Social justice is of critical importance if education is to disseminate down to the grassroots. What we need today is concentrated action on the part of all concerned stakeholders in education to move away from the rhetoric of policies towards a practice that makes a difference.
By Dr. Mythili Ramchand is Director, RV Educational Consortium, Bangalore
This article looks at the importance of social justice in educational practices and briefly reports a qualitative study that was taken up to understand diversity and inclusion in schools of Karnataka. While sharing what was tried in terms of teacher professional development, the article points out the need for a deeper systemic engagement and multipronged approaches to address the complexities on the ground.
Historically education had been the privilege of a few. A common, compulsory schooling was meant to ensure social justice in liberal, democratic societies. In India, with the passing of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RtE Act, 2009), every child in the age group of 6 to 14 years has the right to quality education. Given the wide range and disparate types of schools catering to different sections of society, can this right become a reality for every child? An inclusive education from a social justice perspective holds promise and schools have the moral responsibility of providing quality education for every child. However, to realise RtE’s goal of quality education for all, inclusion has to be accepted by everyone concerned with the education system, teachers, policy makers, management functionaries, parents and the community.
As teachers who believe in possibilities of inclusive schools, we took up a qualitative study1 in Karnataka to understand both prospective and practising teachers’ perceptions of diversity and inclusion as well as to identify the needs and challenges of teachers and educational functionaries in responding to diverse classrooms. The components of the study included literature review, field work, survey and focused group discussions. For the field work, 19 schools were selected from 12 districts across various divisions in Karnataka. In every school, data was collected through interview with teachers and class observations. Focused group discussions were held with practicing teachers, educational functionaries, inclusive education resource teachers and special educators to understand the challenges they face and their needs in catering to diverse groups of children. Three rounds of FGDs were conducted with 110 participants from seven districts.
The highlights of the findings that emerged are as follows (DSERT, 2015):
Classrooms in Government schools are becoming more homogenised in terms of socio economic backgrounds while children’s individual inclinations are not recognised by the teachers. The only marker of diversity that teachers unanimously identify is the intellectual ability of a child, more specifically his/her ability to cope with the schooling process. This ability was attributed either to genetic factors or interest shown by parents towards their wards’ schooling. Interestingly, while many teachers did not specifically know the parental background of individual students, beyond articulating in general that they were daily wage earners or ‘illiterates’, most teachers were able to identify children by their specific jaatis, although this information is not required for records. In general, teachers did not seem to understand children’s need for self esteem and how it affects their emerging identities. For example, they pointed out, unasked for, the so called “slow” learners, in front of the entire class or that a child’s father is an alcoholic. Classroom interactions and pedagogies lacked vibrancy and were largely didactic. But for most teachers, their actions and beliefs seemed to stem from good faith and the researchers could perceive that they genuinely care for their students.
Focussed group discussions with practising teachers and special educators indicated that they feel Government schools are already inclusive. They think diversity is a burden although special educators took a more positive stance towards diverse classrooms (but they tended to use diversity and disability interchangeably). A majority of teachers were categorical that they did not want any more trainings, although a few said they would ‘not mind’ trainings that they can use in their classrooms. However special educators expressed the need for disability wise training and subject specific resources to cater to them. Despite tremendous challenges, including irregular pay and the adhoc nature of their appointment, special educators had many success stories to share.
A collaborative project2 was taken up to strengthen teacher preparation for inclusion. Karnataka State Government revised the curriculum for elementary teacher preparation (D.Ed) in 2012, in which inclusive education from a social justice perspective has been conceptualised as the permeating principle. To provide conceptual inputs on inclusion, a unit of study is assigned in the general education course in the first year of study. In addition student teachers have to take up a project in the second year. Course material was developed for the first year D.Ed programme wherein anecdotes and narratives from the study mentioned in the previous paragraph, as well as other available literature, are interspersed throughout the text. Varieties of questions to engage student teachers in addressing their own beliefs are included, along with tasks that provide opportunities for student teachers to articulate their ideas on various issues related to social justice and discuss them. For example (DSERT, 2014):
Consider the following case of a group of 20 D.Ed student teachers (who were all girls):
The student teachers were asked to create a skit highlighting the importance of education in society.
This is the script of the play of one of the groups:
A woman is cooking in the kitchen. Her husband is reading newspaper in the living room.
Woman (screams from the kitchen while rolling chapathis) – Are you getting the bonus you were supposed to get? I need a pearl necklace because our neighbour has got one.
