With 1.1 million schools, 143 million students and 4.9 million teachers, the government school system in India is one of the largest and most complex public systems across the world. The past three decades have seen an exponential rise in the number of schools and enrolment due to various government initiatives. However, issues such as caste, class, gender and religious inequalities still persist in our country and they have a strong correlation with student attendance, retention, and dropouts. These issues will remain unabated unless the beliefs and attitudes of the different stakeholders gravitate towards the ideals of diversity and inclusivity as envisaged by our Constitution.Most contemporary policy discourses focus on school choice, teacher accountability, assessments, and ICT in education. What is missing and urgently needed is the creation of a learning environment in schools and classrooms that enables inclusivity, and not one where inequalities are reproduced.
The book begins with the works by RV Vaidyanatha Ayyar and Madhumita Bandyopadhyay both of which provide critical insights into our contemporary idea of inclusion. Ayyar provides a historical account of the evolution of inclusion from the Kothari Commission to the Right to Education Act. Subsequently, he expresses the need for an educational framework which effectively utilizes comparative data on learning achievements and the national norms on minimum learning outcomes. He rightly notes that a singular focus on measurement of learning outcomes by themselves serve no purpose unless linked with pedagogy, training, and student outcomes. He also proposes a policy framework that empowers the States to follow their own strategy to achieve inclusion which is rooted in national norms. Bandyopadhyay visualizes inclusion as a process and not an event. Through extensive secondary data, she demonstrates that there has been an increase in the dropouts by marginalized students and the existence of disparities in school enrolment across Dalit and Muslim dominated regions and other regions. She notes that the vicious cycle of poor education and social inequality is perpetuated when the marginalized students are systematically excluded because of curricular and pedagogic limitations. She proposes that this vicious cycle be broken with the increased availability of neighbourhood schools with motivated and well qualified teachers.