Inclusive Education in India – Really?

Bhaskar Majumder

With or without pointing at the proposed New Education Policy, 2019 of the Government of India, I would like to delve into the question if inclusive education is really the aim of the country that we cherish to look forward to. Nobody denies education as the only pedestal that raises the consciousness of mankind through whatever they do or abstain from doing. This writing has no link with the Right to Education Act, 2006 of the Government of India either. Briefly, I abstain from any sort of strife between what I think and what the Government of India thinks on education. I represent myself as a social being for my being an integral part of education system as a transmitter of what I understood as education-content for more than past four decades in different universities and institutes in India, mostly covering West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

Since I abstain from Government Policies and Acts, I also abstain from quantitative data provided by the Government of India through Census or through other Reports/Records. I shall rely on what I observed/received from my students, both inside and outside formal institutions, with one limitation. Post-1978 I failed to get direct ideas about primary and secondary education in India for my engagement in education called higher education system in India. One could also call it Tertiary education. However, because of my nature of trespassing, I could gather some ideas on primary and secondary education also. Of course, ideas on education at any time at any location remain so tiny that writing about it also expresses tiny dimensions of ground reality.

The basic questions that need to be examined are: First, where do the children of the migrant workers go? Where do the waste picking children go? Where do the adolescent boys serving 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Motor Garages and Food Junctions (Dhava) go? Where do the girl children of the women domestic workers go? Do we have special school for street children, lost-and-found children, child beggars, orphans? Or, the children of the coolies, rickshaw pullers, and vegetable vendors – what happens to their education? Based on my several studies (in most of the cases through participant observations), I found perpetuation of inter-generational occupational immobility for in most of the cases the next generation is drawn to the same work – for example, the adolescent girl of the woman domestic worker starts coming with her mother to get training pre-marriage and works as a substitute worker when her mother falls ill.

In pre-History, all did not have the right to education with or without knowing the Eklavya or Shambook episodes (as they are portrayed in Great Indian Epics). The 21st century is apparently free from justification of some pre-historic (hypothetical) episodes. Both women and Shudras (clubbed together!) are equally inside the classrooms in India now. So it seems education has emancipated all. Had the conclusion been so naive I would not have tried to understand where we stand now. I am not at this stage questioning the consequences of education by jobs or marriage or civility. My purpose is simple for the time being. The purpose is to examine if education can be inclusive in India at least for the foreseeable future. Let me narrate some examples.

Example 1: It was year 1966 when one bare-food student of standard VI dropped out in the month of January just when I got admission in that standard in Cachar High School in the town Silchar. I was told later he was the boy who stood first in standard V and that he had to drop out to support his father in agriculture.

Example 2: It was year 1967 when one student of standard VII in Netaji Shikshayatan school at sub-urban area of Calcutta/Kolkata left the school for fear of being beaten by stick by the teacher for his problem in stammering while reciting poems.

Example 3: It was year 2012 in Patna where I sent some of my students to do some social work in the slum areas near the building of the Central University of (South) Bihar. The students came back with a story like the following: the elder son of a family got degree of 10th standard and sitting idle while the illiterate younger son was earning Rs. 150/- each day as a rag picker and that the parents appreciated the younger son, economically speaking. My team of students was virtually driven out for fear that the earning child would leave job for education lest the team got scope to inspire him in education.

The whole is different from the sum of its parts. The parts are also often non-additive for some are non-entry in the school, some are drop out, some non-promoted apart from the explanatory factors like fear, caste, poverty, family size, uncertain future that obstruct inclusive education. What I observed at the bottom of the labour market in the unorganized segment of India’s economy is a trade off between education and job that shows preference for job whatever be the money reward on the job. So even if the door of the school is open for the children from less equal families, the latter will be seen as rag pickers in urban areas and assisting in cultivation-collection works in rural areas. The adult persons in poverty-debt in both the regions do not see education as enlightenment, with exceptions.

Education, however, has different meaning to different sections of the society. While in Central University of (South) Bihar in 2012-13, I was asked by students ‘Sir, Aap samaaj sudharna bhi chahte hai?’ that somewhere reminds me a separation of education from social change or that the students perceived so. In 2016-17 students in a premier social science research Institute at Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh declined to ask me questions in the classroom saying ‘Gururbrahmah Gururvishnu....’ on the theme that I tried to interact with. In 1997 I was ridiculed for being ‘padii-likhi’ (that meant educated in the medium in English) by none other than by a person with a PG degree in the heartland that did not hurt me for since then I started learning Hindi.

Inclusion means what? If enrolment is inclusion, then it succeeds in spite of some deviations. The teacher comes as a routine, teaches (shows some power point) and goes back. The socio-cultural environment in education fails to throw any light on enlightenment – the need to question. In some regions in India eve teasing leads to drop out of adolescent girls, in some regions early marriage is a compulsion for girls and post-martial institutional education is a non-reality. Hence, building the nation remains a distant dream.

All is not lost, however. While travelling in many regions identified as backward by the indicator of education I found girl students going together on bi-cycles to schools (Bihar), Adivasi girls staying in hostels to study in Intermediate colleges (Madhya Pradesh) and caste-ridden families ultimately feeling compulsion to allow their girl children in education notwithstanding the major compulsion of early marriage (Uttar Pradesh). At the primary level, of course, food for education (Mid-Day Meal) helped. It may be unfair not to mention the personal initiatives of some philanthropists who run informal education for the children in slums.

Education is like fresh air and pure water. The teacher is the saint who carries that water. An individual becomes a teacher not for power-money but for her/his commitment to the society.  The first task in education is a fear-free caste-free gender-neutral arrangement where the teacher-taught relation is based on love-affection-sensitivity. Education is what a teacher teaches and practices in her/his own life. Who are the participants in this inclusion? The participants constitute the whole nation – by identification, the students, the guardians, the teachers. Inclusion cannot be imposed from above whatever be the Policy and Acts. My own idea is, the more the military-police-bureaucracy remain away from determining education (other than their intra-discipline training), the better.

I visualize the day when the visions of Rabindranath Tagore and Bibekananda are translated in the life of the nation-builders – the nation-builders of tomorrow are today’s children, be they inside the four walls of educational institutions or outside. The translators are the teachers.     

 Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Jul 30, 2019

Bhaskar Majumder

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