A study of socio-cultural deprivation towards access and inclusivity within Indian schools
A recent incidence of police brutality in Minnesota, U.S.A, led to the death of a 46 year old black man named George Floyd. The ensuing global outrage at the heinous incident sparked a debate in India as well. Riding on the tide of hashtags, numerous well known Indians announced #BlackLivesMatter. However, this faced an equally strong critique. The ongoing migrant crisis, the systemic atrocities on scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minorities — do these lives not matter more within the Indian context? And what about the South Asian obsession with fair skin, both at home and in the diaspora? The implicit bias of perhaps a large chunk of Indian society would associate fairer skin with a higher caste. This bias has proven untrue anthropologically since caste is not a marker of a separate biotype. But human beings are emotional creatures trying to rationalize at best. We may only try to reduce cognitive dissonance through rationalizing, but the dissonance remains. And therefore, we find that societal ills of deprivation based on caste, religion, ethnicity and sexuality, among other factors remain a reality in India — perhaps even growing. It sticks out as a major failure within a national democratic framework with the most extensive constitution in the world that accounts for countering such inequity and deprivation within its basic structure. So, while the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) classified India as a “Developed” country accounting for 2.1% of global exports, and 2.6% of global imports, this article takes a more groundline human centric approach to do further fact finding. As a marker of this, the article seeks to reflect upon the state of inclusion in school education, and its impact on demographic categories.
School education was chosen since it is a preliminary means of accessing knowledge, which in turn forms a major component of UNDP’s Human Development Report. For the record, India is currently ranked in the third quartile at 135 out of 187 countries on the Education Index.But is it that within the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic of India education is not accessible in concept? A study of the Constitution of India would show that there are several guarantees in place to ease access, enable equity and inclusive education. Article 46 states that,
The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
Furthermore, the Constitution (Eighty Sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 introduced Article 21-A, a Fundamental Right, in the Constitution of India making school education free and compulsory in the age group of six to fourteen years. The consequential legislation based on Article 21-A, came in the form of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which according to the Department of School Education and Literacy means,
that every child has a right to full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school which satisfies certain essential norms and standards.
Following this, the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutionality of the Right to Education Act, and delivered a landmark judgement taking a child centric view. The apex court vouched for the constitutionality of the government’s plan to introduce social inclusiveness in primary education stating that all schools, except unaided minority institutions, would have to admit at least 25% students from economically weaker sections in the neighbourhood.In addition to this, there are various schemes which were established to aid in fostering better possibilities of education for weaker socio-economic categories. The Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM), Scheme for Infrastructure Development of Private Aided/Unaided Minority Institutions (IDMI), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs), Mid-Day-Meals (MDM) Scheme, Saakshar Bharat, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) — the list is quite extensive.
But what does that do to the actual rates of school enrollment for scheduled castes(SC), scheduled tribes(ST), and educationally backward minority communities(EBMC)? The 8th All India School Education Survey (AISES) states that the enrollment of SC at the primary level stands at 18% of the total enrollment across all states within India. For ST-s, the percentage of enrollment at the primary stage is 10.76% of the total, while for EBMC the percentage of enrollment at the primary stage stands at 10.08% of the total. Given that the percentage population of SC, ST, EBMC according to the Census of 2011 is 16.6%, 8.6%, 14.2% respectively, the rates of enrollment are slightly higher or as seen in case of EBMC is almost 4% lower. While the figures may have changed slightly in the past few years, the overall impact is not different. Dropout rates continue to be high among marginalised categories of people. An article published by Oxfam India states that 75% of the 6 million children out of school in 2015 were either Dalits(32.4%), Muslims(25.7%), or Adivasis (16.6%). So, while there is some percentage of primary enrollment, the percentage of people belonging to SC, ST, EBMC, and sitting out of the boundaries of primary education or dropping out is comparatively much higher. This is further supported by the fact that in 2014–15, the top 5 states where school dropouts were noted are Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya — — all states of the North-East, most of them predominantly tribal states.
