Inequality in School Education: Are we Asking Right Questions

To begin with, I must say that the fact that we are discussing EWS and access in school etc., is a reflection of the way in which discourses get shaped and defined. It would seem politically incorrect in a liberal framework to reject such a provision on the grounds that it does not allow us to address the basic and fundamental conditions that give rise to first inequality in society and then inequality in education. But it tends to make us believe that inequality is normal and given and therefore the way to provide good education to poor children is through some kind of quota. Nobody denies it as a stop gap arrangement but then it must be repeated time and again that it is a temporary arrangement and become comfortable with it as a quota system to tackle inequality.

The situation in education in general and schooling in particular is alarming. It is not only about the content but also the access to it. We are concerned with the question of access here more than the content. However, at some point it would be impossible to delink the two. The idea that there are people who need a terminology for identification, which is Economically Weaker Section here, is in itself a statement about the larger social and economic condition that exists in society. It is this condition which paved way for demands for EWS quotas in private schools. It is difficult to outrightly reject or accept it because it is connected with much more larger questions of how reproduction happens in societies. The demand emerged because

  • it has been considered criminal that private institutions take resources from the state but never give it back to people and that there is an accountability of private capital towards people;
  • it is considered that the mass of population also have the right to be educated the same way as the rich of the society.

However, we do realise that this process does not work that smoothly as some of the reports have indicated. The way schooling system is designed there is a logic of reproduction already inbuilt into it – a logic which would ensure that inequality in education remains because this inequality has its own functions to play in society. This has been much brilliantly explained by likes of Marx, Althusser and Bourdieu.

If the right to hope and dream is not a part of our education system or if idea of alternative possibilities are not to remain an intrinsic part of the knowledge framework it is obvious that we are imagining a world of a particular type. Education is about imparting the diverse possibilities, ways of thinking and looking at the world, not hiding what causes certain things, not denying that there is inequality, hunger, poverty, deprivation and discrimination and there are profound reasons why these things are there.
Hence, it is relevant to think if providing a quota can resolve the problem of access and inequality?

  • Is it not a stop gap arrangement in a larger battle which should ideally about ensuring that each and every child gets education of the highest possible quality?
  • Does the EWS provision really take care of the fundamental causes and conditions that produce inequality in access to schooling?
  • Are we even aware that there is a larger battle which is about ensuring that education ceases to be of two types – an elite education (in all respects – access as well as content and infrastructure) and an education for the poor and marginalised?
  • Is there a realisation that in the fight to ensure that everyone gets best education the simultaneity of short-term gains such as EWS quota and the long-term goal must be maintained.

It is time that we ask these questions to ourselves if we are committed to ensuring that imparting education has to be a non-discriminatory project. EWS has a lot of problems inbuilt into it because it is an imposition on the private schools to become sensitive, caring and have a consciousness of the wide gap in access to education that exists. There might be exceptions among private schools that take it as a mission but that is not the way the real problem at hand will be resolved because problems of inequality historically have not been resolved this way. More thinking needs to go into what can be the way forward.

Note: This is brief text of talk delivered at a panel discussion on EWS at Gargi College, Delhi University in 2018

University Administration Echoes Desires of Capital


Delhi University assured the High Court of Delhi on 19th September 2012 that “The university is committed to implementation of the biometric system.” The reply of the Delhi University further stated “After the implementation of the sixth pay commission, the teachers have lucrative pay packages and are expected to fully justify the trust and confidence reposed by the society in them.”

This was going to come and it was quite obvious to any politically/intellectually alert academic. It is part of the package that is hell bent on factoryisation of education system. This was obvious also because this is not the first time that the views of legislature, executive and the judiciary have been quite similar – ranging from the throwing of slums from Delhi to the outskirts, ordering ‘no work, no pay’ for teachers as any other person striking work, rejecting opposition of teachers to semesterisation of academic calendar in Delhi University and now agreeing to the public interest litigation that teachers do not work and should, therefore, have a biometric attendance system.

If there is acceptance of such a move on part of the teachers of Delhi University, it will be sad enough message to the wider society and polity that resistance to irrational and authoritarian moves of a university system has to stop once it is routed through the court of law. I do not know if the ministers in their office have a biometric attendance system, Members of Parliament have it or the judiciary follows it for everybody. While at one level it needs to be recognized that the occupations work in different ways and the need for the worker to be at the work place will vary according to the character of the work that the worker does. Given that the situation will further aggravate it is important that the teacher-worker recognize certain things:

  • They need to recognize that teacher is a worker like any other worker only the sites of production are different
  • They need to recognize that the teachers are not a privileged set of people
  • They need to recognize that teachers will have to fight continuously against rule of capital that imposes itself undemocratically on the teachers-workers in different ways, through different instruments that it has at its disposal.
  • They need to recognize that only an all-encompassing working class unity can save the university and its democratic ethos.


