Opinion

Millions of Indian children are being denied school education due to discrimination

As the World Education Forum sets the new global education agenda, India has a unique opportunity to help the marginalised children in the country.

Two years ago, 10-year-old Madhu walked up to the microphone at a public hearing and related how she was chased away from a government school in Patna by teachers because she was a Musahar Dalit and considered “dirty” by them.

Dozens of parents and children from marginalised communities had gathered to share their grievances at that hearing called by visiting officials from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Right to Education Act. After hearing Madhu’s story, the commission intervened and 50 Dalit children from her slum were enrolled in an adjoining government school.

But a year later, while the school’s register included the names of the Dalit children, nearly all of them were out of the classroom, working as rag pickers. They were just not welcome there.

Madhu’s story and countless such tales highlight an important lesson learnt from the last set of global education goals: providing access alone is insufficient. There have to be concerted efforts to keep marginalised children in school and ensure their learning by providing quality education.

Pervasive discrimination

There is a chance to remedy this now. On May 19, India will join other countries at the World Education Forum in South Korea to discuss the new global education agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, which expire this year. During discussions last year, countries had agreed that the overarching goal of the 2015-2030 education agenda will be to “ensure equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030”.

This presents an important opportunity for India to address a key barrier to fulfilling its goal of education for all: discrimination.

Discrimination against children from Dalit, tribal, and Muslim communities in government schools means millions of the poorest and most vulnerable are getting left out. Lack of effective monitoring mechanisms to check prejudice by school staff means, at worst, ill-treatment and, at best, neglect. This, despite India’s Right to Education law banning discrimination in schools.

There are other problems too. Protecting the rights of children living with disabilities, ensuring their ability to access education, remains a distant priority among school authorities. Also, not enough is being done to bring and keep girls in the classroom.

High dropout rate

India has made significant progress toward universalising elementary education since the enactment of the 2009 Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. Its various schemes, such as the mid-day meal programme, benefit millions of children daily. It is a great achievement that more and more children are being enrolled into schools.

But the sad truth is that not all stay there. According to government’s own estimates, six million children remain out of school – and more crucially, two out of five drop out before completing elementary schooling. Numbers are much higher for children from disadvantaged groups.

Apart from helping prepare the global agenda, the Indian government is also planning to draw up a new education policy. The Ministry of Human Resource Development is currently seeking input on 13 school education issues, including on inclusive education for marginalised groups.

However, while the government’s consultation paper acknowledges “lower learning outcomes” for children from historically disadvantaged and economically weaker communities, it fails to note the exclusionary practices that contribute to this.

Access to childcare

To succeed in bringing and retaining marginalised children in schools, the government will have to ensure zero discrimination in classrooms. Girls and children with disabilities will need even more attention. For this, any future teacher training should go beyond improving learning outcomes to focus on inclusive learning practices that are effective, ensure greater participation of children from marginalised communities and healthy interaction among children from different backgrounds. Civil society groups can be important government allies in this venture.

It is also time to expand the Right to Education so that all children are entitled to 12 years of free and accessible education by 2030. Equally, there needs to be universal access to early childhood care and education to guarantee children’s long-term development, health and well-being. These goals are part of the proposed global agenda and India too sees them as priorities. The government should set an example at the World Education Forum by announcing special commitments toward implementing these goals.

India has a unique opportunity to offer a better future to Madhu and millions more children. It should not squander this chance.

Jayshree Bajoria is a researcher at the Human Rights Watch and author of the report They Say We’re Dirty: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized. Her Twitter handle is @jayshreebajoria.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.