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Social Inclusion in Education – A Status Report



The histories of exploitation and marginalisation of the disadvantaged communities have produced different engagements with education as a path to social mobility. Over the last two decades, the government has increased elementary school provision (grades I-VIII) and this has significantly increased rates of enrolment among the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. However, issues of quality and relevance of schooling for these children have barely received the required attention from the government. The poor quality of infrastructure and teaching, and a curriculum that does not relate to the socio-cultural lives of the people nor teach about their history, have all contributed to the communities’ disenchantment with schooling. Furthermore, the content of school education devalues their cultures and histories and undermines their sense of self and community identity. Moreover, the poor quality of schooling available to children does not prepare them to succeed at higher levels of education nor to compete for jobs, thereby demoralizing young people.



Similar issues of self-worth, dignity and livelihoods that school education has failed to address or even acknowledge also arise for children from muslim communities. They frequently encounter overt and covert acts of discrimination, prejudice and rejection from teachers and fellow students. Commonly reported instances of cruel treatment include being told to sit separately from other students. In other words, while elementary schools may appear to be places in which integration can take place, prejudices against SC, ST, Muslims and girls persist in the classroom, playground and in the micro-practices of schooling. The understanding that education is a vehicle for integration and assimilation of students into the social mainstream is also increasingly being questioned and is seen as having limited usefulness in overcoming prejudice, discrimination and marginalisation. To bring about equity in education for excluded populations scholars and activists advocate a framework of social justice that goes beyond aggregative concerns of equity in the context of access, participation and outcomes, to one which emphasises qualitative aspects of the educational experience and their impact on identity, self-worth and future life chances.



All of us have been talking about ways to universalise education and to deliver quality education in an equitable manner. Yet, the gaps in educational opportunities and achievements of different sets of students belonging to different class, social identity, gender and geographical locations have not been mitigated, if not increased. In other words the very objective of reducing inequalities through educational expansion faces a challenge at its inception with the failures to incorporate sections of the society into the fold of education. The literacy data (Census of India 2001) clearly show that sections of the population, the Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis), the Muslims and the Scheduled Castes (Dalits) lag much behind the state average while the “others” (population minus the three categories mentioned above, mainly high caste Hindus) find a much higher place in the statistical table. Again, this general pattern has particular inflicting influence on the female literacy rates of the different social groups. This precisely indicates that sections of population, for various reasons, are excluded from the arena of education where the basis of the exclusion is determined by their social background – their being members of particular social class (within the broader framework of four major divisions – Adivasi, Muslim, Dalit and Others and again the gender division within those categories). However, the social variations do not seem to follow a particular pattern. Rather it tends to take different route in different regions depending upon the particular social, economic and political fabric – often historically evolved. As regards the literacy rate among the Dalits, Bihar’s performance is worse both in terms of value and also in terms of the difference between the state average of literacy rate (47 percent) and Dalit literacy rate (28.5). It is followed by Karnataka (State average 67 percent and Dalit literacy 53 percent). But, in both the states Muslims are somewhat better placed. In Andhra Pradesh Muslims (68 percent) are much ahead of the state average (61 percent), but the Adivasis are far behind (37 percent) the state average. In Assam, Dalits (67 percent) are ahead of the state average of literacy (63 percent) but Muslims (48 percent) are far behind. Again, both these communities of Punjab (Dalit 56 percent, Muslims 51 percent)) are far behind the state average (70 percent).



As to why social exclusion in education could not be addressed properly even after six decades of independent regime there is perhaps no clear cut answer. While some finds the implementation being faulty others attach importance to the policy gaps. Some of us even cherish to find a fatalistic causal connection between the peoples’ origin of birth and their educational achievement. Can belonging to particular social class cause cognitive deficiency? There is, of course, no such scientific evidence. Rather, as Amartya Sen puts it, “Our capability to lead one kind of life rather than another does not depend only on what we are, but also on the circumstances in which we find ourselves.” The anthropologist, Jared Diamond underlines, “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environment, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.” Of course, the term ‘environment’ has been used in much wider sense where opportunities form a major part of human environment. Again, scientific research has clearly shown that, “social exclusion actually can change in a person’s brain function and can lead to poor decision making and a diminished learning ability.” Indeed, as a scientist puts it, “social rejection can have a powerful influence on how people act.” And, this freedom or unfreedom of act plays a crucial role in the overall development achievement of any given society. The elimination of a particular section from social opportunities does not only affect the concerned group but it also exerts a negative impact on the overall level of progress.



