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Here’s How NEP 2020 Is Failing Muslim And Dalit Girls

This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

In this article, an attempt is made to analyze the policy document, which includes National Education Policy, 2020 and articles namely, Educate and empower: Because when you educate a girl, you educate a nation, Educating women, educating India by Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank.

These documents were viewed from the standpoint to understand and analyze the goals of education for girls that is underlined in the same discourse of access to education and its limits and education of marginalized groups, i.e. Muslims and Dalit girls. The article has three sections, i.e. as per the elements which have been analyzed in the policy texts, and the same is elaborated below:

NEP 2020

Goals Of Education For Girls

The policy document and articles gave the impression that the goals of education for girls are directly connected with the progress of the nation and family. The sense of individuality and self was found to be absent as education of girls is essential because it leads to the growth of the nation and indirectly the family.

This understanding was clearly reflected in the title of the article by the education minister, “when you educate a girl; you educate a nation,” followed by the statement, “It is said when you educate a girl child, you educate an entire family” in another article.

Although not stated explicitly, education for girls is viewed through the lens of domesticity and the belief that, after all, it is the woman who looks after the children and household and plays an essential role in maintaining and reinforcing social norms and interactions. “Policy additionally recognizes the special and critical role that women play in society and in shaping social mores“.

The documents projected a patriarchal idea and need for educating women and not an opportunity for them to identify themselves, reflect and question the contradictions between what is taught at home and in school, a source of liberating themselves from the gender allocated roles, teach skills to shape their destiny and participate in the governance of society etc.

Also, the focus is more on the enrollment of girls than on their retention in both articles. The education minister cited an increase in the percentage of girls enrolling in schools, IITs and NITs and the idea of equal opportunities based on gender is restricted to the enrollment rate of the girls. Although, in the NEP document, the retention has been focused upon and highlighted.

But even here, the measures to ensure retention is relatively superficial as it only talks about infrastructure, deployment of teachers “with knowledge of the local language to areas with high drop-out rates,” and “…overhauling the curriculum to make it more engaging and useful.

The statement does not clearly show how deploying teachers with knowledge of the local language can help ensure the retention of girls in schools as the classroom interactions involve various other elements. Though making changes in the curriculum seems to be one of the viable options, one might ask what kind of changes will be made and who will make these changes.

To add further, the goals of education for girls in NEP and the articles are woven around giving monetary assistance, bicycles, hostel facilities in the form of KGBVs, infrastructure development, i.e. functioning girls toilets etc. which is all-important, but they are not the only factors to be focused upon.

These are instances of “symbolic minimalism” are pointed out by Dr Krishna Kumar. He explained that such programmes “consider girls’ empowerment as a one-shot measure compared to a sustained effort to improve the quality of teaching in girls’ schools“. There are deep-rooted socio-cultural causes that result in the barrier of education of girls.

This includes the strong connection and continuity of state and culture wherein the former choose not to intervene and question the latter. The girls are socialized at home to fit in their culturally assigned roles and internalize the expectations of the community and family. They are followed by a sense of submission and fear that are “deeply etched in socially sanctioned” experiences of being a girl.

So even if secular knowledge is given in schools to all genders, the meaning differs for both. Hasan elaborated that among Muslims, the drop-out rates of girls are higher owing to community-specific factors that include gender relations and early marriage.

For the state, which is reluctant to question this cultural socialization, the equality of sexes is limited to having a balanced ratio of girls and boys in the classroom and their differing experiences of education are not even acknowledged. Therefore, besides the aforementioned factors, the state must recognize and reflect in their policy document the socio-cultural factors and design curriculums, teacher training, etc. “An educational opportunity cannot be limited to bringing girls to a school and keeping them there.

The Discourse Of Access To Education And Its Limits

In the NEP document, access to education is broadly around infrastructure, participation, retention and facilitating multiple pathways of learning, both formal and non-formal education modes. The infrastructure and retention could be seen in the document about girls as well as the means to make education accessible for all.

Infrastructure and universal participation have been considered the foremost initiatives to bring back the students into mainstream education that has dropped out and prevent further dropping out. Infrastructure is associated with providing a safe and engaging school educational experience for the students, and along with trained teachers, the government schools will be upgraded by ensuring that all necessary infrastructure support is provided.

