Crisis of Schooling

Critical Questions from a Critical Lens   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    *Syed Rafath Parveen

Presented below are the observations of a teacher currently with an elite school of the National Capital Region. She has written this article after being witness to systematic exclusions and discriminations faced by children from low income backgrounds. These are distressing accounts of behavioral, verbal and at times even physical abuses endured by such children in the primary section. Such attitudes and prejudices are symptomatic of the rot in the system, which despite all the efforts by the government and civil society activists, remains corroded and unchanged.

The narrator in her article has attempted to understand the practices, beliefs, perceptions and incidents taking place in her school with the implementation of 25% reservation for EWS students in private schools, as mandated under the RTE Act. The supercilious attitudes and the stereotypical misconceptions towards the economically disadvantaged are brought out starkly through the usage of narratives and episodes by the narrator. These narratives have been based on various aspects of school life such as the admission process, teacher parent relationship, teacher administrator relationship, peer relationship, teacher student relationship, parent teacher relationship, text book and pedagogy, etc.

Admission Process

The narratives collected after interaction with the teachers are mentioned as under-

EPISODE 1: While filling the attendance register of my new class, I had a problem. I had a total of 37 students- 19 boys and 18 girls. Out of them I had to identify the number of students belonging to SC/ST and OBC category. We were asked to refer to the information slips and the almanac’s personal details sheet that the parents fill up, each time the child is promoted to the next class. The problem was regarding the number of students belonging to the SC category. The number of SC students I had, did not tally with the record given by the previous teacher. When I enquired from the previous teacher she told me that some EWS parents fill up their details in both the EWS and the SC category columns leading to confusion. She said that Shlok’s father (a student belonging to the SC category) does not want the child’s name to be put in that category. Since I was confused I went to ask the Headmistress as to what is to be written. She asked me to call up the parents to find out. The father said that I must mention his name in the General category. But since the previous teacher insisted that the parent is lying and that I must check his records, I went to the records room to find out his details. I was told by the records office incharge that if the parents have submitted the caste certificate at the time of admission then I must add him to the category. When I checked Shlok’s records I found out that his father had indeed submitted the caste certificate. When the records person got to know the case he said that parents belonging to the SC category want to have the best of everything. They want admission on the basis of their caste and then do not want to even acknowledge the fact. Later on, the administration incharge told me that the school gives admissions only on the basis of EWS criteria and not on the basis of being SC, ST or OBC.

The caste system is one of the many man-made inequalities plaguing the Indian society for centuries. Its inequitable ideology and dehumanizing practices have divided the society into several parts.

In the above episode the parent belonging to the SC category perhaps did not want his son to be identified as such. This may be due to the stigmas attached by the society to people belonging to the lower castes. The episode also highlights the lack of sensitivity on the part of the teachers as well as the records incharge.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        [ 45 ]

Why do such records need to be maintained? Whom are these records submitted to? Why are the teachers asked to identify this? Can this be done only at the level of record keeping? Does the knowledge of the child’s caste have an impact on the teacher’s attitude towards the students? These are some of the questions that need immediate answers for an attempt to understand the deep seated prejudices existing in the minds of society.

School Assemblies

EPISODE 2:The request for parental involvement on days such as ‘ A Day out with Fathers’ (a special day where fathers are invited to attend and participate in the games organized by the school for strengthening the bond between the fathers and their wards ) was on the basis of social, cultural, and economic differences. Parents of EWS children did not volunteer to attend and neither did the teacher make an effort; however on the last day knowing that those who promised were not going to turn up, the EWS parents were called up.

EPISODE 3: The special assembly topic I have been given is ‘Republic Day’. I have to just give it to the best students of the class, whose parents are very enthusiastic. They will be asked to make placards. They have to look for some facts- one liners, take out a computer printout, decorate it and paste it on the placard. They will also be able to make the students learn the lines. I will take the whole class in the normal assembly where everyone, even those who are not good can be a part of the larger group for choir or recitation. The EWS parents are fine with this arrangement as they know that they can’t afford to arrange for the material and train their kids.

The hegemony of the dominant class is maintained through the school assemblies. The parents of the EWS students do not question, protest or resist the activities conducted by the school.

Why are assemblies conducted? What is special about the special assemblies? Whose interests do these school assemblies serve? Why are some students and groups excluded? Why should the assemblies have activities in which all kinds of children cannot participate? Who approves these activities and why? These again are some the questions which critical educators need to reflect upon.

