‘What a beautiful day it is to go out and play!’ exclaimed A

‘What a beautiful day it is to go out and play!’ exclaimed A

I woke up with a jump as usual, fresh and bright-eyed. Mama came in with the milk.

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Since I have a lot work that needs to be done, I generally do some stretching exercises as I drink- saves a lot of time.

Oh dear! Grown ups are so untidy; I must put everything back in its place.

But my work is far from done- oh no!
You think thiIMG-20150906-WA0005s is it? Sometimes, I have to throw everything off before putting it back again, neatly. Then sweeping and mopping the whole house- phew.

But all this work has made me very hungry.Screenshot_2015-09-22-17-56-15

Hey Mama! What are my options for breakfast? Hmmmm….I think I will have the house special.

Ah…ragi with ghee and shakar- my favourite. I need it for what the rest of the day has in store for me!

Mama insists that I bathe every day- not that I mind, far from it. I adore being in the water, but once in a while I like to spice things up a bit. Like walk to the local park and shower there.

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Sometimes, I meet people who need my advice – I always take out time for them.

But I never forget the other important work that needs to be done – like grocery shopping. Hmmmm… which fruit should I buy? How many eggs do we need? Decisions, decisions.

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I must rush home for my class.
My student is here- it is Nanu. He wants to learn to drive a jeep- at his age! Ah well, I must if I must. ‘This is how you hold the steering wheel… yada yada yada…’

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You might wonder how I do it all. I will let you onto a secret- the trick is to intersperse your hectic and busy day with a lot of short meals and naps. Eat some, sleep some, drink some, sleep more.

I am aware that without my help things around the house will not get done. Before I go out to the park, I first look at what Nani is doing. Poor thing! She looks so hassled, not knowing what to do with her books. So, I set out to help her organise them.

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I play with Pappy… and whee around a bit.

I suddenly remember, Mama and S have not had their share of exercise for the day! Off to help them get fit! Make sure S does her push-ups and Mama needs to get over her fear of water.

The rest of the evening just whizzes by.

Finally, to bed. Good night you all!

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Teacher and Digital Technology in Education

Teacher and Digital Technology in Education

I have many fears regarding the use of ICT in the classroom. Predominant amongst these is whether digital technology will become a means of achieving teaching learning in the classroom to the extent where teachers become dispensable. Will the teacher become  one means by which digital technology and its educational components are enacted in the classroom? In such a scenario, teacher as a transformative intellectual will no longer be something that is to be desired. Furthermore, it is a little alarming that digital technology which claims to enhance critical thinking skills in students is making a point that the teacher herself need not be a critical thinker to encourage such skills in her students. The argument is that it is fine to have untrained people, who lack skills in critical thinking, while arguing for a means of achieving critical thinking via digital technology. There seems to be an inherent contradiction here.

Let’s get back to the concern the post raised at the beginning- that technology will replace the teacher. Trucano tries to allay this fear. He argues instead that teachers who do not use technology will simply be replaced by those who do. Further, technology can help address the problem of teacher shortage, and provide access to hitherto inaccessible educational resources and opportunities. But having said all this, Trucano makes a passing mention of the intent of some people, such as policy makers and businessmen, who hope that computers will provide a way to replace teachers. But he discards this by saying that his experience shows that after the hype around new technology has settled down, teachers resume their central role in education. What will change are the nature of some activities that teachers traditionally do, like data entry or the way they teach.

But is it possible to be quick in discarding the intent with which digital technology is being championed? Sugata Mitra’s hole in the wall experiment and subsequent studies aim to prove that if students are given access to internet and computers, they can achieve anything. This is indeed admirable and a bold claim to make. But what it leaves unanswered are questions on the idea of teacher empowerment and their professional development. Are we then to assume that unskilled teachers are acceptable as long as technology is available? Of course, to give credit where it is due, this way does help address the problem of teacher shortage, especially skilled teachers. But it creates the possibility of thinking that ‘no teacher in the classroom’ is a reality and this reality is in no way a barrier to active learning. In fact, it argues, that this reality might even be good under some circumstances.

Prima facie, this is in direct contradiction to what people like Koehler and Mishra have to say or Puentedura’s models on how technology can be used in the classroom. They make a case for the importance of teacher in using technology appropriately by combining it with her content and pedagogic knowledge. A problem with these models is the assumption of a very enlightened teacher who uses technology in a way in which student learning improves and learning tasks are re-conceptualised.

Thus, the champions of digital technology say that the problem of untrained teacher can be effectively dealt with by using technology. The other group says that technology makes it possible to visualise and design learning tasks which were earlier not thought possible, as long as the teacher is able to use technology effectively. However, in both cases, teachers are the objects of discussion and never the agents themselves. Second, technology is taken to be the primary mover of improved teaching learning process and as something that will enable the teacher to teach. The only difference is the extent to which teacher’s role is seen vis-à-vis technology. In both arguments, the focus is on technology, which is no longer seen as a tool but as something alive with the possibility of re-imagining education and impacting education in a positive way. Technology has become the new and much coveted norm.

The question is no longer whether ICT will replace teachers, but what is the new role of the teacher in an ICT induced classroom and the implications that this will have on education.

References

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (n.d.). What Is Technological Pedagogical Content.