Imagining a Socialist, Democratic and Secular Society through Possibilities of a Common School System in India

A Common School System (CSS) had been a long-standing demand in Indian educational discourse since it was recommended in 1966 by the Education Commission. Those who saw the state as an agency of welfarism invoked its implementation on the grounds that it would have allowed equity in education and would have taken care of inequity in the larger society, apart from ensuring a more democratic society and polity. However, recent neoliberal policy changes in the country have demolished even that welfarist imagination of a capitalist state. The article is of the view that it is the rule of capital which is at the heart of injustice and inequality in contemporary Indian education. It also argues that democracy and socialism through a Common School System can be achieved only when there is a radical social transformation, but that it does not allow us to cease efforts towards making education more equitable and accessible for all.

The Crisis of Elementary Education in India

Publication Announcement

The Crisis of Elementary Education in India (Sage: New Delhi, 2006)


  • Introduction
  • Equality, Quality and Quantity – The Challenges of Education in India Dilution, Distortion and Diversion
  • A Post-Jomtien Reflection on Education Policy: Child Rights to Elementary Education – 
  • National and International Provisions: Operationalizing the Constitutional Guarantee of Right to Education – 
  • Issues of Resource Crunch and State Commitment: Marginalization of the Equity Agenda
  • Educate Girls, Prepare Them for Life?
  • Inclusive Education in the Context of Common Schools – 
  • A Question of Equity, Social Justice and School Reforms: Terms of Inclusion – 
  • Dalits and the Right to Education Educational Deprivation of the Marginalized: A Village Study of the Mushar Community in Bihar – RAVI KUMAR

Neoliberalism, Education and the Politics of Capital: Searching Possibilities of Resistance

That the instruments of imparting education extend beyond the classical notions of classroom learning is a fact few can disagree with today. It is, however, not enough to realise that the process of educating a human being transcends the limited universe of whatever form of formalised institution of teaching-learning transactions and is finally linked to the approach that one adopts to comprehend the processes of knowledge formation. This process of education is also closely linked to the desires of the dominant social structures to limit our view of the complex processes of knowledge creation. A limited and fragmented view of the world not only hides the systemic contradictions but also makes possible a process of regimentation. For instance, one can never fully appreciate the fact that the elite castes of India – not unlike the entrenched hegemonic class interests in any social order – need to segment the processes of education so that it in turn sustains the segmentation of the social order. Not unless one overcomes one’s ideological myopia to grasp the link between the processes of knowledge production in a society and its larger logic of production.  It is this myopia that compels us to explain the teacher-taught relationship through the undemocratic metaphor of teacher as god. It is the intrinsic uncritical appeal of such a metaphor that leads us even today to claim that the teacher reveals the path to the kingdom of god. And it is this belief in the existence of a particular kind of system that celebrates the existence of gods – which bases itself on uncriticality and opposition to dissent, and concomitant subordination to spiritual and/or temporal authorities – that is responsible for our failure to understand how, for example, the Dronacharya-Eklavya relationship, by virtue of it being embedded in class-caste relations, is an expression of the segmentation of society along class lines through segmentation of education. And this holds true as much for ancient India, as for us in our times, wherein a vision of understanding educational processes as going beyond classroom and institutionalised structures is seldom encouraged. Even if it is done the connections between the mode of production and educational systems is rarely explored.

Read the whole article at Radical Notes

Further Debates on the Medium of Instruction and the Language Question

S S Rajagopalan responded to my reflections on Medium of Instruction in the following way through email on 7th November 2010:

“In a unilingual State, there is no problem. The language to be learnt and medium of instruction are one and the same. In a multi-lingual State,the Regional Language is the First Language and it is also the medium of instruction. The National Language, if there be one, is taught as Second Language.  There may be provision for learning more than one language, including any Foreign Language. But nowhere is a foreign language the medium of instruction, except in our country. Language learning has several objectives, primarily as a means of communication and understanding and appreciation of one’s cultural and literary heritage. It should not be looked at from a purely materialistic point of view. Only a small proportion of people move out of their State and they can learn the local language sooner as they are mature and know the art of learning. Our problem is: Mother-tongue vs English, Learning English is not objectionable but should it be the medium also?  Anybody who can identify studies undertaken in this regard may come forward to quote the same. For over sixty years, we have wasted our time and energy on the language issue. While the middle class is vociferous about EM, the silent mass remains unconcerned. The great divide in educational opportunities has been widened because of twin mediums.”