Teacher Parent Relationship

EPISODE 4: On the day of the Parent Teacher Meeting (PTM), many of the EWS parents did not speak with the teacher during their visit. When they did, the interaction tended to be stiff,

awkward, short, rather formal, and serious and the stress was on academic performance and behavior. Most of the parents showed signs of discomfort: nervous shifting and generally looking ill at ease. The teacher also said as little as possible and took their signatures on the nominal roll. For some, she stressed that they need to work harder. One parent who is a cook in Greater Kailash, one of the upscale colonies in Delhi, refused to sit in front of the teacher and kept standing with folded hands. Most of them were eagerly waiting for the teacher to say whatever she had to, so that they could quickly rush back home or for their work. The teacher would talk to them and give all her comments in English. The parents responded in Hindi to whatever they understood. When they enquired about the day when the school would reopen or if they had any query or question the teacher answered only in English and asked the parents to see the circular which had been sent home. Difference in behavior with other parents was noticeable. The interactions with them were more frequent, and much less formal. These parents are in the habit of writing notes to the teacher in the almanac or call her up for any query or assistance at school and home. Parents also asked for homework for their children or for materials that they could complete at home with their children.

EPISODE 5(A): Another teacher mentioned the conversation that took place between two grandparents (GP 1&GP2) who had come to pick their grandchildren after school.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    [  46 ]

GP1: aap aye nahi itne dino se?

GP2: bacha beemar tha.

GP1: Haan in logon ke saath padega hee, hygiene ka factor toh hai nahi, toh ye beemar padte hai ,ghar se das bemariyan aur late hain..hamara bacha bhi beemar padta hai.

Everybody has this feeling in their heart and since it is not the SAID thing and since they don’t want to sound unethical they don’t say it.

EPISODE (B): In one of the sections of class II, two boys (one EWS and the other) indulged in a naughty prank where they went to the washroom and cut each other’s hair. The parent of the non EWS child complained against the EWS child. The parents of the EWS did not defend their child and accepted that their child was naughty. The other parent reacted furiously and went to the headmistress through the vice principal (who was his acquaintance) with the complaint and wanted the school to change the section of the EWS child. Though his child was equally a part of the prank, the father did not even give space to the teacher and the school to correctly investigate the matter and take corrective measures. According to him ‘EWS bachon ki wajah se mera bacha kyun suffer kare’.

In the first episode in this section one can clearly see that the socio economic background of a person plays a major role in his/her interaction with others. Most of the EWS parents avoided verbal communication, and if they had to, showed signs of nervousness. Since Indian culture is all about the dominance of the haves, the cook from Sunder Nagar refused to sit, owing to the feeling that he belongs to a different class and cultural background and it is inappropriate for him to even sit before an authority. The teacher on the other hand maintains a social distance and exercises her authority in her communication with the parents. The parents’ desire to rush back also indicates their unease in this context. The deliberate use of English language by the teacher despite knowing that the parent has not understood also conveys her class consciousness and also her attempt to make the difference obvious to the parents.

Attitude of the Teachers and Administrators

In this section, narratives gathered during interactions with several teachers have been mentioned.

  • One can to a large extent easily differentiate the EWS children from the rest of the class on the basis of their appearance. All of them wear the same kind of uniform but slowly the clothes of EWS children start looking dirty and shabby-Kapde sahi hain, lekin dhote kaise hai, pani kaisa hai sabun kaisa hai… makes a lot of difference.

  • The school counselor believes that just giving admissions to EWS children does not help. The parents visit the school and beg the teachers to teach them…. aap hi sab kuch kar sakte hain…. We should give special classes to these children to help them as the parents are unable to provide the academic support which the other children have access to.

  • The school carnivals, school visits, picnics or trips widen the gap between the students belonging to various sections of the society. The school headmistress clearly stated in a staff meeting ‘as it is we are providing them education, if they can’t afford Rs. 300/- to be a part of the carnival then, they, as well not attend school and if they want to attend school then they may, but , they cannot be a part of the carnival. They can be made to sit separately in a classroom. They are not entitled to receive any gifts which are given to the other students who pay’.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     [ 47 ]

  • Any theft in the school and EWS students are under the scanner. It is generally believed that these children indulge in wrong practices because this is what they witness at home most of the time.

  • Teachers are generally scared of punishing or being very strict with the other students whereas they are not scared of punishing and being very strict with EWS students as they feel that EWS parents don’t even bother to find out what is happening with their children in school.

  • EWS students are generally made to do odd jobs for the teachers- such as cleaning the cupboard, passing on things to other teachers, fetching water, ball or any other item required by the teacher. Teachers ask them to get the things from the staff room saying ‘padhna to hai nahi yeh kam hi karlo’

  • A teacher complained that a EWS child of class V is regularly absent on the day of the test and gives retest later. She says that the support system is not strong.

