Building A Society For Inclusive Education

The pandemic has only exacerbated the large inequality within the education sector in India, most underprivileged students had to pause their education during its crucial years

India has unique figures on K-12 enrolment: 47.8 per cent of Indian students are enrolled in private schools, the rest in government schools. In fact, in 16 Indian states, the number of students enrolled in private schools is more than those enrolled in public ones. Yet—while these figures seem to have positive connotations—over 60 per cent of fifth-grade private school students in rural India are unable to do three-digit division or read paragraphs in English that are intended to be read by second-grader students.

This can largely be attributed to the fact that most Indian private schools charge nominal fees and oversell their facilities—the English education that many private schools boast of does not reflect in statistics, given that approximately only 2.5 lakh Indians speak English as a home language. Public schools face the same problem. The quality of education most underprivileged students receive is created primarily by a paucity of funds for resources—both at home, and at school—whether these resources are able teachers, books and stationery, or technological infrastructure.

The pandemic has only exacerbated the large inequality within the education sector in India. Most schools moved their classes online at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. While this was a viable option for people from a higher socioeconomic stratum, most underprivileged students had to pause their education during its crucial years. Moving school online during a pandemic was necessary, but not effective for many, given that only 11 per cent of Indian households possess a computer. In fact, a survey conducted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic found that 64 per cent of rural Indian children were at risk of dropping out of school without being given additional support. Moreover, the migrant crisis took children away from their schools in the city—thereby making them even more vulnerable to dropping out. 

The need for quality education for underprivileged students in India is more dire now than it ever has been. With the pandemic and a variety of external factors pitted against them, these students need as much help as they can get. There is an abundant amount of content available online for anyone to use for free. The trouble is access to devices, the internet, textbooks, etc., as well as live contextualized mentoring and support. This is not an insurmountable problem if everybody pitches in. Students from privileged backgrounds can support their less-privileged peers. Companies can donate their obsolete equipment to poorer schools to provide learners access to the extensive world of online learning. Youth with skills can teach others their skills so that everybody benefits. 

Over the past few years, students are becoming more and more interested in doing social work. When it comes to education, many privileged students attend good schools and can make a significant change in the lives of their less privileged counterparts—this could be by leveraging their resources to fundraise, or by tutoring underprivileged students in their weaker subjects.

An example of an initiative that is tackling the issue of educational inequality in this manner is the Society for Inclusive Education (SIE), a student-led initiative that guides students from privileged backgrounds to creating a change in their vicinity. It was started in 2020 in response to the plight of underprivileged students at schools in the Gurgaon area. 

SIE aims to create a ripple effect among its members and beneficiaries. It sets up chapters in privileged schools around India: each chapter has a President, Vice President, and Treasurer who report to the leadership at the headquarter level. It helps its students identify underserved schools/student groups and conduct need analyses. Post need analysis, the members conduct donation drives or fundraisers to provide beneficiaries with the required supplies. Next, SIE members hold classes in extracurriculars and/or academics to help their beneficiaries keep up with their course load. 

Society for Inclusive Education has more than 200 member institutions and 1150+ members. It is working towards its goal of reaching 6000 total members by 2025, while impacting 1000+ beneficiary schools by the same time. 

“I always wanted to do social work but had no idea where to start,” Aishwarya Bhaskar, a current 12th-grade student at Sanjivani Group of Institutes’ SIE chapter, says. “With SIE’s guidance, my team and I conducted a need analysis at a local school and provide them with notebooks and stationery. We also conducted lessons in subjects like arithmetic for our beneficiary students.”

The Society for Inclusive Education is supported by Edunet Foundation, an NGO with a national footprint in India and Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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