It is an accepted reality that our country has made immense strides in core developmental parameters post economic liberalization: be it education, health care, road connectivity, rail connectivity, industrial setup, telecommunications and technological setup and has therefore created a niche for itself in the sphere of power echelons of the world. However the challenges of India are unique and varied.
India is a vast country both in terms of geographical area and population. Mitigating the challenges and availing opportunities for such multifaceted diverse nation: be it cultural, social, religious, linguistic or regional is not an easy thing to execute and fulfill the aspirations of such diverse sections of the society. It is an honest admission that educational desires of vast sections of the society are yet to be realized and therefore, their real potential is yet to be actualized in real sense. These sections of the society are there by deprived of level playing field with their counterparts from creamy and elitist sections of the society.
These Social-Economically Disadvantaged groups ( SEDGs), which constitute major proportion of the population are yet to reap the benefits of the education as they are plagued with multiple impediments and barriers at different levels ranging from social, cultural, economic and religious hindrances. The abysmal economic scenario among SEDGs is considered as one of the limiting factor in not acquiring desired educational attainment . The children from such sections of the society found it absolutely wanting in formal schooling set up and are left with no choice but to leave their studies in the mid –way : the obvious reasons are multitude: ranging from economic poverty, social stigma, lack of interest, lack of conducive school environment , lack of inclusivity on part of the teacher etc.
NEP truly envisions a mass scale transformation in education through -an education system rooted in Indian ethos that contributes directly to transforming India, sustainably into to an equitable and vibrant knowledge society , by providing high-quality education to all , constructive revamping of aspirational goals of the 21st century education and regaining the status of Vishwa Guru in true sense of the world .The NEP 2020 recognizes that certain groups are grossly underrepresented in the existing education system. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 attempts to address the growing inequality and inequity plaguing country’s education system today. The NEP 2020 also acknowledges the high dropout rate among socio-economic strata and vulnerable minorities and the unmet educational needs of children living in geographically fragile regions. Large sections of society are still struggling to reap the benefits of education and are thus living in continued abject poverty .To specifically fulfill the educational demands of disadvantaged groups , NEP 2020 has clustered together these groups as Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) to highlight the issues faced by these sections of the society and to provide precise interventions to mitigate the educational needs of this deprived lot .The stand out objective of NEP 2020 inter –alia SEDGs is to create inclusivity and smooth access to education for all sections of the society irrespective of socio-cultural background. SEDGs include five strata or layers which are :
Socio-Cultural Identities: This strata includes Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Minorities.
Gender Identities: This strata includes transgender individuals and girl child.
Geographical Identities : This strata includes people living in extreme fragile geographical locations and Aspirational districts
Disabilities : This strata includes Children With Special Needs ( CWSN)
5: Socio-Economic Identities ( Low income Group) : Children of migrant laborers , low income households, orphans , beggars and children victim of trafficking.
In this write ups, I will be dealing with the educational issues of Socio-cultural identities and recommendations of NEP 2020 thereof in part -1
The Scheduled Castes (SCs), The Scheduled Tribes (STs), other backward classes (OBCs) and Minorities constitute major proportion of population but are lagging way behind in terms of vital developmental parameters including the domain of education. These sections of society are driven by abject poverty and are plagued by multi-dimensional issues. As per the Census report of 2011, there are approximately 179.7 million Scheduled castes representing a percentage proportion of 17.5% of the total population, 188.9 million minorities with a percentage portion of 18.4% and other Backward classes (OBCs) constitute 52% of the total population of the country. Our Union territory also has a substantial proportion of tribal population and constitutes 11.9% of the total population. Gujjar tribe is the largest tribe in Jammu and Kashmir followed by the nomadic pastoral tribe known as Bakerwal and together these two groups constitute 69% of the tribal population of Jammu and Kashmir. The dropout rate among STs is disproportionately very high as the ST children face discrimination at multiple levels due to varied geographical, cultural and historical reasons. The ST children often find their school education irrelevant to their lives, both culturally and economically.
Major issues and challenges encountered by Socio-cultural Identities
Lack of conducive and inclusive atmosphere in the school setting
Feeling of isolation and exclusion
Poorer financial background
Caste based discrimination
Parental occupation based discrimination
Higher incidences of suicides among SCs and STs children primarily in premiere institutions.The recent cases of suicide by the students of marginalized community has shook the conscious of the entire nation as these cases were reported in the elitist institutions of the country. A Dalit student took the extreme step by committing suicide in IIT Bombay in the month of February 2023. In another similar incident a tribal student too ended his life by suicide in National Law University Odisha. Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud while attending a function in Hyderabad remarked with heavy heart that it is disturbing to see the incidents of students from marginalized communities taking their life in elitist institutions of the country like IITs and National Law Universities and that there is a definite pattern in marginalized students dying by suicide that needs to vociferously questioned. CJI further said that there is too much focus on creating ‘Institutions of Eminence or excellence’. We need institutions of empathy and compassion. The issue of discrimination is directly linked with lack of empathy in educational institutions.
Recommendations in NEP 2020
Direct cash transfer and special scholarships
Establishment of Eklavya Model Residential Schools ( EMRS) in every educational block for tribal students . These schools will be residential in nature and will be equipped with latest technological setup. Besides there will be separate hostel facility for tribal boys and girls.
Funding for alternative forms of education.
Inclusive culture of regular schools
Re-inventing distance learning
Mother tongue as medium of teaching –learning
JNVs and KVs in aspirational districts where one year of ECCE will be integral for KVs particularly in marginalized areas
Bridge course to mitigate the learning gaps of children belonging to marginalized sections of the society
Equity based school and class room culture , where every student irrespective of the background feels included in the classroom
Special hostels for boys and girls in dedicated regions to arrest the dropout rate among students of marginalized community
Dedicated NCC wing specifically for the students belonging to deprived sections of the society
Creation of Special Education Zones
One of the standout recommendations of the NEP 2020 is the proposal to set up special Education Zones in regions with significant population belonging to Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups and in aspirational districts. The ultimate purpose of establishing Special Education Zones is to make education accessible in the remotest and farthest places in India. This novel idea holds promise to transform the lives of downtrodden sections of society if implemented in the right
To safeguard the education of children belonging to Socio-cultural identities, every stake holder has to play a vibrant role in his/her capacity and the role of teacher is even more central to ensure the implementation of recommendations of NEP 2020 visa-vis SEDGs.The teacher has to be accommodative and receptive in accepting and respecting children from varied backgrounds and the onus of creating inclusive classroom ,where learning needs of every student are taken care of lies on the shoulders of teacher. The teacher has to hone the skills to be fully equipped with all pre-requisites to address the educational needs of diverse class. On part of the teacher, attitudinal shift is fundamental in understanding the concerns of Children belonging to Socio-cultural identities. Department of Education, J&K has taken number of initiatives to increase the enrolment ratio and reduce the dropout rate of Children belonging to SEDGs and one such initiative is train and sensitizes teachers on the contours of Inclusive Education. Respective DIETs (District Institute Of Education and Trainings) have been given this mandate to train huge bulk of teachers on Inclusive Education and to adhere to that mandate, thousands of teachers have been trained on how to create an inclusive classroom and training schedule of left out untrained teachers is in pipeline so that inclusivity is established in each and every classroom.