  • One of the teachers makes a separate row of EWS children and very loudly announces ‘ye EWS, EWS hain na’. The term EWS is also used as a derogatory term to put someone down. ‘EWS ye hai nahi lekin shakal se EWS lagta hai.’

  • The teacher said that, some EWS parents really try hard to make their children adjust -‘sandwich bhi dete hain to cling foil main dete hain, juice bhi dete hai, Friday canteen ke liye paise bhi dete hain’.

  • Many of the teachers felt that inclusion was a good thing and that teachers can develop sensitivity in the class.

  • EWS parents pay Rs. 500-600/- per month to send their children for tuitions. But the tuition teachers are not able to help them much. EWS parents feel that they are making an effort but it does not make any difference.

The above narratives and observations by the teachers highlight their apprehensions, resentment, anger, frustration, disgust, helplessness, insensitivity and at times hope as well. One can also see an attitude of fatalism, that, nothing can be done about the educational consequences of economic inequalities and social injustice.

When students do not perform it may be seen as an act of resistance as the cultural ethos, language, curriculum and the pedagogy is far removed from the realities of their lives. One can clearly ascertain from some of the comments and observations mentioned above that the teachers clearly lacked ‘dialogue’ (Paulo Freire) in the classroom which is necessary to understand the students. In the above examples one can see that far from acknowledging the world of the EWS students , teachers talk about them in a condescending manner and often segregate and treat them differently- ‘ shakal se EWS lagta hai’, ‘ making separate rows’ , ‘ asking them to fetch things’ and so on. The critical educators can bring about a radical change if they to make an attempt understand the child’s world, his habitat, family conditions, reasons for their absence from school, reasons for missing tests, reasons for their disinterest in academics or the reasons for the use of abusive language.

Also, the stereotypical assumption that students from low- income families are disinterested in studies and that their parents are not bothered about education further alienates these students from the educational set up they are supposed to be an intrinsic part of.

The teachers’ attitude can sometimes be justified on the ground that the top down system of education leaves no space for them to critique the forms of knowledge passed on to the students every year. They have neither any say in the curriculum development nor do they understand or question the rationality behind teaching the various subjects and the content within it. The classroom strength, tightly packed timetables (with hardly any free periods)- forcing the teachers to stand and teach for almost 6 to 7 hours, the regimented, highly structured and nonnegotiable- planned syllabus, leaving no scope for individual freedom, the standardized tests, the extra paper work of record keeping, and at times the mere body guard role that the teachers are expected to play converts them into machines.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        [ 48 ]

The text book is the bible and as far as possible the policy makers try to improve the system by ‘teacher proofing’ it. Moreover several teachers are now recruited on adhoc basis or on contractual terms for a long number of years before they are regularized. In the name of improving educational quality and for holding schools more accountable for their professional practice, the state has made it mandatory for aspiring teachers to clear exams such as CTET, the Centralized Teacher Entrance Test - a measure to check the competence of the teacher. How far the competence can be checked through these exams which expect the normative standards, wherein the teachers write an exam based on multiple choice questions is yet to be ascertained.

On the whole, my intention here is not to question the capacity and abilities of the teachers. It is just to highlight that since teachers are also products of a socialization process where the ‘Other’ is seen as either inferior or superior they are unable to critically think and question the nature of things. I strongly believe that proper and periodic orientation of the teachers is a must, for them to continue their vocation.

Peer Relationship

EPISODE 6: In a lower primary class the EWS children were treated in a very peculiar manner. The students of the class would not play with them, neither would they include them in any activity or even sit with them. The class used to play games where a child would touch the EWS child and chase others to pass on the ‘gandagi’. If any child happened to touch them they would scrub their hands against the wall to cleanse themselves. The children used to address the EWS children as ‘achoot’. The class teacher ignored this.

EPISODE 7: I was taking substitution in Class V. I had to take them to the PT ground. Some students were not interested in watching the match. They formed a group and were playing among themselves. Suddenly they had had a fight. A child was requesting them to include him in their games but the group refused. Since he kept insisting some children in the group pushed him. They were asked to stop playing as they were disturbing other students who were interested in watching the match. One of the children in the group later on told me that all students generally target three kinds of students for having fun or for teasing them. They are Kamzoor Bache (Physically weak students), Rone Wale Bache (students who cry easily) and EWS students.

One cannot make out any difference in the EWS and other students in grades 1-3, but as they grow older they get largely segregated and move around and play in their own groups. EWS students form their own groups. They are not allowed into the other groups.

