As per the new rules by Delhi Government, a child above the age of four years will not be admitted to a nursery school; likewise, a seven-year-old will have to be necessarily admitted to Class two and a 17-year-old in Class 12. This bracket, barring children from the realm of formal education, will lead to systematically institutionalised discrimination.
The rules will exclude children, who are unable to join a school at the ‘right’ age owing to social, cultural, economical, geographical, linguistic, gender, disability or any other factor. Similarly, sending a seven-year-old in Class two normatively regardless of previous educational history will take away from a child the chance to inculcate adequate skills and learning capacities. This external determination for the child may result in feelings of inadequacy and may even lead to disinterest in education as a whole, as a result of which, the child might ultimately drop out.
The problematic directive sends out a message of exclusion, categorically excluding children who learn at their own pace. Learners with difficulties, in this way, would be systematically weeded out and not allowed to attain academic goals. The government launched admission drives to help children get into age-appropriate-class previously; this general assumption of cognitive levels trivialises the unique learning capacity of each child. The strict adherence to the idea of admitting a child to a particular class based on an age limits the self-determination process within the institutional framework by the child.
In this way, school education curbs self-directed experimental learning by children. The narrative brings into question the rhetoric of integrated education. This move by the Delhi Government is marked by a segregationist approach to education. The rules put forth, also renders it impossible for children to rejoin school after a gap. Furthermore, the rules will work arbitrarily in cases where a child does not have an age proof.
The education reform will also put increased pressure on schools to segregate children, consequentially driving children towards special schools, open schools, and home-based education. This will also plant the seed of distrust in parents in an environment where parental and societal control hangs heavy on each child anyway.
So to say, this rule only protects the ‘privileged’ students; privilege accorded to the children because of economic, social, mental and gender location in the society. And the government has made it a point to immunise the privileged from the generalised ‘others’. A Delhi Government official mentions the possibility of social and sexual problems that can occur due to mixing with people of older age groups. This statement is representative of institutionalised patriarchal anxiety towards a young adult’s autonomy. Such a regime only strengthens the existing patrolling of sexuality, caste and communal boundaries by the government and the formal education system. The solution is not to exclude and compartmentalise but to include sex education in the mainstream discourse, such that young adults know and understand their sexuality.
Discriminatory rules like these reproduce age and gender based ideas of exclusionary interactions and limits the field of reciprocity of the child. The exclusion will only fractionalize the fields of interaction for a child, and deny agency and capacity. There is a conspicuous governmental and societal control on the child in determining their intimate groups; the child in return will lose a sense of participation in the larger community that comes with living in an integrated society.
Another inhibition that an education department official has is of bullying and harassment in school by the older students. Rather than limiting the scope of admissible age, the schools should push for non-violent communication and focus on creating a nurturing environment based on mutual respect and consensus building. Barring children is not the solution; there is a need to bring about change within the structure rather than of the structure.
The structure of an educational institute should be such that it facilitates integration. Schools should be seen as a level playing field where various constituencies that have been marginalised find equal access and opportunities. This diktat invisiblises the plural ways of lived experiences and various learning capacities. A child’s right to remain in a school is not merely a legal right but a moral and political responsibility of the government and society as well. We need to push for barrier-free access to education where strenuous efforts should be made to equalise educational opportunity.