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Key Moments of Education Policy towards the Poor

Identifying “Key Moments” of Education Policy towards the Poor

Histories of education in colonial and independent India are often structured around policies that are linked to crucial shifts in the educational landscapes, such as educational expansion and the incorporation of the hitherto formally uneducated into existing institutions. While tendencies towards inclusion and democratization are part of the history of education which led to the Right to Education Act of 2009, the “Key Moments” project starts from the assumption that every new educational constellation, or educational regime, may have quite contradictory effects on “the poor”, or on particular disprivileged groups. As many researchers in the fields of history and sociology of education have pointed out, modern education systems can be seen, on the one hand, as contributing to the reproduction of the existing social order, as a means of social disciplining and of keeping the poor “in their place”. On the other hand, they can also function as important agencies of social change and transformation, and open up individual opportunities. Hence, we will look at each particular “key moment” of educational policy that we have identified from different angles, and analyse its reproductive and transformative, disciplinary and emancipatory implications.

That being said, the question of how to identify a “key moment” of educational policy towards the poor is still to be addressed, and it is one of the tasks which we collaboratively need to undertake. Instead of starting from pre-selected “key moments”, it will be part of the collaborative venture of an interplay of empirical results and theoretical discussions in the group, to both identify and define such moments of educational change. It is part of the collaborative project’s research agenda to contribute to a revision of existing educational chronologies from the perspective of the education of “the poor.”

One of the timelines to be thus established would closely follow an established chronology of educational policy making, including moments such as

  • The Indian Education Commission of 1882 (Hunter Commission)
  • The All-India Education Conference of 1937
  • The Education Commission of 1964-66 (Kothari Commission)
  • The National Policy on Education (NPE) of 1986, and
  • The Right to Education Act (RTE) of 2009.

According to the analytical approach we are developing, such a timeline of educational policies needs to be contextualized in different ways. First of all, it will be contrasted with the chronologies emerging from the different analyses conducted within the frame of the “Key Moments” projects along the thematic pillars of indigenous and rural education, gender, caste, religion, labour, compulsory education, and technical solutions for mass education. Moreover, we will take into consideration the chronologies emerging from different vernacular language debates. The idea is to construct several thematic and multilingual timelines, and then look at the points of condensation. While the temporalities of the development of regional patterns or the education of particular disadvantaged groups in society would often not match, there are periods in which discussions around education and the political processes they are interwoven with intensify. Moreover, there are discourses such as the language of “empowerment” or of education as a fundamental right, which cut across the different trajectories of female education, the education of Scheduled Castes/Dalits, or universal education. To identify such points of condensation, or junctures, and the discourses which become hegemonic within a certain period of time, will form one part of analysing a “key moment” in the development of educational policies toward the poor.

Secondly, we aim to explore the social history of educational policies and the politics of policy-making. While the implementation and effects of educational policies are an important question, we need as well to understand the social and political processes in which policy-making takes place. Hence, we will also look at the processes “from below”, i.e. the multitude of actors, agendas, and debates, from which new policy formulations emerge. This particularly includes the struggle of disadvantaged communities and political movements for access to education, and education as a key element of Dalit politics or other movements, such as feminism.

In this way, the construction of multiform chronologies of educational policies towards “the poor” can shed new light on questions of continuity, change, and ruptures in educational development. The aim is, on the one hand, to avoid the pitfall of a linear narrative of educational progress and expansion. On the other hand, however, there is a need to connect micro-histories of particular situations, or singular events, and be able to trace changes over time. The concept of a “key moment”, denoting a particular point of condensation of educational interaction, contestation, and decision-making might be helpful in this regard, though it needs to be theorized further in close relation to the empirical results of the project.