I was a guest speaker at the Philosophy of Education conference held at Azim Premjie University in Bengaluru, India in 2014, and I was invited again in 2016 when my paper submitted has been accepted into the program.
My appearance at the conference was made through colleagues in the Department of Philosophy of Education at King’s College London, and through Prof. Rohit Dhankar of Azim Premjie, the series instigator of conferences.
There were presenters from all over the world. Most of the participants were young Indian doctoral students, half of whom were women. Interestingly, in the past two weeks one of the students who came to see me after my lecture in 2016 sent me an email and I was able to put him in touch with the head of the Department of Education, University of Minnesota. Throughout both conferences the theme was education reform, one of the sticking points being the pressure on poor Indian parents to find the funds to send their children to private schools.
Gandhi, a fierce anti-colonialist, saw education as an ennobling of the mind. He thought he should be led in the native idiom. He disapproves of the complete dominance of English as the preferred mode of education in India today. Tagore viewed education in terms of self-actualization – personal freedom – but he was pragmatic about it. Education must take into account the needs of the country. His notion of harmony between the person and the environment would be relevant now.
The vaunted Indian Institutes of Technology, inspired by MIT, the insightful vision of Sir Ardeshir Dalal, produce world-class graduates. The question is who can enter it.
With the adoption of the 2009 “Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE)” law, India has taken an important step in its quest to democratize education. The RTE provides for the completion of primary education between 6 and 14 years in a neighborhood school.
A 2015 World Bank report states that while 95% of children in India receive primary education, only 44% receive secondary education. The age limit for compulsory education in India, set at 14, is at least one year less than in Japan, Singapore, Finland and China. Its shortages of secondary schools make this critical level of education an area of disagreeable contestation and discrimination.
Behind the attempts at liberalization in India hides the old question of castes. Bihar, the northern state with a majority of Dalits, is the poorest state in India with a literacy rate of around 50%. In contrast, Kerala’s literacy rate, which includes the upper castes, is 90%. Dalit children have a school attendance rate of 77 percent, which is lower than that of children from other castes, which is 84 percent. The effect of the caste system on education has created a “literacy gap” in the country.
In the October 2018 issue of the journal World Development, David Mosse wrote that “caste contributes to persistent national disparities in socio-economic and human capital”. Researchers William Tierney, Nidhi Sabharwal, CM Malish report in a recent research article based on data collected from Dalit university students, that these students are excluded from networks that create social capital. So even if they are well educated, after graduation they are not well connected to the job market.
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, one of India’s most revered voices, once criticized Nehru for his myopia over the importance of basic education. He said that “our education system remains deeply unfair. Among other negative consequences, the low coverage and the low quality of school education in India are taking a heavy toll on the model of our economic development ”.
India has been reluctant to participate in the International University Olympics. For the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) 2009, India was represented by children from two states, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh. The country ranked 72nd out of 74 countries. India’s literacy rate is 74 percent, compared to Asian countries like China (96.8 percent), Korea (99.2 percent) and Japan, 99 percent.
It should be noted that for PISA 2009, Trinidad and Tobago ranked 54th in Mathematics and 58th in Science.
Over time, India has taken legislative measures to protect lower castes, as evidenced by the Civil Rights Act of 1955 and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes Act of 1989. These laws created quotas of employment and education for lower castes. But education is not an antidote to caste. Although the percentage of children in school has been increasing for several decades, many Dalits continue to face discrimination in school. It should be noted that despite the expansion of primary education, there are around ten million children who often work under forced labor status, in the age group of 5 to 14 years.
Resistance to the ostracism that Dalit children face in schools has come from Dalit activists. The National Dalit Movement for Justice has been instrumental in organizing national public hearings on Dalit education. The 2017 report of this work, titled “Exclusion in Schools – A Study of the Practice of Discrimination and Violence,” recounted first-hand accounts of the systematic abuse of Dalit children. in schools. The report was submitted to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The data generated there was collected in eight states, namely: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. He speaks of “routine discrimination, humiliation, violence and abuse” in schools.
Education is the key to the development of human capital in India. Academics believe the country needs to return to the first tenets of educational philosophy, especially on issues of equity and justice in the way education is delivered.
• Theodore Lewis is
Professor Emeritus, University of
Minnesota. He is mostly retired