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2. The quest for universal elementary/school education, the private sector and edu-business

The introduction of compulsory schooling and the extension of vocational training programmes have in recent decades been pushed by international organizations such as UNESCO and their affiliates, such as EFA (Education for All). EFA’s aim is to provide free schooling for all children by 2015. In fact, however, there has been little progress in this field, with rates of school attendance dropping rather than rising. Private providers are gaining significance in the area of schooling for the poor partly because many countries cannot afford to build the requisite infrastructure and implement compulsory schooling for all. However there is an increasing interest in educational markets because of the potential for profits that `low cost’ schooling for the poor offers. In this context, a close connection exists between the ‘liberalization’ of the market for education in Europe and the USA on the one hand, and in developing countries on the other. Transnational advocacy networks and organisational structures are being built by international companies and local non state actors in pursuing education as an investment not entirely free of commercial interests and linked to other areas of their business in many regions. These are trends that have important implications for the right to education of all children (especially belonging to the more marginalised groups) and the role of state – non-state actors in realising them. It has only recently come to the attention of critical research in history and educational sociology. A study sponsored by the transnational research group is intended to build on this research in a historical context as there the expansion of schooling by non-governmental activities (social reformers, religious groups) has a long tradition also in India.


Debarati Bagchi
A Script for the Masses? Pedagogic Practices and Didactic Traditions among the Sylhetis

(Project completed)

This postdoctoral project studies the advent of print and the proliferation of a didactic literary tradition in Sylheti-Bangla written in Sylhet Nāgarī script between 1870s and 1940s. Fallen into disuse eventually, texts in this script were once prevalent in the colonial Sylhet Cachar region. Originally prevalent only in its handwritten version, Sylhet Nāgarī has come to be known as an ‘alternative script’ of Bengali. Its entire pedagogic endeavour was to bridge the gap between the written (lekhya bhasha) and the spoken (kathya bhasha) and thereby meeting one of the preconditions of democratisation of education – the concern for reaching out to a larger mass. The chief claim about this script was that one could learn the script oneself, and ‘at home’, without any ‘formal institutional training’. In content, most of these texts dealt with the ethics and values associated with the local form of Islam. The very fact that Nāgarī was brought out of the confinements of the pre-print networks of circulation, standardised and made suitable as printed letters around the 1870s, speaks of the emerging interest of the educated literati in popularising the script. This project aims to unravel the specific kind of mass education that was imparted through the circulation of these texts in contrast to or in parallel with the formal institutional world of education. Most of the contemporary accounts recollect the huge circulation of the texts printed in this script among the muslim subalterns, especially women. I try to tease out the imperatives behind the popularisation of a ‘simplified’ script among certain sections of the population– generally seen as poor and illiterate – and its implications. Through a reading of the texts I seek to perceive the pedagogic practices embodied in these vernaculars and the specific form of transmission of knowledge that these texts facilitated. This project thus examines the ways in which the Sylhet Nāgarī script created the basis of a new literary culture of the poor.

Geetha Nambissan
Review paper on The State, Markets and Schooling of the Poor

This paper focuses on the relationship between poverty and education as it emerges in scholarly literature and well as policy discourse and locates it within changing debates about the schooling of poor children. Viewing poverty within a complex and relational framework it looks at how the main players in the arena of education today - the state and the private sector are intervening in the schooling of the poor. It argues that thrust of education policy for the poor in Independent India and the nature of public provision of schooling as well the more recent trends elementary education have critical implications for the right to education of poor citizens of this country and indeed for the very purpose of education in a democratic society. The experience of countries in Africa (Kenya) where private schools for the poor are rapidly expanding will also be looked at.

Janaki Nair
Alternative Education Project: Documenting the many experiments in the education of rural/urban poor, since the 1970s

Beginning in the 1970s, there were a number of small, innovative efforts at alternative forms of schooling which were begun by educators for the children of urban and rural poor. The elementary schools were intended for those who otherwise may never have gone to school. Adult literacy programmes in India were to some extent faithful to the ideas of Paulo Friere, but were quite different in their effects and methods in the context of a multi-lingual nation such as India. A few schools also derived their inspiration from indigenous ideas of education such as those of Gandhi.

It is now possible to take stock of these small but important experiments, which were loosely networked but not necessarily linked in any programmatic way. The project will ask several questions of such educational efforts, such as: What are the kinds of challenges and changes with which they have had to cope over the last four decades? What are their achievements, their failures, and the lessons of both for the extension of educational facilities to hitherto uneducated populations? Do innovative methods and materials indeed enhance pedagogical goals, and what enduring skills are a result? How have these methods of education built up or altered for the better the life chances of children from underprivileged backgrounds? Were there attempts at producing materials (eg textbooks) for wider use and circulation? How, if at all, was there reference to state schools, examination systems and books? What new challenges and opportunities are posed by the recently implemented Right to Education act?

A workshop to document some of the achievements of these schools will be organised and an edited volume on the histories of these alternative schools will be published.