Although it is mentioned that additional quality schools will be made in the areas where they do not exist, it is important to point out that the ideal distance of these schools from the student’s accommodation has not been emphasized or elaborated. The distance of the schools has been one of the major reasons which result in dropping out of students especially girls.

Dalit girls suffered more because such municipal schools closer to home were their only choice of school as parents did not allow them to travel long distances.Hassan stated that in regard to Muslim girls, school location is clearly an important issue that determines the decision whether to send girls to schools or not, especially if the school is located outside their village or area of inhabitation.

Though, providing conveyance or hostels might help in addressing the issue of school location to some extent as proposed in the policy. The second initiative, universal participation, seems ambiguous as, in the NEP, the universal participation in school is limited to “tracking students and their learning levels“.

Another point that requires further elaboration is where trained and qualified social workers along with teachers will work with the students and their parents to ensure that all school-going students are attending and ‘learning in school’. Now, both infrastructure and participation are wrapped around the same requirement, i.e. students attending and learning. There seems to be a lack of understanding and over-association of making education accessible by harping on the given components.

It is important to acknowledge that attending school does not mean accessible education. There are inter-related issues of gender, caste, religion, class, etc., that need to be explored, understood, and addressed in detail, which seems to be lacking in the document. And also, how much it is feasible for a social worker to regularly follow-up with students and their parents and the nature of the mechanism through which they will assess whether the students are learning in school or not as learning itself is diverse in nature.

Moreover, as mentioned above, in the NEP, exploring multiple pathways for learning and education has also been discussed. For the same, strengthening the education mode of open learning is suggested, especially for students from socially economically disadvantaged groups (SEDGs), which seem to be a good option.

However, the ways in which this mode will be built up are not discussed in detail. There is a need to put mechanisms in place or explore ways that ensure quality education and make this mode of education more acceptable and fully recognized in the employment sector. As in my personal experience, many organizations are reluctant, and some even mention in their job advertisements that candidates with open schooling or college are not eligible for the same.

Another component around the discourse of access to education in NEP is having several social welfare schemes, including the building of KGBVs, Navodaya Vidyalayas, scholarships, and Gender-Inclusion Fund to provide conditional cash transfers to incentivize parents to send children to school, providing bicycles, provision of sanitation and toilets, etc.

Through the policy document, it seemed that these schemes are satisfactory, and no major scope of improvement is required as no reference to any previous report/document/study that might have some useful suggestions or feedback to improvise them further has been made.

But let’s take the case of KGBV, which was launched in 2004 with the aim to provide an opportunity for girls who were not able to complete up to or beyond class 5th to pursue their studies again and prepare for the upper primary stage of elementary education through the help of bridge course. Mostly the learners are from social categories, which covers scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, religious minorities and below poverty line households.

The benefits and innovation of the scheme cannot be denied, but there are certain gaps that adversely impact the scheme’s quality and, eventually, the learners. Kumar & Gupta identified and elaborated the limits/gaps of the scheme, which were broadly poor quality of textbooks, teaching and infrastructure.

Poor quality of textbooks is more in line with the dissociated experience between learner and school knowledge, leading to a stifling learning environment. While in terms of poor teaching, it has been noted that the KGBV teachers are para-teachers who need specific training, and in-service training do not provide them in-depth information and knowledge to address their pedagogic issues or helping them to equip skills that can enhance their understanding of girls pedagogic and development requirements.

Also, they do not receive any regular benefits, and their salary is poor in comparison to government school teachers. On the other hand, the infrastructure needs upgrading as well in terms of sanitation and health. For instance, many KGBVs have three toilets for 80-100 girls. However, an understanding of these gaps and limits is completely missing from the NEP as it is only mentioned that the KGBVs will be strengthened and matched with the standard of NVs.

Representational image.

Education Of Marginalized Groups: Muslims And Dalit Girls

Muslim and Dalit girls have not been directly addressed in the NEP document. It talks of girls in general, and a token reference was made to the girls from these groups by stating, “women cut across all underrepresented groups… and unfortunately, the exclusion and inequity that SEDGs face is only amplified for the women in these SEDGs.