Curriculum, Text Books and Pedagogy

Some observations –

  • In the school, the Headmistress decides the textbooks to be used by the students. As an eye wash, teachers are given books of some private publishers in the morning and asked to sit together and decide what is good and give a report immediately. Since teachers do not get enough time they generally agree with what the coordinators and the Headmistress decide.

  • Chapter 17 , ‘Home Sweet Home’ in CCE Environment Studies book , published by Frank Bros. & Co.(Publishers) Ltd. (a subsidiary of Macmillan Publishers Limited) ,covers a range of houses –bungalow, multistoreyed building, from a stilt house to a boat house but do not mention a word about the kinds of houses lived by the people in slums.

  • Chapter 1 , ‘ My family’ of the same book mentions about joint family, nuclear family, Tapan the character in the story introduces his family –where father is a doctor and mother is a teacher and his cousins live in Canada who visit India at the time of Durga Puja.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      [ 49 ]

  • Chapter 21, ‘Need for Water’ of the same book, mentions, -‘In olden days the sources of water like wells and tanks were owned by the rich and high caste people. They did not allow certain people to take water from these sources. There was a lot of social discrimination for drinking water. Government has made an act against this. Now everyone can take water from a common source.’

  • Chapter 7 , ‘ The Three Runners’ in class III, New Broadway Course book published by Oxford University Press ( a department of the University of Oxford in UK), begins with the following lines – “ It happened in the days when the white people ruled South Africa. There were different rules then, for white people and black people. One evening two middle-aged black men met in a ‘white’s only’ section of the city of Johannesburg’. One of them had a ‘permit’ to work in the area. The other did not. This meant that he could be put in prison if the police found him in a zone reserved for whites. ‘The chapter then elaborates on how the man who has the permit tricks the policeman to save his friend’. After reading the chapter students are expected to answer questions such as- What did the policeman expect when he saw the man searching in his pocket? Why were the two men afraid when they saw the policeman, and so on.

The school legitimizes its position of being fair and just and claims to be worthy of respect and reverence without acknowledging the fact that schooling is experienced differently by different groups on the basis of their affluent or meager background. How does an EWS child relate to a family wherein the father is a doctor, the mother a teacher with cousins in Canada is not the concern of the school. EWS students need to be thankful that they have been given the opportunity to enter the school and use the school facilities. Discrimination occurs when the EWS, SC, ST, OBC and Staff students are identified separately so as to sort students into various categories. Though the relations of domination are obscured and denied, they however become apparent in the various dealings of the school with the parents and students of different groups. Fragmentation also occurs when the teachers of the class blame the students from a religious minority and their belief systems for poor academic results or for the rise in levels of violence in the schools. The knowledge based on textbooks is generally presented as the be all and end all of education.


The above accounts are reflections of the deep seated prejudices entrenched in the so called upper strata since millennia. The have-nots and the disadvantaged class have suffered marginalization as a consequence of these inequalities and disparities in every society of the world. Despite that a society, a community, a state, a nation has to rise above all these man- made fissures and aspire to be just, humane, fair and equitable for each and every citizen.

A good beginning has been made through the inclusion of EWS students due to the RTE Act, but admission of twenty five percent EWS students in private schools cannot be the only method to address the question of equality and access. The cultures, policies, practices and above all mindsets and the attitudes of rightful ownership, all need to be addressed in order to create an inclusive school and ultimately an inclusive society. This requires sustained engagement with the child, teachers, administrators, the parents and the communities.

There are several examples of counter hegemonic education and inspiring school practices such as the citizen school project in Brazil and the culturally relevant pedagogy for African American students as popularized by Lisa Delpit. Efforts by countries such as Finland are remarkable where they are about to embark on one of the most radical education reform programmes ever undertaken by a nation state- scrapping traditional “teaching by subject” in favour of “teaching by topic”. We in India too need a radical rethinking and redesigning of our system to make it inclusive, progressive and socially just.

* Sayed Rafath Parveen is a teacher with a school in the National Capital Region and is also pursuing her M.Phil from Delhi University

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      [ 50 ]