Access to schooling is no longer a major impediment to ensuring universal education for the marginalized especially since the notification of Right to Education in April 2010. The simple availability of a school in around 96% of the habitations in the country, however, does not guarantee that children will enrol or attend. The educational gaps, rooted in the social backgrounds, add further to the socio economic divisions. Nevertheless, as has been seen above the social divisions take different routes in different states, and this requires a detailed investigation, would certainly give us some valuable indications on the pattern of social exclusion in education. The groups that lag behind in educational achievements are highly dependent upon manual labour for their survival. These groups suffer from myriad discrimination in terms of food security, health facilities, and so on. And all these discriminations are intertwiningly linked with the educational backwardness owing to and resulting in different forms of exclusion based on social opportunities.



The expansion of schools has also been accompanied by an increased demand for education. A good level of provision of primary schools within a reasonable distance (i.e. within 1km) is available but various studies have shown that many of these children drop out of primary school in the higher grades and do not make the transition to secondary schooling. Rapidly expanding enrolments have been accompanied by changing perceptions of the relevance of schooling, the effectiveness of schools, and the benefits of participation in relation to direct and indirect costs. Primary school graduation rates have not increased as rapidly as would be expected from overall enrolment growth. The problems of capturing and retaining the last 20% of non-enrolled or ‘at risk’ students, and of increasing promotion, completion and transition rates for girls and boys, are inextricably linked to decisions to participate by the poor and other excluded groups.



The education of girls is a serious issue as they are often doubly disadvantaged, due to both their social status and their gender. Gender equity is a major concern, as the drop out rate is higher among Muslims, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe girls at the elementary level. In 2004-2005, the drop out rate for Scheduled Caste girls was 60% (compared to 55% for SC boys) and for Scheduled Tribe girls it was 67% (compared to 65% for ST boys) at the elementary level. Girls are particularly disadvantaged because family and social roles often do not prioritise their education. The age of girls also affects when they drop out. In many states, early marriage and the economic utility of children leads to large scale drop out in the 5-10 year old and 16-20 year old age groups, interrupting the completion of girls’ education. The government has provided special attendance scholarships for girl students in order to keep them in school.



As can be seen from the literacy data, the pattern of literacy achievement coincides with the exclusion of particular communities in general and especially the women in those communities. Also, the literacy deprivation follows a geographical pattern, which again goes in line with the geography of hunger. Precisely, there is a clear pattern where sections of people in the society are adversely incorporated – they are excluded from the social opportunities, particularly education, but are forcibly included in the fold of manual workers. How does this exclusion happen? Is it the result of policy failure? Or it’s a case of failure in the implementation? Or it is the indifference of the local level implementers (such as teachers) against the backward groups that causes the exclusion. It is a combination of different factors – policy design and implementation and other societal barriers – which cause to the exclusion of particular groups from the domain of education.



We have seen above the highly unequal access of the backward communities to the schooling institutions: at the primary level they are provided with some sort of stop-gap arrangements and at the upper primary level that access is even limited. This lack of opportunity has multiple connections – both in terms of causes and consequences of exclusion. As a general phenomenon it is the areas with higher concentration of backward communities which have lesser number of primary and upper primary schools. These areas suffer from acute shortage of teachers too. And these are the areas where people in general and the women in particular become the worst victims of exclusion.



