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1. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century global educational reform movements and their impact on universal schooling in India

In addition to the well-known initiatives of Christian missions, efforts by colonial powers as well as indigenous educationalists and intellectuals to expand education in the colonies started as early as the mid-nineteenth century. However, they increased particularly in the inter-war period, influenced by movements to reform education in Europe and the USA, and driven on by the demands of the emergent colonial independence movements. This was accompanied by a worldwide network of reforming educationalists in the form of the New Education Fellowship (founded in 1921). In the person of Rabindranath Tagore, the Fellowship had close ties with India from the start, and after the Second World War, its members exerted considerable influence on UNESCO’s education programmes and human rights policies. At the GHIL a Habilitation thesis is concentrating on some of these aspects with a global focus. The topic also holds a lot of potential for a regional study on India. The diversity of caste, tribal and region in India pose a challenge to a more homogenous construction of what constitutes a ‘schooled child’, and the shifts in this imagination given the historical expansion of schooling, is an important area of the research programme of the TRG. Further, there is interest at the GHIL in the changing concepts of the schooled child in European school reform.


Alva Bonaker
Local Perceptions in Defining and Shaping the Benefits of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in Delhi

The nationwide mid-day meal scheme (MDMS) in India, as one of the largest school feeding programmes in the world, aims to tackle two basic needs at the same time: food and education. In highly controversial debates about this policy, little attention has been paid to in-depth qualitative research on the impact of the scheme in urban areas. Generally most studies follow a quantitative approach and focus on rural areas. This PhD research intends to fill this gap by conducting a case study in Delhi tracing the question “How do parents, teachers and local communities understand the MDMS, and to what extend do they exert control over its effects?" To approach this question I will analyse what means are available for them to do this, and how their understandings of the scheme and definition of its benefits differ from those of policy makers and higher level officials. In order to understand the current perceptions and roles, my research will examine how the understanding of hunger, poverty and education has developed over time and how, against this backdrop, the MDMS came into being. It is hypothesised that there is a slight increase in enrolment rates and school attendance of children from poor socio-economic backgrounds as a result of the scheme, but that many opportunities are left unused because local communities are insufficiently integrated. The research, hence, aims to contribute to our understanding of state welfare from the "bottom-up"—that is, to ascertain how local communities shape the schemes which target them, and which most often envision them as passive recipients.

Methodologically, this bottom-up research will require participant-observation (to assess the implementation of the scheme in schools), qualitative interviews (with teachers, parents and other community members), as well as literature-based analysis of the discourses on poverty, hunger and education, social policies and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in particular.

Geetha Nambissan
Research Study: Schooling, Disadvantage and Privilege: Choices, strategies and practices of poor and middle class families

The study aims to explore the ways in which the social class location of families (poor and middle/upper middle class) influences how they access education for their children and the choices they make. It focuses on the strategies and practices of families to mobilize a range of social and cultural resources and networks that differentially influences school participation and outcomes for their children. The study draws from theoretical frameworks that conceptualise differential family and community resources in terms of capitals (cultural, social and emotional), activities around mothering as well as the agency of parents and children as reflected in diverse meanings around education and their choices and strategies in this regard. While social class is seen as a key structural variable that defines access to and participation in schooling, gender, age, spatial location as well as caste are also seen to mediate schooling in important ways. The effort will be to include families that are in deep poverty and educationally at risk. By bringing the poor as well as socio-economically advantaged groups into the research it is hoped that the study will provide an overall picture of how various social, cultural and economic capitals are differentially accessed and put into play by families as their children and they themselves engage with schooling and activities around it. The proposed study which will be carried out in Delhi attempts, (through in-depth interviews with a small number of families) to map and present profiles of privilege and disadvantage in relation to education of children.

Jana Tschurenev
Gender, Education, and Inequality

Within the framework of the TRG’s collaborative research project on “Key Moments of Educational Policy towards the Poor”, the sub-project “Gender, Education, and Inequality” focuses on changing educational regimes with regard to gender relations, particularly the educational opportunities for women, from the 1820s to the late 20th century. Central issues to be explored will include:

  • Changes in the access of men and women to formal educational institutions (in the context of elementary or mass education and higher education);
  • Changes in the gender-differentiated content of education or curriculum, such as debates and policy statements on the need to educate women ‘as women’ or mothers and keep them away from sciences or literary instruction;
  • The emergence of women as agents in the ‘contested terrain’ of educational politics, as teachers, ‘experts’ and educational policy makers and the linkages between educational policy, literacy, and the development of feminism, as well as other emancipation movements;
  • Changes in the conception of gender, underlying educational policy-making: The ways in which education contributes to the construction of gender differences, the naturalization of gender hierarchies, or more egalitarian modes of gender identity and practice;
  • The effects of literacy and education on notions of life-cycles and on individual life-courses.

The sub-project looks at gender and education from an intersectionality perspective. It will analyze the gender politics of educational projects and debates in relation to other power relations, along the lines of caste, class, and colonialism/imperialism. Moreover, it will take into account the question of changing notions of life-cycles and debates about girlhood and widowhood as crucial to the development of ‘female education’. A major outcome of the sub-project will be a book monograph on ‘Women, Inequality, and Education in Colonial India: Intersectional Perspectives’ (Jana Tschurenev), in which each chapter explores the emergence of a new regime of education for girls and women, from the 1820s to the 1920s, on regional levels (Bengal, Maharashtra), as well as in the emerging domain of nationalist educational politics and policies. The postcolonial period and other regional developments will be explored in cooperation with other TRG members.