So why does this happen? It is the nuances that inform the implementation of such inclusive policies that may tell the real story. Some of it is merely financial encumbrance. While the Supreme Court did declare that private schools would have to include students from economically weaker backgrounds, the subsidised education would account for a range of Rs 500 to Rs 1500 on a monthly basis. This is quite limiting since tuition fees for private schools can be much higher than this range. However, there are more pressing issues. The implementation of the Mid Day Meal scheme sees discrimination wherein Dalit students are made to sit separately, and use a different set of plates. In a surprise inspection carried out in Rajasthan in areas dominated by SC and ST communities, children from the Valmiki community were asked to sit separately and their plates weren’t washed by the helpers. In some cases, the cooks who prepare the food for Mid Day Meals are SC, leading to caste Hindu children having food at home. The considerations of purity and pollution have been an issue in various parts of India with reference to the scheme. Then there are instances reported of physical and mental abuse. In a report published by the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), 14 instances of violence in schools was noted. 12 out of these were of the nature of sexual abuse. In one such case, the principal of a school in Rajasthan beat eleven Dalit children for drinking directly from the common water pot and issued transfer certificates thereby removing them from the school. The actions taken against the students were based on the fact that they had drunk water from the common pot. Then there are instances where Dalit children were made to clean toilets in schools based on their caste affiliation. Teachers too in many cases feel that children from marginalised backgrounds are not as bright as the others. Over the years, studies speak of Dalit children made to feel inferior by teachers. Instances of them not being offered STEM subjects to study, and the anger displayed by upper castes when they opt to study Sanskrit are well documented. With an array of examples of neglect, discrimination, and outright abuse, the dropout rate from schools of children from marginalised sections does not seem surprising, although such reasons may be only some of the ultimate reasons for finally dropping out.
Such treatment meted out to children coming from marked backgrounds, added stigma due to recognisable surnames, and further discrimination for females from marginalised segments has documented psychological impact on their minds. Children, more often than not, are aware that only certain categories of children in their peer groups are subject to derogatory language, and abuse. It forms a sense of hierarchy in their minds as well. The book Belief systems and durable inequalities: An experimental investigation of Indian caste, reveals the effect social inequalities have on the minds of children. In the absence of caste being made public, the performance gap based on caste is hardly visible; whereas when caste is made public, the gap increases to 23%. It speaks of a deep sense of inferiority ingrained in the minds of otherwise capable children. Perhaps at some point the children do start to feel that they are never going to be good enough, that they better start earning to support the family in ways possible within their means. This however does not help as they fall back into the cycle of poverty. Parents of children belonging to marginalised and economically poorer backgrounds also feel that investing in education will perhaps not bear fruit, since they almost always have no immediate example of someone who has “made it”. Such instances are also noted in the book Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. While Mid Day Meals, and other schemes meant to aid attendance in schools do exist, many would feel that they have better chances of having some cash in hand if their children contributed to the family income, rather than wait the duration to educate them.
So what happens to the children who dropout? The picture painted is a dismal one. SCs form the most unemployed category of citizens (1.7% above the national average as per NSSO data), followed by STs. SCs have the highest unemployment rates among educated categories of people with 14.7% of diploma holders, and 12.3% of graduates unemployed. But does this mean that the balance percentage of these marginalised populations get jobs which are worth their education? According to the 2011–12 NSSO statistics, 63% of the SC community were daily wage labourers. Technically they would be flagged off as employed. In an article called “The Legacy of Social Exclusion”, the researchers Thorat and Attewell note that,
Appropriately qualified applicants with a dalit name had odds of a positive outcome that were 0.67 of the odds of an equivalently qualified applicant with a high caste Hindu name. Similarly-qualified applicants with a Muslim name had odds of 0.33 of an otherwise equivalent applicant with a high caste name.
The ghosts of school education continue for these communities in the form of structural deprivation within employment as well as — the representation of SC, ST, and EBMC remain significantly lower than other categories in better paying jobs requiring a basic qualification of graduation.
In addition to school education, children require emotional resilience which may be built through general exposure and self-esteem. This is only possible through personalised care, long term support systems such as networks they may fall back upon, and a relatively safe space where they can express themselves. In many cases, children coming from such marginalisation are first generation learners, and hence cannot fall back on the family for any of these comforts. And with the reported discrimination in schools, it becomes only more difficult for the children to grow cognitively and emotionally. Education has helped many families break the cycle of poverty. But in most cases, the struggle has been extremely difficult. While there may be constitutional guarantees, the social realities are very different in a country that is as vast as India. Literacy rates among SC, ST, and EBMC are the lowest as well. The only answer is perhaps a more empathetic system of schooling. As the entry point to any form of mobility in life aided by education, schools play a pivotal role. Time will tell if the social silos will break down, but one of the best ways to start off is through a more inclusive system of schooling, which perhaps is a possibility 73 years post independence.
- “The Constitution of India”. legislative.Gov.in http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/COI-updated.pdf
- “Enrolment in School”. Seventh All-India School Education Survey: NCERT. http://www.ncert.nic.in/programmes/education_survey/pdfs/Enrolment_in_school.pdf,
- Kurien. Oommen. “When Schools Continue to Exclude, Can Education Reduce Caste Discrimination in India?”. Oxfamindia.org. 2015. https://www.oxfamindia.org/blog/when-schools-continue-exclude-can-education-reduce-caste-discrimination-india#:~:text=Discrimination%20in%20education%20is%20the,students%20face%20the%20most%20discrimination.
