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Unfinished work of equality

To improve the educational status of Scheduled Castes, a fresh understanding of their achievements and challenges is necessary.

Written by Govardhan Wankhede |
Updated: June 9, 2015 6:48:01 am
socio-economic conditions, casteism, untouchability, discrimination, Indian Constitution, education in India, India education, Indian Council of Social Science Research, B.R. Ambedkar, indian express, express column The study finds that social and economic status predetermines educational access and performance. (Pradeep Yadav)

The concern of scholars, planners and policymakers has been to achieve the goals set in our Constitution: equality, justice and equal opportunity for all. However, in the period after Independence, it was revealed that education was not necessarily linked to social and economic development and the majority of Indians continued to lag behind in educational attainments. The disadvantaged suffer because of multiple factors: one, the nation’s views and goals in education; two, the implementation policies and processes; three, their traditional handicaps; and four, increasing requirements in the quality of education and skills.

The Constitution has special provisions to bring marginalised communities on par with others. Due to the internal contradictions of these communities and external forces that demand quality and performance, the role of education and the special provisions have proved to be limited. Marginalised communities like the SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities have traditionally been disadvantaged in terms of access, equity, performance and utility of education. Multiple socio-economic, cultural and political factors have led to caste, regional and rural-urban differences within disadvantaged groups. Maharashtra, despite its history of social and political movements for social transformation, continues to perform poorly in education of SCs. It’s important to emphasise that SCs are not a homogeneous group but a heterogeneous one with a hierarchical structure.

It was felt necessary to understand the educational situation among the SCs of Maharashtra, for which a study was undertaken. It’s relevant to identify and analyse the issues pertaining to the level and type of education that they choose, the type of schools and colleges they join, how they perform, what problems they face and how strongly these link up to their family background. It is necessary to establish the facts with an empirical probe. This article attempts to probe deeper, based on primary data and observations directly from the field. The original study was part of an all-India project on the educational status of SCs and STs, covering 19 states, and was funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research.

Almost a fifth of SC households reported continuing with their traditional occupations, which are tightly linked to discrimination and low income. B.R. Ambedkar’s movement helped SCs break away from their caste-based occupations, change their work as well as religion. Almost the same percentage in our sample is employed in low-profile government jobs. These changes go up to two generations and the impact is seen in educational attainments, challenges and aspirations of the heads of households. Almost half of the households in the sample still face financial constraints. Around 80 per cent of heads of SC households had only studied till the secondary level or lower. The higher the level of education, the fewer the number of SC household heads who have attained it. The data on the current education level of their children is encouraging as many study at the primary and secondary levels and enrolment is high. Demand for English-medium and private-unaided schools is high. Support in terms of private tuition, additional finance through loans, travel to educational institutions outside own village/ town, monitoring and keeping tabs by parents are all indicative of the importance of and demand for good education by SC households. Less than 15 per cent of households shared that their children couldn’t continue education after Class 12, mainly due to financial and health reasons. More than 50 per cent of households want their children to study at least till graduation and eventually take up professional/ technical jobs.

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The data on the provision and utility of the benefits provided by the government is disheartening. Facilities provided to support SC education are ineffective because of the lack of awareness among stakeholders, bureaucratic procedures, social bias and the inability of SCs to meet the required criteria — procuring caste and income certificates, etc. The data on discrimination is also disheartening, since it continues to exist, as in the segregation of areas where SCs stay and in their access to public places. Discrimination was also reported in sitting arrangements during mid-day meals.

An analysis of information shared by student respondents shows that the educational situation for SCs in Maharashtra is not that disheartening, although our sample consists of dominant SC castes, such as Mahars, Buddhists and Chambhars.

In terms of access to educational institutions, there are no significant problems. However, the data shows students face problems while choosing their educational stream and encounter great difficulties in performance due to the lack of proper orientation and guidance. In sum, in terms of overall educational status, these castes, although better than before, still lag behind other (upper) castes in all spheres of education.

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The study finds that social and economic status predetermines educational access and performance. Thus, concrete measures are needed for framing new policies to improve the socio-economic conditions of SCs. Furthermore, issues like caste, casteism, untouchability and discrimination need to be re-examined. In the context of globalisation and privatisation, more steps need to be taken to improve access to public places and counter caste-based discrimination in schools and colleges. Special mechanisms are required to evolve and improve general and educational awareness, motivation and access, as the demand for good quality education is high, with more and more people opting for private, unaided and English-medium institutions. Support mechanisms to compete and perform better, such as more educational packages and orientation programmes, need to be developed.

Introducing programmes like the development of soft skills, personality and communication skills (especially English at the higher education level) can secure the link between education and employment. There is an urgent need to sensitise teachers, government officials and the public about the educational and social problems of SCs. Special grievance cells and guidance centres need to be operational, known by everyone and used to the fullest.

Steps are needed to spread awareness of all facilities, programmes and schemes meant for SCs, including printing and publicising information booklets regarding the reservation policy, and making these available at newspaper stalls. For example, the social welfare department of Maharashtra publishes a handbook called Vaatchaal.

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Government departments and officials need to be sensitised about the proper implementation of schemes and facilities and also to minimise bureaucracy. Applying for educational facilities online is a progressive step, but it may leave out a lot of SCs not trained to use the facility.

Issues of higher education, regarding access, choice, performance and support for SCs, require special attention. A concentrated effort to ensure good performance and job opportunities needs to be made by the state for SCs who reach the level of higher education. It is also recommended that efforts be made to minimise the differences — both socio-economic and educational — among the SCs and to extend all schemes, including reservations, to private educational institutions.

The writer is former professor and chairperson, Centre for Higher Education, and dean, School of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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First published on: 09-06-2015 at 12:00:19 am
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