  1. [1] See Peter Svedberg. ‘Hunger in India: Facts and Challenges’. The Little Magazine: Hunger, volume II, issue 6 (November-December 2001).
  2. [1] Public Report on Basic Education in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  3. [1] Pratichi Education Report I: The Delivery of Primary Education, A Study in West Bengal (Delhi: TLM Books, 2002).
  4. [1] On this and related issues, see Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, India: Development and Participation (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  5. [1] Salma Sobhan, Legal Status of Women in Bangladesh (Dhaka: Bangladesh Institute of Legal and International Affair, 1978).
  6. [1] This is discussed in my essays ‘Gender and Cooperative Conflict’, in Irene Tinker (de.), Persistent Inequalities: Women and World Development (Oxford University Press, 1990), and ‘Missing Women British Medical Journal, number 304 (March 1992).
  7. [1] See Mamta Murthi, Anne-Catherine Guio, and Jean Dreze, ‘Mortality, Fertility and Gender Bias in India’, Population and Development Review, number 21 (1995), and Jean Dreze and Mamta Murthi, ‘Fertility, Education and Development: Evidence from India’, Population and Development Review, number 27 (2001).
  8. [1] This problem is discussed in my essay “The smallness Thrust upon Us’, included in this volume.
  9. [1] *Data was not recorded on % of schools having library and those having hand wash facility by DISE in 2011. These figures are fromDISE2012-13.
  10. [1] This teacher is one among the 500 teachers who teach Maths or Hindi to students of Std 6-8 from 54 schools of Directorate of Education, Government of NCT Delhi. A pilot programme, in partnership between the Government of Delhi and Pratham is currently operational in these schools to strengthen the foundational skills of children of Std 3-5 and Std 6-8 in Hindi and Maths.
  11. [1]
  12. [1]Annual Status of Education Reports, various years. Available online at:
  13. [1]Ibid
  14. [1] For more details, please visit
  15. [1]PAISA works in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
  16. [1]MHRD (2010) : ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Portal, 11thJoint Review Mission
  17. [1] Similarly, in Purnea centralized directions were given to buy fire safety equipment and consequently even schools without buildings were forced to buy this equipment.
  18. [1] PAISA data has shown that a large number of schools often end up whitewashing their walls every year, despite having other deficits in teaching materials such as blackboards or requiring minor repairs.
  19. [1]As of September 2013, 20 percentof the posts at the state level, 21 percentat the district level and 20 percent of posts for Block Resource Coordinators – the first point of contact at the school level were lying vacant.
  20. [1] ‘Education system’ in this context includes public schools, bureaucracies catering to these schools, and the range of actors involved in this field including teachers, students, other education officials and non-education officials who are connected with the field in some form, working towards common education-centric goals . This conception also takes into account the work practices of these actors, and the inter-personal dynamic they share which contributes to the creation of a work environment.
  21. [1] In relation to most schools, the term “appropriate Government” broadly implies the Central Government, State and Union Territory Governments in the RTE Act (2009).
  22. [1] In the RTE Act (2009), “local authority” refers to the Municipal or Panchayat level body or any legally empowered body which has administrative control over schools.
  23. [1] Refer to sections 6 to 9 and 11 of the RTE Act (2009).
  24. [1]Refer to sections 21 and 22 of the RTE Act (2009).
  25. [1] An average cluster comprises of anywhere between 5 schools (example, Himachal Pradesh) to 20 schools (example, Bihar), depending on the state. The Cluster Resource Centre Coordinator’s (CRCC) office is in the cluster school which acts as the headquarters for the schools under her. CRCCs play the
  26. crucial role of linking block offices with schools under them since CRCCs are required to frequent schools, pass messages of the block and above to schools and vice versa; provide hands on academic support to teachers, including assessing their training requirements; develop pedagogic resources; and also collect, collate and transmit administrative data to the block.
  27. [1]See, for instance, Aiyar & Bhattacharya (2015); Aiyar, Dongre & Davis (2015); Mangla (2015) for related studies set in the Indian context.
  28. [1]See, for instance, Meyer & Rowan’s (1977) article, “Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony” and DiMaggio & Powell’s (1983) work on institutional isomorphism in “The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields.”
  29. [1] Some studies that attempt to analyse these disconnects in the Indian context include Aiyar & Bhattacharya’s“The Post Office Paradox: A Case Study of the Education Block Level Bureaucracy” (2015); Aiyar, Dongre & Davis’ “Education Reforms, Bureaucracy and the Puzzles of Implementation” (2015); and Mangla’s “Bureaucratic Norms and State Capacity: Implementing Primary Education in India’s Himalayan Region” (2015)
  30. [1] Section 16 of the RTE Act (2009) states that no child shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till completion of elementary education. Section 17 states that no child shall be subjected to physical or mental harassment. Those who breach this rule will be subjected to disciplinary action (Section 17, sub-section 2).
  31. [1]Accountability Initiative’s national survey, called PAISA, which tracks plans, budgets and fund flows in elementary education points out the fact that in 2014 while 94% of the 15,206 surveyed schools had SMCs, 61% of these schools had prepared SDPs the previous year.

October-December, 2015