Here, it is crucial to point out that in the NEP, new terminology is coined, i.e. “socially-economically disadvantaged groups (SEDGs)“, wherein all the reserved categories have been clubbed together, and through schemes for girls, transgender students, ST/SC groups and opening of schools in educationally backward areas has been mentioned yet reservation in schools, colleges and even in teaching positions is completely absent.

Also, the very idea of clubbing these marginalized and vulnerable groups together exhibits the limited understanding regarding the varied context of socio-economic, cultural and political exclusion and discrimination that these groups go through in their day to day lives. Overall, a specified plan or set of interventions that exhibits the rigour and commitment to empower as well as ensure that inclusive education is accessible to Muslim and Dalit girls were found to be lacking in the document.

The latter did not address the complexities and intersectionality of gender, caste and religion in the case of the given groups, and it was presented in a very simplistic manner as if everything is going well and all the issues will be sorted through infrastructure, retention, participation, social welfare schemes etc.

No specific schemes, scholarships, or proposals for opening schools in the minority concentrated areas are given for Muslim girls. Urdu is not included even under the aspect of languages that will be encouraged as part of the curriculum. “…as far as Muslim girls are concerned educational progress is reasonably good in regions where Muslims have enjoyed the benefits of the state support in the form of accessible schools, which simply means schools in minority concentration areas.

This seems to be contradictory as, on the one hand, the document is talking about relevant learning and in the context of the learners, while on the other, a significant component of a section of learner’s needs and association is conveniently overlooked. It seems as if in the imagination of the state, the learners from the Muslim community are secondary stakeholders.

And even if there is a mention of the Muslim community in the context of education, the meaning and exactly what is intended is not clear. “Minorities are also relatively underrepresented in school and higher education. The policy acknowledges the importance of interventions to promote the education of children belonging to all minority communities, and particularly those communities that are educationally underrepresented.

It could be stated that the token of ‘mentioning’ was used as a way to avoid addressing the actual issues faced by the Muslim girls in accessing education. “Low income, widespread poverty, social norms that inhibit girl’s education, gender inequality on the one hand; and perceptions of discrimination, limited job opportunities and slow upward mobility are constraints that Muslims experience as a community.”

The scenario remains the same in the case of Dalit girls as well, who were not explicitly mentioned in the policy document. It can be assumed that girls referred under the SEDGs include them, which is problematic as it minimizes their caste-based and gender experiences, which further impacts their educational engagement.

However, a particular mention was made in reference to SC and ST groups highlighting that ‘special attention will be given to these groups in order to reduce the educational disparities (the disparities were not detailed out) by establishing special hostels in the dedicated regions, bridge courses, financial assistance in the form of fee waivers and scholarships.

But along with this, it is crucial to identify the disparities, especially in the case of Dalit girls, and one form of it could be the discrimination that they face within the classroom spaces and in their respective families. For example, the classroom milieu is mostly dictated by the teacher who belongs to upper caste and presents an image of a “strict disciplinary“. They bring their prejudices and biases against the Dalit community into the classroom and create a vertical interaction wherein they ‘dictate’ information and knowledge.

There is no scope for a dialogical interaction. In such a milieu of authority and fear, Dalit girls would be at a greater disadvantage as to how ‘a slave of the slave’ could question their upper-caste teacher. Thus, making it almost impossible for them to ask questions “because they had to fight both caste and gender oppression”.

Even at the family front, the education of boys is mostly preferred over girls as “girls would leave them for their in-laws’ house whereas sons were the light of the lineage/family, who would support parents in old age“. Paik also discussed that the curriculum taught in schools seemed to be irrelevant in context to Dalit students, and in fact, it actually tries to push them to accept and adopt a middle or upper-class culture.

They were disciplined to adopt these values, and those who were unable to adapt to the upper caste culture/values were treated as potential failures. Now, it can be argued that the first scenario of the authority of the teacher is dealt within the NEP by proposing to bring in high-quality teachers who make learning an interactive and fun experience and sensitizing them to the notions of equality, inclusion and respect and dignity of all persons.

Followed by the argument that NEP also talks about experiential learning, critical thinking, and bringing learner’s relevant curriculum by incorporating local knowledge, culture, norms but here, it raises the question of whether and how the knowledge and culture of the Dalits will be part of the curriculum as so far the NEP has given the impression of refraining from acknowledging the social-cultural issues faced by Dalits and the idea of making education accessible for them is only limited to few components.

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