This was my response to Rajagopalan:
“Let me clarify – I am a materialist – and my reflections need to be seen in that framework.
I would like to thank SSR for his response. However, I have to offer following as response to him:

You failed to get the larger argument that I am making and believe me this line of argument has been marginal in what you term as ‘sixty years’ of debate. I do not see any flaw in demanding that a child should be taught in its mother-tongue but it is not as simple as saying it. Firstly, the moment we argue for the vernacular language to be the mother-tongue, be it because of a logic of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural etc., pretext, we establish that there is a singular language of an area. What appears as a singular language area has a history (meaning a trajectory) of development of that language – through struggles which are immanent in the systems characterised by unequal social relations. A particular language becoming hegemonic also represents the balance of class forces in that period. Hence, before having a singular agenda of castigating English as a foreign language you will have to not only look at the history of this language in the country, but at the same time also look at how the ‘Indian’ languages have evolved.

You missed the point that I was making and therefore, you also fail to comprehend that there is a different language of protest and movement and a different language spoken by the Dalits and the Brahmanical forces, in the same way as art forms in Indian history have revealed their strong linkages to the balance of class forces. Sanskrit was not English but it was the dominant language at one point of time, and it was the language of the hegemonic class forces and not of the working class. There were languages of the court and the language of the masses, and the texts that have come to us have primarily been in the language of the court. Today, the tribals in different parts of the country are being asked to learn through Hindi medium and not essentially English medium. When does Hindi become the language of the ruling class will have to be understood in such circumstances? Unless one understands the logic (and the class politics) behind the language issue it will be difficult to take the fight for mother-tongue instruction further because in the ultimate analysis it is about a systemic battle. Unless one recognises that the battle of equality, democracy and opportunity is about the battle against capital from the vantage point of labour, we will remain trapped in the same viciousness that we are in today. Extracting out these concepts and categories ( equality, democracy and opportunity) out of the ambit of labour-capital conflict is nothing more than the myopia looking for a reversal to a more humane rule of capital.”

Commonwealth Games and the Politics of Capital

The Commonwealth Games apart from providing fodder to the sensationalist media has raised more profound questions, which have not been raised with the required sharpness. There are definitely questions about the working conditions of people employed to make this extravaganza a success which will have to be answered not only by the Indian Government but also by the nations who swear by their better labour laws because by participating in it they have virtually said without uttering a word that it is only the end product which matters and not how that product comes into being. However, there are fundamental questions about the very issue of whether the Games should have been organized or not.

There was a voice of strong dissent within Congress Party, which not only shared the bounty generated by the Games but also played an important role to spread the message of how it was good for the country. But that voice of dissent was stuck within the framework of a welfarist gentleman being uncomfortable with neoliberal inhumanity. His opposition has not even been heard except when the media needed to show that there was some excitement in the whole exercise. In fact, once, one of the key faces of a English channel even told him on a show not to philosophise whatever has been happening because they wanted an objective analysis of the falling down of a footbridge near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. This voice while exposed the farcical priorities of the state, which prefered spending on Games rather than education, health or even seriously addressing the sporting issues. But why such an event, which threw all labour concerns to winds, had to happen now? Why did an expenditure running into thousands of crores had to be spent when over fifty percent of Indian masses live below poverty article?

There have been visible signs of a well thought out process of how cities and economies behave under neoliberal capitalism. A restructuring of the city landscape happened over past one decade or so across the country – eviction of poor, massive investment into infrastructure (meaning massive subsidization of private capital by the state), legislature, executive and judiciary all have been involved in this project of reconfiguring city spaces. The banks of river Yamuna was cleared of slums because, and now one can see that clearly, the spaces under control of poor citizens had to be handed over to the private capital. The slums near Nehru Place or the one near Alaknanda had to be cleared for the same reason. This handing over may not appear direct many a times because the private capital also operates discreetly.

Commonwealth Games has only been another strategy along with many others to strengthen the occupation of public spaces and commons by private capital. This occupation has been dexterously carried out using the social and political identities as well. For instance, the way national identities have been invoked time and again during this whole process need not be repeated. The Games were touted as an event necessary for our national identity and pride. Issue is not about trivialization of national identity through attaching it to organization of an event but it is about showing how the invocation of national identity prevented even the Indian Left from opposing such an initiative. In fact, its leaders were saying that there should have been a more centralized control of the whole process rather than posing questions about whether we needed such an event. All political formations, barring some, were quiet when national identity was being used to promote private capital.