- “The Eighth All India Educational Survey”. NCERT. http://ncert.nic.in/pdf_files/8th_AISES_Concise_Report.pdf
- “Abhay Deal criticises celebs posting about Black Lives Matter”.Firstpost.com https://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/abhay-deol-criticises-celebs-posting-about-black-lives-matter-create-your-own-actions-relevant-to-your-country-8444361.html
- Chadrasekhar. S. “Caste, Class and Colour in India”. The Scientific Monthly.Vol. 62, №2 (Feb., 1946), pp. 151–157. https://www.jstor.org/stable/18862
- “Right to Education”. MHRD.gov.in. https://mhrd.gov.in/rte
- “Enrolment-Based Indicator”. Elementary Education in India: An Analytical Report. www.dise.in. pg 85–128. http://dise.in/Downloads/Publications/Publication%202006-07/AR0607/Enrolment%20Based%20Indicators.pdf
- “Drop out Rate”. data.gov.in. https://data.gov.in/major-indicator/drop-out-rate
- Thorat, Sukhadeo and Paul Attewall. “The Legacy of Social Exclusion: A Correspondence Study of Job Discrimination in India”. Economic and Political Weekly , Oct. 13–19, 2007, Vol. 42, №41 (Oct. 13–19, 2007), pp. 4141–4145. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40276548.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A6c0e81d7d7dcbb6ad3afe9280489d37a
- “Policies, Programmes and Schemes for Educational Development of Children from Scheduled Castes”.NCERT. http://www.ncert.nic.in/departments/nie/degsn/pdf_files/degsnmodule6.pdf
- “NSSO Data Puts Unemployment at 45-Year High in 2017–18: Report”. TheWire.in.2019.https://thewire.in/labour/nsso-data-puts-unemployment-at-45-year-high-in-2017-18-repor
- Banerjee, Abhijit and Esther Duflo. Poor Economics. Random House, 2011.
- “They Say We Are Dirty”.HRW.org. 2014. https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/04/22/they-say-were-dirty/denying-education-indias-marginalized
- Mruthunjaya, Anshuman “Caste-based Discrimination in Indian Schools”. Medium.com. 2019. https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/caste-based-discrimination-in-indian-schools-21b477be395c
Bhaswar Faisal Khan
A post graduate from Delhi University, a Young India Fellow, currently working in High Education Administration at Ashoka University. I run The Delek Education Foundation, where we are committed to providing better access to K-12 educational resources through free libraries.
5 thoughts on “Padhoge Likhoge Banoge Nawab”
What an interesting article. Clearly, the US has miles to go before we reach true equality, it’s interesting to see how India is dealing with disparities. The US has made some inroads in light of this article. The things India are dealing with now, the US has dealt with them also and things have improved. I don’t know how to fix the problem completely. It’s wonderful to see people of color or disadvantaged backgrounds ‘make it’ but there are others who get stuck in a cycle of poverty despite free education and financial assistance.
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Thank you Wanda! Yes, truly so. There are people from disadvantaged backgrounds who get stuck in the cycle of poverty, despite financial assistance, or in the Indian context reservation within jobs, and education. The question that arises is always that of quality of such candidates. FSG studies state that 86% of low income households in urban India send their children to affordable private schools (APS), but the children going to APS are not school ready due to developmentally inappropriate rote learning pedagogies. So, although on paper the numbers would show that the access to schooling has increased for people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, the quality still remains doubtful. To solve for that would also mean larger funding on some counts. Government investment for education in India is around 3% of the GDP (which is below the world average) and philanthropy is still catching up, although rapidly. The India Philanthropy Report states that India contributes 22% of the global gap in quality education (SDG 4). To address the educational gaps in a large country like India is a complex challenge, and so is the implementation of pre-existing policies trying to provide access. Quality of access though, still remains a question of privilege.
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I agree. Money won’t solve everything, although it will help. Something must change on a fundamental level to really help the disadvantaged.
Dear Wanda, Thank you for your comment! We began this blog to document precisely these instances of discrimination continuing covertly and overtly in many forms. For example, in our latest blog post, the author analyses an affirmative action scheme called Mid-Day Meal scheme. While it has kept children in school, increased enrolment, etc, it has also brought out other problems. Would be glad if you give it a read: https://thedelekarchives.wordpress.com/2020/07/05/mid-day-meal-scheme-an-unconventional-analysis/
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Thank you! I have read it and wrote my comment. Very good point. One I had not thought of before.