As education has come to
the forefront of national and international policies, there are global pushes
and incentives aimed towards making quality education accessible and affordable
to all. The Education For All (2009) move by UNESCO and the move to
Universalize Education under the Millennium Development Goals (2000) put substantial
pressure on the educational infrastructure of nations, particularly developing
countries. India’s response to the growing need of a universalized access to
education can be traced back to its independence. The nascent stage Indian
government was faced by the gargantuan task of providing education in a country
with 88% illiteracy Independence was largely left with an illiterate
population, with illiteracy being as high as 84% in 19471. For years, India’s focus
was on increasing access to education to its citizens. This is evidenced in the
attempt to universalize primary education in 1986, which was followed up with
multiple education reforms in the 1990’s (Vedachalam, 2012). However no policy
has had a larger impact than the Right to Education Act (RTE) in 2009. The RTE
as a policy guaranteed, among other things, free and compulsory education for
every child ranging from the age of 6-14. While, monumental in increasing access
to education, as argued by Mehendale (2014), just having free and compulsory
education didn’t solve the need of having ‘quality’ education for all. The system
required processes that could be standardized and replicated en masse, thereby
focusing on quantitative markers rather than quality.
The Indian education
infrastructure is unique, as it has no common schooling system, and is rather
built of multiple parallel systems of education. Children are segregated into
government or private schools based on their ability to pay and the social
class they belong to. English- language schools that are affiliated to the
elite examination boards such as CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) or
ICSE (Indian Certificate for Secondary Education) are considered to be at the
top of the food chain with the highest quality of education and access to
resources. On the other end of the spectrum are schools that are managed either
partially or wholly by the state governments. These schools are characterized
by lower resources and generally a lower ‘quality’ of education (ASER, 2013). Yet,
these government schools cater to the large majority of the population;
therefore while the RTE undoubtedly increased access to education, it still
struggles to provide equitable and quality education to the students. To
bridge this gap, and maintain quality standards, the government under section
12 of the RTE mandated a minimum of 25% free and reserved seats for children
belonging to Econimically weaker sections (EWS)2 in all private unaided
primary schools across the country (Mehndale et al., 2015).
While in theory, section
12 seems like a perfect solution to start bridging the equity gap amongst
students, and not wait for the eventual strengthening of public school systems,
in reality there exist multiple challenges in the implementation of this policy.
Most of these challenges stem out of the Bourdieusian (Bourdieu, 2011) argument
of social and cultural capital. Bourdieu argued that people who come from a
place of lower social or cultural capital always find it difficult to compete
with those who possess stronger cultural and social capital. Juxtaposing this
argument into the field of education, Froerer (2011) argues that even though
students from EWS are physically integrated into the private schools, they
continue to struggle with a seamless integration as a result of various social
and cultural barriers that get institutionalized. This absence of support in
schools can be seen as one of the reason that the drop out rate amongst EWS
students is significantly higher than their peers (Government
of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2016). Shifting
the locus of challenges from students to schools, Bhattacharya (2010) argues
that it is important to realize that many private schools lack the expertise to
be able to help these students. He argues that these expertise needs to be
displayed all the way from curriculum to the in-class ability of teachers to
create an environment for EWS students to grow and learn. This essay focuses on
the challenges teachers face as the primary stakeholders responsible for the
delivery of the education, in their quest to provide an inclusive education to
The government of India
did foresee some of these problems, but the structures present in the form of
preemptive measures seem to have had negligible impact. At primary inspection,
we see a lack of structural planning for the sheer scale at which this program
was to be implemented. Multiple researches (Sharma and Deppeler, 2005, Jha et
al., 2013) have shown clear evidence that the education infrastructure in India
is characterized by a failure of execution at multiple levels. The following
paragraph dwells deeper into the inadequacies of teacher training, and policy
challenges in preparing teachers to carry out the equitable, inclusive and
quality driven form of education the RTE envisions by focusing on three of the
major such issues; teacher training, policy creation and curricular support.
A study done by (Ojha,
2013) showed the problematic state of affairs regarding teacher training in
India. While multiple teacher training and workshops are planned, and even
directed by the RTE act, few actually get implemented. Even when conducted
these workshops do not create processes or platforms for regular support for
the teachers. He argued that the
vast nature of India makes implementation extremely demanding.
