In the process of reporting today’s story on the implementation of the Right to Education Act on Shri Ram School in New Delhi, we posed a series of questions to Anshu Vaish, secretary for school education and literacy at the Department of Human Resource Development.
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Inclusion of 25% children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections is a moderate step to remedy the situation.
Ms. Vaish’s comments were insightful and articulate in laying out the government’s vision for what it is seeking to achieve through its focus on education — something much broader than simply educating kids. Here are her responses in full:
–The Statement of Objects and Reasons attached to the RTE Act states: “The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008, is anchored in the belief that the values of equality, social justice and democracy and the creation of a just and humane society can be achieved only through provision of inclusive elementary education to all. Provision of free and compulsory education of satisfactory quality to children from disadvantaged and weaker sections is, therefore, not merely the responsibility of schools run or supported by the appropriate Governments, but also of schools which are not dependent on Government funds.”
–The key words in the SOR are “equality, social justice and democracy,” “just and humane society,” and “inclusive elementary education to all.” It is in this context that private schools, not dependent on Government funds, are included in the RTE Act.
–The idea that schooling should act as a means of social cohesion and inclusion is not new; it has been oft repeated. But the sad reality is that there persists in our country a division in the provision of schools: the “ordinary” and the “exclusive.” The first serves children who depend on the Government for their education, and the second comprises children whose education is paid for by their parents. Over the years schooling offered by these two systems has become increasingly disparate and unequal, and the goal of social cohesion has received little public attention.
-The Kothari Commission (1964-66) articulated the idea of a “neighborhood” school as a common space, where all children cutting across caste, class and gender lines learn together in the best inclusive manner. This idea has been articulated in practically all policy documents thereafter: the National Policy on Education 1968, as well as the National Curriculum Framework, 2005. This concept has also been incorporated in the RTE Act, 2009.
–The present school system – whether government or private – is a far cry from the ideal of school as a site for inclusion. Privately-run schools and those run by the government or local bodies largely cater to differentiated social categories and economic strata. Consequently, children grow up segregated. The segregation starts as early as the nursery stage, and by the time children are nine or ten years old, many private schools feel reluctant to follow a policy of integrating children from the socio-economically weaker sections of society with those from the better-off strata.
–There are several reasons for this reluctance: Firstly, the authorities and teachers of these schools feel that children belonging to disadvantaged groups and weaker sections will not be able to cope with the amount of work required to survive in the competitive environment of their schools. Secondly, among certain principals and teachers of private schools, there is also an apprehension that children from sharply varying socio-economically classes will find it hard to mix. The third reason for their reluctance is financial. The expenditure to be incurred for keeping a child at a private school has become so high that a child whose education is not financially supported will become a burden on the school. Research on the financing of private schools is scant, but it needs to be acknowledged that there is a very wide variety of private schools. The range includes schools flush with funds to those running on a subsistence budget.
–It is widely believed that privately schooled children attain a higher standard of learning. However, learning cannot be understood purely in academic terms, since the aims of education also include the inculcation of values and attitudes consistent with the Constitution’s egalitarian framework. Apart from promoting social cohesion, a heterogeneous school population, comprising children across caste, class and gender, provides an enriched learning environment.
–Learning occurs, not merely from instruction imparted within the four walls of the classroom, but from the classroom ethos and from interactivity between children from different backgrounds – different castes, different religions, different socio-economic backgrounds. Increase in the variability of the backgrounds and culture enriches the classroom, generates in children respect for difference and diversity, and enhances learning. The classroom culture remains intellectually moribund if it does not acknowledge the diversity and plurality of our people and our country. A school that has only one segment of the wider society represented in it is greatly depleted in terms of human context.
–For children of socio-economically weaker backgrounds to feel at home in private schools, it is necessary that they form a substantial proportion or critical mass in the class they join. It is for this reason that the RTE Act provides for admission of 25% children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections in class I only, not across the whole school. As children admitted to class I move to class II, new children will be admitted to class I, and so on till completion of eight years of elementary education. The rationale for admission in class I only must be appreciated in human terms.
–Teachers who are used to a selective, homogeneous classroom environment cannot be expected to develop the required positive attitude and professional skills to deal with a diversified class overnight. The same applies to children. Children who have grown up to an age of nine or ten in a homogeneous or segregated environment have been socialized into a structure of norms and behavior. They cannot be transformed on demand. Also, the overall school ethos cannot be expected to respond to a new policy in a positive manner all of a sudden. Education is indeed an act of faith and social engineering – but not quick-fix social engineering. In view of the fact that children take time to socialize and teachers take time to develop new attitudes and pedagogic skills, the RTE Act provides for admission of disadvantaged and poor children at the entry level, covering pre-school and Class I.
–With these children moving up, and a new cohort of children entering pre-school and Class I in each successive year, the school will gradually have a more diverse population spread across all classes. Progression at this pace will allow children the opportunity to grow up together and create bonds: bonds that can survive social walls. Progression at this pace can allow the school to develop the professional capacity to respond to the intellectual and emotional needs of children from diverse backgrounds. Children who are younger than eight years of age are yet to develop a stable social identity. Their values are still forming, and their motivation to derive meaning from experience, both concrete and social is very strong.
–Therefore, it is a valid argument that the policy of mixing children from different socio-economic strata has the best chance of succeeding if it starts from the formative years of nursery/kindergarten and Class I. Diversity enhances learning and development, while segregation impoverishes the classroom environment of all schools, private or government.
–Admission of 25% children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections in the neighborhood is not merely to provide avenues of quality education to poor and disadvantaged children. The larger objective is to provide a common place where children sit, eat and live together for at least eight years of their lives across caste, class and gender divides in order that it narrows down such divisions in our society. The other objective is that the 75% children who have been lucky to come from better endowed families, learn through their interaction with the children from families who haven’t had similar opportunities, but are rich in knowledge systems allied to trade, craft, farming and other services, and that the pedagogic enrichment of the 75% children is provided by such intermingling.
–This will of course require classroom practices, teacher training, etc. to constantly bring out these pedagogic practices, rather than merely make children from these two sections sit together. The often voiced concern about how the 25% children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections can cope in an environment where rich children exist can be resolved when the teaching learning process and teachers use these children as sources of knowledge so that their esteem and recognition goes up and they begin to be treated as equals.
–The RTE Act is a modest effort to bring about social integration. The “common school” concept of the Kothari Commission did not materialize. Neither could we overcome the legacy of separate “tolas” or “dhanis” in our villages. Education has been given the responsibility of social cohesion by policy; inclusion of 25% children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections is a moderate step to remedy the situation.
Via: India Real Time