Kaustubh Mani Sengupta
Refugee Settlement and the Role of Education in Calcutta, 1947-1967

(Project completed)

I propose to study the role of education and school in the lives of the refugees who settled in and around Calcutta after the partition of British India in 1947. The refugees, coming from the eastern part of the erstwhile province of Bengal, spread all over West Bengal and in other parts of India. But a major concentration was in the greater Calcutta region, where many ‘colonies’ came up. These colonies were a novel and distinct spatial arrangement in the urban morphology. And almost all the colonies had a primary school. The study of these schools —where and how did they come up, who were the teachers, what was the curriculum— and the general role of education in these settlements will reveal complex socio-economic dynamic of a population trying to carve out a niche on a new terrain. The government, from time to time, came up with various policies to meet the pressing demands that this huge influx of people put on it. I will study the different programme—for general education as well as vocational training—that were initiated by the government. In this process, the refugees had to negotiate with the erstwhile residents of the city. The partition, based on religion, made the position of the Muslim population in Calcutta vulnerable. There was distinct spatial reorganisation of the city which affected the Muslims. I want to conclude my study with an exploration of the relationship between the refugees and the Muslims, and how in the process the Muslim educational institutes in the city got affected. This is crucial for an understanding of the overall situation. Most often, while focusing on the refugee population, one tends to forget about the host population, more specifically, the condition of the minority. The project, on one hand, tries to focus on local issues and etch out a dense picture of various processes related to educational institutions and policies, and on the other, wants to open up a crucial but neglected aspect of partition studies. Also, it seeks to look into the way the refugees tried to make a mark on the map of the city, where a tangled web of land-locality-finance/cultural capital operated in creating the educational space

Neeladri Bhattacharya
Educating the poor in colonial India: official and non-official experiments

The project will look at the history of ‘popular education’ in colonial India, and investigate official policies towards village schools and ‘vernacular education’. It will also study the initiatives undertaken by individual officials in various provinces, such as the experiments of Thomas Munro, James Thomason and F.I. Brayne. In addition to the official efforts, the project will explore the experiments of social reform organizations – like the arya samaj, Gurukul sabhas, and Christian missions – to educate the poor, and track the history of village madrasas and pathshalas. It will explore the visions that lay behind such initiatives, trace the changes within these visions, study the concrete measures that were undertaken and the problems encountered in carrying through the experiments. Wherever possible there will be an effort to understand the experience of the poor within the educational institutions.

In concrete terms the project will seek to:

  • Collect and document available evidence on textbooks, classroom practices, and the official and unofficial experiments relating to the schooling of rural and urban poor. This material will be archived for public use, and essays will be written on the basis of this archive.
  • Invite papers from those who are working on such themes, initiate research and discussion on these questions, and organize a set of workshops on the themes. After discussion and revision, the papers presented at the workshop will be published in a volume of essays.

Schooling Women: Debates on Education in the United Provinces (1854-1930)

(Project completed)

My current work ‘Schooling Women: Debates on Education in the United Provinces (1854-1930)’ will focus on the school education of women (especially of poor and the underprivileged members among the Hindus and Muslims, although comparison will be made with other communities) in the United Provinces between 1854 and 1920. It will explore the educational development and the reasons for the interest among people regarding girls’ education in particular, especially in the latter part of the 19th century. It is an attempt to answer the questions such as in what ways was the education of women necessitated by the altered social and -economic transformations in late 19th century United Provinces. Which special groups and classes benefitted from the new in the programs those were aimed at reaching the marginalized among the girls and women, and if so why? Comparisons will be made between boys’ and girls’ education through debates regarding the curriculum, funding, special schools or co-education, compulsory education and creation of demand of female education through the grant of privileges.

My work focuses on the nineteenth century, which is the beginning of formal colonial education in India, but a vastly underrated research field for my research questions and a great challenge due to the lack of easily accessible primary sources.

Smita Gandotra
Stri Shiksha: Towards a Conceptual History

A large and diverse body of instructional material for women began to appear in the 1870s in Hindi. This corpus, that variously comprised didactic novels, advice books, conduct manuals, instructive tales, moral essays and journals, presents us with a rich archive from which to track the debate on women’s education in colonial north India. The term stri shiksha (women’s education) occurs fairly frequently as a title in this literature. My project is invested in understanding the contours the term stri shiksha takes between the years 1870 and 1930. The term came to be used first in response to, and later contradistinction from, the colonial government’s policy on female education, its establishment of girls’ schools, and promotion of a culture of textbooks. This discourse also implicitly reinscribed indigenous traditions of informal instruction at home, by creatively visualising specific practices of reading and listening.


Sarada Balagopalan, “Memories of Tomorrow: Children, Labor and the Panacea of Formal Schooling” in: Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (2008), 267-285

Andreas Gestrich, (ed.), The Dynamics of religious reform, vol. IV: Education, Leuven University Press (in preparation)

Poonam Batra, Quality of Education and the Poor: Constraints on Learning (TRG working papers series; forthcoming 2014)

Farida Khan, Teaching children of the Poor: the implications of classroom pedagogies (TRG working papers series; forthcoming 2014)