Education, ideally, can lead to freedom; empowering individuals and communities to realize their fullest potential. It can not only enable better capacities in individuals, but also prepare minds to process information effectively – generating critical thought and perspective. It therefore not only offers the opportunity for hard-working people to lead enriched lives – transcending social contexts – but also deepens awareness and accountability in society. It helps facilitate informed choice, teaching people to think, question, change and grow.
However, in our unequal society, access to education has mostly been the monopoly of already-privileged upper classes. It has helped further entrench and consolidate prior social advantage, converting economic and political capital into upward mobility and status; instead of bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, public education has in effect, widened the social distance between the well-off and the poor, dalit and adivasi.
Additionally, conventional education systems in India promote narrow career paths driven by competition, exclusion and largely urban aspiration, often resulting in disillusionment and frustration for those that don’t make ‘the cut’. For most students from a disadvantaged background, the experience of formal education is oppressive, alienating and eventually useless for improving their life chances.
Improving access to, and the quality of, education for a majority of deprived Indians requires sustained interventions in public schooling processes and— persistent engagement with government policy and relevant delivery mechanisms. It involves working with different levels of government, officials, teachers, administrators, children, and the community to at least ensure the proper functioning of basic school infrastructure, teaching methods, mid-day meals, access to scholarships, etc. The inclusion of children from all backgrounds and the process of building relevant, creative curricula for all, is another challenge altogether.
SRUTI Fellows have been working, for several years, on different aspects of education at the grassroots. Some have started independent schools that provide an alternative philosophy and practice of holistic, socially-conscious education, models that can help enrich and influence the way government schools are run. The Right to Information Act 2009 has also been used to help enable some shifts. SRUTI also implements the idea of the Activist School; a series of activities in multiple languages to enable learning and sharing between grassroot organisations, peoples’ movement volunteers and individuals, so as to create and build more effective social action on the ground.