As someone who teaches in a public university, I am constantly faced with the consequences of differential exposure and opportunity on learning. But I also encounter the hope and possibility of a publicly funded education system that has broadened access to education. While it is true that what we have is not quite enough, and not nearly good enough, it’s hard to deny that we have come some distance in these 75 years as a republic. There is a larger percentage of children in school, there are more schools in hard-to-reach areas, and more children are staying in school than at any other time in our short history as an independent nation.
The progress that we have made has not come without struggle on many fronts, whether it is to do with the availability of basic education infrastructure, or curricula that speak to the needs and aspirations of all Indians, or the right of every child to be in school and be valued as a learner, or indeed, for schools to pay attention to issues of difference. This issue of Teacher Plus carries a special collection of articles that pay tribute to some of the people and ideas that catalyzed these changes and shifted our ideas of the role and design of education in a democracy.
The idea for this special collection came from a longtime friend of and contributor to the magazine, Anjali Noronha, whose decades-long work with Ekalavya has given her insights into the democratizing potential of schools – and the challenges in achieving it. While we celebrate Teacher’s Day on September 5 in remembrance of Dr S Radhakrishnan, she asked, why is it we do not similarly celebrate the memory of Savitribai Phule and others who laid the pathway for an inclusive idea of education? As Savitribai Phule’s birth anniversary falls in January, we decided it would be appropriate to mark this month’s issue with a collection of articles that looks at marginality in education. As Anjali details in her account of the work of Savitribai and Fatima Sheikh, such inclusion was not part of the dominant social imagination. Even a century later, when the new nation was born, it took a Babasaheb to argue for a space to be carved out so that historically oppressed groups could become a legitimate, active part of it – with rights to education, work, and other forms of social and political participation.
That conversation has led to a bouquet of articles that give us a glimpse into what it means for education to be truly accessible, and what has hindered access – in thinking and doing – for so long. We hope these pieces provide some food for thought in the new year, and lead to some productive discussions in your classrooms and staffrooms.
Here’s wishing you all a healthy and happy 2024!