Man – Do you have any idea all the responsibilities we have? Is it the time for you to ask for a necklace?
Child – Appa, my teacher has asked you to come to school and meet her.
Man – Okay I know why she is calling me. I will come and meet with her tomorrow.
Man and woman go to the school. They go to their son’s classroom. A lady teacher tells them that they should go see the headmaster.
HM: Please come, sit down.
Man: Sir, you called for me?
HM: Yes, you have not paid fees for last 3 months. If you don’t pay by next week we will have to give your son TC.
Man: Sir, no sir, please. I am expecting a bonus. I will pay the fees as soon as I get the bonus.
Woman; Ayyo.. But what happens to my necklace?
HM: What are you talking about? Don’t you know your son’s education is more important than your necklace? You want your son also to be illiterate like you?
Man: I am fed up with you. Don’t you understand that our son should study and become a ‘big’ man?
Woman: Isn’t that so? I am so stupid. Thank you HM sir. I don’t want the necklace. I want my son to study and become intelligent like you.
Reflect on these questions:
- Considering that this is a play written by a group of girls what do you observe about roles given to each gender?
- What is the opinion you would gather about the woman portrayed in this skit?
- Is this portrayal typical of women that you have encountered in your life?
- Is affinity to jewellery a biological phenomenon?
- Is illiteracy equivalent to stupidity?
Extracted from First Year D.Ed Source Book “Education: An Introduction” – Unit 4 Inclusive Education (Draft Version)
Teacher educators of D.Ed colleges across Karnataka were oriented to be sensitive while engaging student teachers in articulating their beliefs and also provide non threatening atmosphere for all discussions. A series of orientation programmes was conducted both through a face to face programme of one week duration (which happened in the cascade mode and wasn’t effective) and a series of teleconferences over a period of one year. Inclusive education from a social justice perspective requires a multi pronged approach to ensure its meaningful implementation.
While it is crucial to build a base during pre-service teacher education programme, support in the form of mentoring and ongoing professional development is equally essential. Teachers work under tremendous pressure. In addition to dealing with curriculum overload, which makes transacting the curriculum itself a challenge let alone adapting it to individual needs of children, teachers also have to negotiate expectations of parents, officials and the larger community. Cluster resource centre/BRC/DIET have to be strengthened considerably to build strong local communities of practitioners.
As suggested in the National Curriculum for Teacher Education (NCTE, 2009), these centres need to develop as the hub for teaching learning resources and provide a forum for teacher educators, special educators, practising teachers and student teachers to come together.
There should be opportunities for teachers to reflect on their trainings periodically in the light of the challenges of practice and receive additional inputs and guidance when required. Such opportunities both within schools and across schools, need to be created so that the teachers receive all the support they require to fulfill their multiple and complex roles in diverse classrooms. In a diverse country like India with deeply entrenched hierarchies based on caste and class, it becomes imperative that educational institutions are socially just. While it is important to orient teachers to be sensitive towards social justice issues and build their capacities for addressing them within their classrooms, systemic changes are equally urgent. Teachers are after all an integral part of society and in a way reflect its deep rooted beliefs. If educational institutions are to be socially just, the entire system is in need of reform. Coherent, long-term policies are needed without being tinkered by political dispensations. Synergy across different departments of the Government and higher education institutes has to be established, alongside support from concerned civil society organisations with proven track record.
After nearly seven decades of independence, the constitutional mandate of a socially just society still eludes us. Urgent and concentrated action on the part of all concerned stakeholders in education is needed to move away from the rhetoric of policies towards practice that makes a difference.
- This study was taken up as part of a collaborative project with DSERT and financial grant from UNICEF.
- The project is being implemented jointly by RV Educational Consortium, Seva in Action and DSERT with financial support from UNICEF. It included multiple components. Apart from the study mentioned above, it includes material development including a comprehensive resource kit for practitioners, setting up resource centres at DIETs & BRCs, capacity building and working closely with two Government schools.
Department of State Educational Research And Training (DSERT). 2015. Diversity and Inclusion in Classrooms – Karnataka Context . Unpublished Study Report.
_______. 2014. First Year D.Ed Source Book. Education: An Introduction. (Draft) Unpublished
_______. 2012. Karnataka Elementary Teacher Education Curriculum. DSERT, Bangalore.
National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), 2009. National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education. NCTE, New Delhi.
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