Multi-cultural education in India
Streams of racial, cultural, linguistic, and religious groups have come into being in the Indian subcontinent over the centuries. They all contributed to what we call ‘Indian Civilisation.’ According to Sveta Dave Chakravarty, the streams did not merge into a unified civilisation, but led to the co-existence of two images of cultural identity – an organic identity characterised by spirituality, transcendence, and other worldliness, and a composite identity which views Indian traditions as synthetic and adaptive, with a pluralistic character, tolerant and inclined towards peaceful coexistence. Both images fail to incorporate the underlying tensions in multicultural societies.
The Constitution of India ensures religious, linguistic and cultural freedom to all communities. India is a union of states divided along linguistic lines. And, each state is extremely heterogeneous in terms of cultural populations. S.L. Sharma, in his work The Salience of Ethnicity in Modernization: Evidence from India, defined ethnicity as a multi-layered, multi-faceted phenomenon comprising complex identities, including religious, linguistic, ethnic, caste and racial and sectarian identities.
Various groups had varying access to resources, and this resulted in disparities between communities on both the economic and educational fronts. ‘Regional disparities’ denote a multiplicity of issues that together contribute to a situation where there is an unequal distribution of resources and unequal access to development.
According to Sveta Dave Chakravarty, the modern Indian state has operated based on the assumption that Indian society is characterised by infighting. This assumption has intensified the divide over the years. The precarious balance achieved in this ‘nation-state’ has been and continues to be upset repeatedly by political interests. In this race for political supremacy, the groups with little political organisation have been sidelined. Even though the Constitution guarantees equality, the disparities in the distribution of resources have continued to grow.
Politics of education
According to the caste system that prevailed for centuries in India, education was available only to the upper castes. During colonial times, formal education became accessible only to small strata of society, creating ‘forward’ and ‘backward’ classes. As the existing systems intensified this divide, the Constitution granted right of admission to educational institutions regardless of religion, race, gender, caste or language. The Constitution also gave minorities the right to establish their own educational institutions. It also recognised the need to promote the education of the disadvantaged communities, including the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. These measures were taken to bridge the gaps in education across communities.
Multi-cultural education refers to the education of diverse groups that comprise the population of India.
According to the article Multicultural Education in India written by Sveta Dave Chakravarty, for the education to be effective, the medium of instruction must be the mother tongue. This linguistic issue complicates the picture further. There is a political distinction between the terms ‘regional language’ and ‘mother tongue’. A recognised regional language enables the group who speaks it to claim certain rights and benefits as a cultural community. The number of regional languages has been limited, and it stands at 22 now. As the total number of regional dialects in India is over 300, the people who do not speak any one of the 22 recognised languages will not get the benefit.
Speaking of the inequalities in the education sector, it is not only the number of languages that create problems but also the role of language in distributing these resources. In her article, Sveta Dave Chakravarty says that the English language has a unique position in mediating the distribution of resources. In an atmosphere constructed by the English-medium private schools, terms such as mother tongue and first language lose the meaning and status accorded to them.
The two-tiered education system where we have English-medium schools as the epitome of self-confidence, assertiveness, and self-esteem, the absence of a name, and the absence of a pride of belonging may add to the psychological disadvantages of students belonging to a socioeconomically marginalised society.
With the sudden spurt in the growth of fee-charging schools in both urban and rural areas, where the medium of instruction is English, the children who study in state schools belong to the extremely disadvantaged communities where they cannot afford to give English-medium education to their children. However, the fact is that studying in English-medium schools does not guarantee the quality of English needed for the elite professions.
The two-tiered education system where we have English-medium schools as the epitome of self-confidence, assertiveness, and self-esteem, the absence of a name, and the absence of a pride of belonging may add to the psychological disadvantages of students belonging to a socioeconomically marginalised society. On the flip side, the students from the elite schools remain isolated away from the reality; their learning involves mostly only academic theory and lacks practical application in the real world.
Goal of multi-cultural education
Multi-cultural education refers to the education of diverse groups that comprise the population of India. The goal of multi-cultural education is to provide high-quality education to all students to equip them to function effectively. Education has a key role to play in addressing the complex politics of diversity in India.
To provide education for all according to the Constitution, the Government of India has made formidable advances in terms of quantity of educational institutions as well as the educational policies. The system of higher education and the systems of primary and secondary education have grown rapidly.
Speaking of policies, reservation of seats in institutions of higher education and in the civil services has long been a part of policy in India. Understanding that it will not address the issue of access to primary education, the Programme of Action, 1992, a revised version of the National Policy on Education, 1986, was introduced. It focuses on women’s education, education of minorities and of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and the education of the differently abled. Policies giving special emphasis on women’s education were also introduced.
These are the ways in which the government has tried to address the challenges in the education sector. In the next post, we can discuss in detail the implementation of these policies and the subsequent challenges faced in ensuring equality in education.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
How would you describe the term “multicultural education” to your students?
Can you think of the challenges faced by the government in ensuring equality in education?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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