upper primary stage has improved.
Quantitative and spatial expansion of schooling across the country has not resulted in matching qualitative changes. The contemporary education scenario in India is plagued with several unanswered questions that relate to issues mainly concerning retention and performance. Diagnostic studies have identified several factors that compound this phenomena and perpetuate exclusion in schooling processes that impact performance and overall personality development of children, especially those from marginalized and minority communities.
In this regard, studies conducted from time to time such as, DPEP Gender Studies (1993-95), Srivastava (1999), Jaireth (two studies, 2001), V. Ramachandran and A. Saihejje (2004), Jackie Kirk (2008), Mona Yadav (2010), Anuradha De, Reetika Khera, Meera Samson and A.K. Shiva Kumar (2010), Sushma Jaireth (2010-2011) and Position Papers on Gender Issues in Education (2006) and Problems of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Children (2007) have identified several factors that create physical and emotional barriers in education, thereby pushing out sizable numbers of children from the portal of education.
Some of the factors highlighted in the above mentioned studies and position papers are linked with teacher’s biases and stereotypical attitudes that are often conditioned by their own socialization, lack of comprehension of subjects especially related to science and maths, teacher-centred pedagogical processes, classroom management overtly reflecting gender, class and caste divide visible in seating arrangements, unattractive school environment, absence of essential infrastructure facilities, e.g. toilets for girls, community support, issues of safety and security, especially for girls, have all culminated in the existing scenario of gender, class and caste disparities in education.
This phenomenon is starkly visible at all levels of education, especially at the secondary level in rural, small towns and urban fringes. According to the data provided on dropout rates by Selected Educational Statistics, MHRD, for the year 2007-08, the figures for SC and ST children at elementary stage was 53.56 for SC boys and 51.12 for SC girls. For ST boys and girls the figures were relatively higher, i.e. 62.62 and 62.31. Also, the Joint Review Mission (JRM) of SSA, 2009, pointed out that while the dropout rate at the primary stage was 29%, for the upper primary it was 51%. The fact that children from marginalized communities continue to drop out has diluted the cherished agenda of a common school system providing comparable education to all.
Moreover, the existence of different forms of violence against girls and women has further eroded the positive correlation between education and status of girls and women in society. Regular reporting of crime against half of the humanity in the print media has shown that quality concerns in education imbued with humane concerns of caring and sharing, valuing each others contributions, respecting diversity, tolerance and learning to live together have not been instilled in children belonging to different age groups.
In the existing scenario where contemporary education is at a crossroads, facing multiple challenges related to equity, equality and quality, there is a need to evolve multi-pronged, context-specific strategies for addressing the needs of children from diverse backgrounds. We now look at some of the workable strategies evolved from grassroots experiences and studies for promoting inclusive classrooms.
Preparation of textual materials, supplementary materials and bridge courses in the mother tongue of the learners are needed for better comprehension of subject. In addition, multilingualism and bilingual approaches can also be explored for preparation of materials. The selection of themes, content, visuals and exercises should attempt to undo gender bias, stereotypes and myths. Examples and exercises can be innovatively designed to link the textual and related materials with lived reality of the learners. At the primary and elementary level, efforts should be made to make textual materials visually rich and the language used in content portrayal needs to be simple, lucid, clear and easy for children to comprehend.
For creating an inclusive classroom environment for diverse learners, existing physical spaces in classrooms need to be innovatively planned. Flexible mixed seating should be encouraged as it has the potential of undoing gender, class, caste and regional divides. The classroom walls, including other schools spaces, can be used creatively by displaying children’s work at their eye-level. The positive impact of creative classroom spaces has been observed in several school visits during the course of studies undertaken by Gouri Srivastava (1999), Yadav (2010) and in the report of the National Evaluation of KGBV scheme in 2004 and 2007.
Besides creative spaces, the need for ensuring health and overall development of children can be ensured by providing proper ventilation, lighting, basic furniture and a medical aid box with equipment for catering to medical exigencies of teachers and students. Teaching and learning materials should have space for display and usability. Classroom management needs to ensure that roles and responsibilities are assigned on a rotational basis to all irrespective of children’s socio-economic backgrounds and gender.
The classroom environment should also address the emotional make-up of children by creating a congenial environment that encourages them to voice their opinions and feelings and mix freely without fear of being intimidated. The creation of such an atmosphere would go a long way in strengthening the bonds between teachers, children and the school.
Schools catering to diverse learners located in urban fringes, small towns and in rural areas need to look into the felt needs of children, especially those involved in remunerative work and from agrarian backgrounds. Studies have shown that during sowing and harvesting seasons, families in rural areas, along with their children, are preoccupied in these operations. Therefore, children enrolled in schools either drop out or fail to attend classes during this period. To address this issue, the school time table can be designed flexibly so that the phenomena of seasonal dropout/non-enrolment is addressed along with problems related to lack of comprehension and understanding of subjects. A flexible school calendar can in the long run promote enrolment and retention in education.