Corroborating this finding, Kidwai and colleagues (Kidwai et al.,
2013) found in their research that there is, in parts of India, a complete
absence of pre-service training for teachers. This becomes deeply problematic
while looking at the level of diversity in India, and the consequent need for
functional tools for providing good quality education. This issue arises,
even after policy makers clearly highlighted the importance of teacher training
that in turn shows a clear lack of communication between the policy and the
people who have to implement that policy.
Flowing from the first
issue, there exists a major dissonance between the vision and articulation of
policymakers, and the on-ground realities of what exist in the classroom. While
numerous researches and studies have shown the urgent requirement for teacher
training to promote high quality and inclusive education (Giffard-Lindsay,
2007), the political discourse in India around these concerns still remains
stagnant. Policymakers and politicians across party lines are still looking at
the right to education as only an access-related program, making statements and
articulating goals related to admission rates, physical infrastructure, teacher
working hours and teacher-pupil ratios, with no focus on quality or inclusion
(LiveMint, 2017). Shah and Agarwal’s (2010) critique opines that education in
India, particularly under the RTE, is still being looked at as an input based,
not outcome oriented policy with low regard to curricular or teacher-support
interventions to promote inclusive education.
Finally, the curriculum –
which is the basic content framework that teachers are expected to deliver –
contains hidden elements in its design and prescribed delivery that make
inclusion tougher. The curriculum in India rather than supporting the teacher
restricts their ability to provide inclusive education (Giffard-Lindsay, 2007).
As Blumberg (2008) states in her paper the syllabus and hidden curriculum reflects
a portrayal of society that subliminally cements social hierarchies in the
minds of the students. The creation of a sociological ‘other’ through
illustrations and stories highlight the physical and social differences between
the children from different backgrounds. In its portrayal of an interaction of
a child from a low-income background and a child from a more privileged
background, the NCERT textbook of grade 63 shows a
pronounced difference in the skin color, clothes and lived experiences of the
EWS child, that makes reliability amongst students tougher. Making their
pursuit of inclusive and equitable education more challenging, teachers have to
combat the subliminal biases ingrained into the content, and compensate using pedagogical
innovations, something that they are already undertrained for (Sarin and Gupta,
2013, Jha et al., 2013).
Overall, a mixture of
these three and many other challenges makes it extremely difficult for teachers
to practice the kind of education that was originally envisioned by the policy
makers under the RTE. Regrettably, as pointed out by (Dyer, 2005), the burden
of this policy’s failure is more often than not levied on the teachers, that
makes their already difficult jobs even harder to carry out. The following
paragraph concludes the essay by suggesting possible solutions around these
Implementing a program
for universalized access to education was always an audacious project. Matching
scale with quality is a challenge for policymakers around the world, but it is
a compromise that cannot be afforded in the sphere of education. To create
processes for quality maintenance under the RTE, the outcomes of this act need
to be recalibrated. It must create assessment systems that measure not just
quantitative outputs like enrollment or physical infrastructure, but soft
infrastructure like student learning outcomes, equity in education and
inclusion in the classroom. Teacher training needs more dynamic in the context
of changing social realities. Teachers need to be equipped with the skills and
pedagogical tools to execute differentiated lessons in a class with children
from different backgrounds. Further as Oliver (1996) argues that
inclusion is not a static state but a dynamic process that implies changes in
school ethos to create a community that accepts and values difference, for
inclusion to work, curriculum content, rather than merely curriculum delivery,
must change where the child’s right to belong to a mainstream school does not
remain a matter of legal right but becomes their moral and political. While the
overall picture for equitable education in India looks bleak, as pointed out
there are multiple steps that can move education in the right direction.
Word count: 1617 (Excluding footnotes)
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See more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy_in_India
2 The EWS includes students who belong to not
only form economically weaker sections but also from disadvantaged groups such
as the Schedule Caste and Schedule tribes along with students who are
3 The textbooks can be found at: http://ncertbooks.prashanthellina.com/6_SocialStudies.html