It is not only the access to school that makes a barrier for the children of the socially deprived communities but the exclusion of these children continues even in the classroom. The necessity of home-task embedded in the curriculum has given rise to the “unavoidability” of private tuition. While the overload in the curriculum has negative impacts on all children in general this has particular implication on the children of marginalised communities. Children of the socially disadvantaged communities often face a major hurdle because of the language of the teacher and the medium of instruction.



From the above discussion we can see clearly that there are major gaps in our policy and implementation of elementary education which cause not only to exclude a large section from the arena of education but also from the larger societal plane. There is a circular relationship between social backwardness, educational advancement and overall development. An analysis of the states shows that:

(a) propensity of Adivasis, Muslims and Dalits, and more particularly the women in those communities is much higher to be illiterate than the others. With higher proportion of these communities the propensity of lower level of literacy in general and female literacy in particular goes higher.

(b) Areas with lower literacy rate are more prone to having more number of schools run by single teacher; given the poor female literacy rate among the Adivasis the areas inhabited by them are more likely to face educational accessibility (as discussed above the areas inhabited by these communities have much less number of schools than the other areas; also, a major section of the Adivasi areas have more number of single teacher school).

(c) Literacy rate and proportion of agriculture labourer are inversely proportionate: where literacy is higher the proportion of agricultural labourers is lower.

(d) Schools with more number of Muslim children are likely to have less number of teachers (with a high pupil-teacher ratio).



The availabilty of statistics is clearly essential for a better estimate of the extent to which the socially excluded among the poor systematically report lower levels of income and capabilities than others while more detailed qualitative research can help to uncover the mechanisms by which exclusion is reproduced over time. The agencies responsible for collecting data at both national and international levels may need greater disaggregation of the poor than has hitherto been the case.



The Right to Free and Compulsory Education, 2009 has addressed children from disadvantaged communities and weaker sections of society in two ways. The first, is the legal entitlement flowing out of the Fundamental Right of every child to free and compulsory education between the ages of 6-14, which makes it mandatory for the state to ensure that all children are not only enrolled in school but retained and complete the elementary cycle of schooling. The second way in which marginalization is addressed is by making special provisions for children belonging to “disadvantaged groups” as well as children belonging to “weaker sections”, in recognition of the entrenched social and economic disparities faced by children from these backgrounds.



While both these entitlements having legal ramifications will no doubt have a big impact in bringing larger numbers of children into schools, retaining them in school and ensuring that they complete the cycle of elementary education, as promised by the Act, will require special attention from government as well as non-government agencies where in Civil Society will have a key role to play and support RTE.



Strategies for addressing Social Inclusion:

  1. Mapping of Disaggregated Data to identify the pockets of exclusion especially at the district and block levels to cull out the geographical locations where in exclusion has occurred over the years.
  2. Causal Analysis to assess the supply and demand factors at play and how these have influenced the entry of the disadvantaged into the schooling process and affected them. This calls for the various issues as to why the children have not been able to benefit from education such as teachers behaviors, community norms, discrimination and harassment due to caste, gender etc.
  3. At the same time the policy gaps need to be identified and culled out which may need consultations, and discussions with various stakeholders to rectify them and at the same time change them within the framework of RTE to facilitate the processes needed to benefit the disadvantaged. This also involves a large component of awareness building and advocacy to bring on board the various stakeholders and bring upfront the reasons for exclusion.
  4. Capacity Analysis of the system at the upstream, midstream and downstream is very crucial to address the service delivery in education process. Different methods need to be used to build capacities of the key stakeholders in the system to identify the excluded and meaningfully include them in the schooling process but at the same time making the system responsive to their needs and provide them the opportunity to participate meaningfully.
  5. Alliance Building & Partnerships are key to raise the debate of exclusion to a larger audience and then through partnerships address the issue of exclusion. This entails that Unicef will constantly strive to work with various stakeholders and together try and find ways of bringing the excluded into the process of education which will need demonstration and development of models which can be replicated by government. At the same time the intersectoral partnerships within are very important to address the issues of child labour, discrimination etc.

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