Child-centred approaches and teachers’ work: Studying contemporary pedagogical reforms in India

This study will examine guiding ideas of pedagogy in Indian policy texts adopted by the central government as part of strategies to reform the provision of education for the poor. The child-centred approach characterises these pedagogical reforms of the last decade, and is manifested in terms including 'child centered education’, 'child-friendly', and 'activity based learning'. The study will trace their origins and interpretation as social-scientific theories in order to evaluate their influence on the conceptualisation of teachers' work. Based on this analysis, the study will examine what the emergence of these guiding ideas means for teaching expertise, given a philosophical understanding of the nature and role of teachers' professional judgments and expertise.

Thus the questions the study seeks to address are a) How do policy texts interpret and understand the purpose and use of child-centered approaches as having transformative potential for education of the poor? b) What linkages are made with socio-scientific and philosophical ideas to argue for child-centered education and its effectiveness for teaching? c) Based on (a) and (b), how are the conceptions of know-how for teaching interpreted? That is, the conceptions that government school teachers are expected to have to teach the stipulated curriculum.

To address these questions, the study will use documentary analysis and examine the narratives of key policy actors. It will employ discourse analysis (Fairclough 2003; Kvale & Brinkmann 2009; Van Dijk 2001) to examine documents in the broad category of policy directives from the central government. That is, policy directives which aid and shape educational planning and decision-making, and generate policy conversations regarding pedagogical policies and teacher education.

Sarada Balagopalan
Shifting ‘aspirations’ in a post-RTE landscape

This research focuses on the figure of the marginal child in legal and policy discourse through plotting two distinct moments of this dense and highly uneven landscape. The first moment is located in the present and takes specific provisions/entitlements of the Right to Education Act (2009) as its point of departure and investigates the pre-history of this Act through the work of the Delhi High Court. The second moment uses archival research to plot the emergence of the figure of the ‘child’ as a legal and policy subject in early twentieth century India.

From the mid-1990s the Delhi High Court emerges as a key site that shapes the direction of policy setting around issues of educational infrastructure and school equity. Within a short span of time the Court adjudicates a range of cases including a fee-hike in private schools, the provision of water and toilets in municipal schools, and transparency around CBSE grading. The momentum and polysemy of these cases appear to be fueled by the growing construction of the ‘child’ as an isolatable subject capable of exercising ‘rights’ rather than a coherent imagination of elementary education. This research aims to better understand the translation of the Court’s judgments into specific provisions in the RTE with a focus on the ways in which this new ‘child-figure’ animates debates on equity while simultaneously appearing to domesticate its politics.

The second moment traces the expansion of ideas and networks around children’s ‘welfare’ and ‘protection’ in early twentieth century India. Building on existing research around the ‘age of consent’ and ‘protection’ of working children it currently includes the Children’s Acts, the rise of children’s welfare societies and the role of the League of Nations within its purview. The boundaries of this archival research remain to be determined but I hope to trace the circulation of ‘biological age’ as a new index that was increasingly used to fix and determine a ‘child’s’ need for ‘protection’ but which also simultaneously accommodated fluid, multiple imaginations of children and their capacities, thereby opening-up the concept of ‘welfare’ in unpredictable ways.

Vidya K.S.
Marketisation, Managerialism and School Reforms: A Study of Public-Private Partnerships in Elementary Education in Delhi

Through the late 1970s, there was a fundamental repositioning of education in relation to the nation-state, most notably in the USA and the UK. Part of larger processes of economic reforms initiated by New Right governments in these countries, these reforms were advocated with a view to addressing the rising discourse of falling educational standards in public schools that blamed teachers and poor school management. Increasingly, these typologies of reform are being imported into later developing countries, including India, as effective measures of repairing an increasingly maligned public school system, which caters to the poorest sections of society.

The focus of my PhD research study is to examine these broader global discourses of reform and the complex nature of its interface with a heterogeneous government schooling system in India. The consequent changes that these reforms impose on the school will be examined through the lens of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which are one of the key modes through which markets are entering elementary education in the country. Teacher training programmes are an emerging form of PPP that are seen as central towards improving school outcomes amongst the most disadvantaged sections of society. Apart from a survey of the range and nature of teacher training PPPs, the study will examine the ‘Teach for India’ (TFI) intervention, one significant PPP in teacher training, that seeks to address educational inequity in teaching-learning transactions in the classroom.


Geetha B. Nambissan (2014) 'Sociology of School Education in India: A Review of Research 2000-10' in Yogendra Singh (ed.) Indian Sociology Volume 2, Development and Change, ICSSR Research Surveys and Explorations. Oxford University Press: New Delhi, pp. 66-101

Geetha B. Nambissan, “Private Schools for the Poor. Business as Usual?”, EPW, Vol. XLVII No. 41, October 13, 2012

Geetha B. Nambissan, "The global economic crisis, poverty and education: a perspective from India", Journal of Education Policy, 25: 6 (2010) 729 – 737; Ed., "Advocacy networks, choice and private schooling of the poor in India" Global Networks 10, 3 (2010) 324-343 [co-authored with S. J. Ball]

Manabi Majumdar, The Shadow Education System and New Class Divisions in Education (TRG working papers series; forthcoming 2014)