Participatory pedagogical processes need to be adopted by teachers for making classrooms a site of physical and emotional inclusion. There should be a space where the learners’ experiences are shared in the teaching and learning process, and children given confidence to voice their opinions, engage in constructing knowledge and add to the body of knowledge that is being imparted. Some of the tried techniques that the teachers can adopt as per their context could be role play, team teaching, quiz, innovative games, project methods, organization of exhibitions, use of visuals and other mediums such as plays, dramas, popular folk songs as pedagogical aid and many more that would instil imagination, creativity, critical thinking and team spirit among learners. Hands on experience and exposure visits to places of historical and cultural importance can also be adopted for making teaching and learning an interesting and enduring experience for all children from diverse origins.
Content and methodology of training programmes organized by several national, state and private agencies at the pre-service and in-service level need to integrate concerns related to gender, life skills, environment, conflict management and social tensions in an integrated manner with disciplinary knowledge. Training could also include self-reflective exercises for teachers so that they can reflect upon their own processes of socialization and be convinced enough to critique certain customary practices and traditions that are derogatory and negatively impact the status of marginalized communities, particularly the girl child.
In designing the content of training materials at the pre-service and in-service level, care should be taken to incorporate themes that deal with exclusion, inclusion, peace-building processes, equity, equality and quality concerns in education. In addition, themes could also include quantitative and qualitative analysis of data, its interpretation and usage, preparation of projects, profile of learners, designing of action research, techniques of systematic collection of information related to diversity, exclusion and inclusion, monitoring, evaluation and feedback of schemes designed for addressing practical and strategic needs of the beneficiaries.
For strengthening the integration of learners from diverse backgrounds, the policy related to recruitment and posting of teachers needs to be reviewed to ensure that they are competent and trained to handle socio-economic and cultural diversities of learners. Recruitment policies should try and recruit teachers who are not only well versed in academics but have the knowledge and experience of handling diversities. Efforts should be made to recruit local teachers who have an in-depth knowledge of their context.
Awards and recognition to individual teachers and institutions should be given on a regular basis to those who have successfully contributed in making inclusion a reality for diverse learners.
Several good practices and initiatives undertaken by individuals, government and non-governmental agencies working towards inclusive classroom, can be documented by the print, audio visual and visual media and disseminated to all stakeholders for sharing experiences for replication, adaptation and modification as per the requirement of the context. In particular, various educational activities of Mahila Samakhya in addressing needs of drop-out girls enrolled in Mahila Shikshan Kendras (MSKs) from varying socio-economic backgrounds can be disseminated through different mediums.
Community participation and involvement in all schooling activities can also be examined for promoting inclusive classrooms for socially diverse children. Community participation can be elicited so that children do not drop out, promotion of enrolment and retention of children from marginalized groups, monitoring and implementation of schemes and programmes, providing and maintenance of infrastructure facilities, checking teacher’s absenteeism, ensuring that teaching and learning takes place and health issues of children are addressed. Community support to schools can help in their sustenance.
A strategy of inviting local craftsmen and weavers to train children in crafts relevant to their context and integrating it with skills of entrepreneurship for self-reliance, would also make children internalize the value of manual work and help in training them as entrepreneurs. In this regard, children can be exposed to diversities of crafts, especially those that have integrated contemporary technologies to meet the growing consumer market. In this connection, some examples can be shared with children, for example, the phulkari work of Punjab, wherein the phenomenon of continuity and change can be observed. This traditional design work that was earlier done manually by women has now witnessed change in the methodology of production wherein the designing is now being done with the help of computers and sewing machines. Many more examples can also be disseminated and utilized as per the need and requirement of children within and outside of classroom settings.
Disseminating user-friendly technology related to the context of diverse learners and training them in their usability and maintenance can also become part of the curricula or vocational courses at the middle and secondary stage. In the rural context, some of the tried technologies related to preservation and conservation of environment, sowing, weeding, harvesting and winnowing of crops, handicraft related technologies, maintenance of hand pumps and those used by some of the households such as maintenance of solar cooker, use of mobile and other related technical devices can be included as examples in transaction of subjects related to the domain of science and technology. Integration of context specific technology in classroom processes and multiple activities conducted in schools would help in skill development of children from diverse origins for self-reliance.
Spaces in schools can be identified for keeping supplementary teaching-learning materials, textual material published by different agencies, kits related to science, maths, social sciences, teaching aids, collection of folk songs, coins and other artifacts for exposing both teachers and students to a plethora of materials for concept clarification and better understanding of subjects.
For motivating and inspiring learners from diverse backgrounds, there is a need to develop biographies in different languages of men and women from all age groups, particularly those who have contributed in different fields and belong to the marginalized groups. Their journey of achievement, trials and tribulations can be integrated in teaching-learning processes of different disciplines.
The above mentioned strategies and many others can be tried by different stakeholders with permutations and combinations as per the requirement of the context. Efforts are also needed to bring about an attitudinal change among school management. Further, hiring teachers sensitive to issues of different forms of discrimination, biases and stereotypes would go a long way in making classrooms in different settings inclusive. A collective effort on the part of schools and the community is needed for addressing all forms of physical and emotional alienation that children from marginalized communities face. This will help schools and classroom processes located in multiple contexts become truly representative of learners from diverse backgrounds.
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