Trucano, M. (2015), Will technology replace teachers?

http://hippasus.com/blog/archives/287

A Literary Autobiography of Sorts

A Literary Autobiography of Sorts

Clutching the money tightly to my chest, I stood next to my mother and felt overwhelmed with the books on display in front of me, in what I thought was the ‘biggest’ book shop I had ever seen. And then I spotted a book, the book that I knew would become the first book I bought with my own money. It was Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter. It was the summer of 1996 and we had transferred to Bombay a few months back. This was the year of many other firsts, too. The first time I met people who loved reading. The first school I attended with an actual library full of books which we could issue and take home. The first time that I wasn’t made to feel different because of my apparent comfort in conversing in the English language. Suddenly, I found myself with endless possibilities of reading, exchanging, and discussing books.

My growing up years had been spent in Delhi and coming from a Sikh family, my parents had enrolled me and my sister into a Sikh school. We had to compulsorily learn the prayers from the Guru Granth Sahib and had a subject called Divinity where we read and were tested on sakhis or historical accounts of the great deeds done by the Gurus. At home, we had a more secular outlook and sometimes, what I did in school did not always fit very comfortably with my home life. We rarely spoke in Punjabi, the preferred language at home being Hindi. The only stories that we were told were those that Father mixed up with tales from the Panchatantra and which he would narrate as my sister and I pressed his legs at night. They were generally funny and would make us laugh so much, that exhausted we would fall asleep. Our favourite was about the Foolish Students, a story where two foolish students chop their teacher’s nose just to spite each other. But since Father travelled a lot on work and Mother was a teacher, she was often worked off her feet. It was easy for her to give us books to read while she cooked or took care of the endless stream of relatives who were a permanent fixture at home. But we never did have a lot of money to buy books. Parents would occasionally buy books for us, but these were rare and far in between. We depended on second hand books from our relatives. As an eight year old, I remember trying to make sense of Illiad, something that I got out of my cousin’s bookshelf! These hand- me downs also consisted of Amar Chitra Kathas, and DC and Marvel comics.

This changed when we moved into a bigger house and Mother got her old book cupboard shipped from her maternal home to our new home. ‘Are these all our books?’ I wondered. Mother proudly set up the cupboard in the drawing room and give us strict instructions on the books we could read. These were mostly Enid Blyton, Bessie Bunter, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Alfred Hitchcock. Mother handed me her hard-bound copies of classics like Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Little Women, and Black Beauty, telling me to take good care of them.

I was thrilled! In the afternoon when everybody slept or rested, I pretended that the wooden chair we had was a magic flying chair and I would go on adventures with all my stuffed toys and dolls in tow. I would throw myself in a corner and moan about being kidnapped and think of ways of escaping my imagined tormentor. In the evening, I would organise my friends into the Mystery Solvers on Cycle and we would bicycle around the colony, trying to solve the ‘mystery of the suspicious looking man’ or ‘the surly shopkeeper’. At school, my friends laughed when I would get lost in the classroom, pondering whether I had the courage to put stink balls (whatever they were!) in the teacher’s desk. My friends met the book characters though me, they lived the adventures vicariously. I wasn’t unhappy but it was only when I came to Bombay did I realise what had been missing in my life.

The joy of going to a friend’s home, with a book tucked under your arm and returning with another book was an experience which left me spell- bound. Mother and I, to our joy, discovered a quaint lending library close by. I read furiously. The school library introduced me to Agatha Christie. ‘Oh alright,’ Mother said when she saw The Caribbean Mystery I had issued from the library, ‘I guess you are grown up to read about murders.’ But the best thing that my school library introduced me to were the Anne of Avonlea books. The story of the gutsy girl, who was funny, comical and strange, dying her hair green, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time- it all made me smile and cry at the same time. And once I had bought my first book and reveled in the joy of holding a book which said, This book belongs to Simrita, there was no looking back.

It somehow never bothered me much that the books that I started off reading were set in a context very different from my own. I think the operative word that I am looking for is themes. Sometimes, even despite different context, the human emotions and human will, stays the same. Even when I read Deepa Aggarwal, Ruskin Bond, or the Tinkles, what made me smile were the human idiosyncrasies and desires which seemed to cut across age, time, and space. Plus, probably because I came from a middle class background, exposed to both my culture and a Western culture so to say, all at the same time, the conflict in differing contexts never came up. I loved Swami’s adventures and Rusty’s grandfather’s zoo- and somewhere, whether in those books or Anne’s books, I saw crazy friends and relatives who are all around us! This made life somewhat easy because my father’s job made us move between different cities and in a way books became my constant companion who I knew would never let me down, a means to escape into another world, and I learned to look for love, compassion, and humour in the most mundane things.

When we returned to Delhi in 2000, I was enrolled into a school with a strong Arts and Humanities programme. But my high school years were marked with loneliness- my sister was studying in another city and I was bullied at school. That is when I truly realised the power of books. As Neil Gaiman’s protagonist in Ocean at the End of the Lane said, ‘Books were safer than people anyway’. I read everything that I could lay my hands on and that is how in college I met two of the most wonderful people who would become my closest friends in the years to come. For that, I will always be indebted to J K Rowling and J R R Tolkien.

True, I have only ever read English literature. Very rarely have I picked up a Hindi or Punjabi text. Do I regret my inability to read fluently in any other language? I am not sure. Sometimes language, so intrinsic to the way we think and behave, can either forge relationships or become a barrier to communication. That is one way of looking at it. But I fervently believe that it is reading that can forge or break relationships. Sometimes we get bogged down with the idea of language and context, while I believe that people should just read. Because despite what baggage you come with, what your background is, as soon as you read, you learn how people are different yet the same, have different ways of looking at the same thing, and it so much easier to talk and connect with people who read- no matter what they have read or where they come from.

The Constant Warriors

The Constant Warriors

‘I think this is such a product of being super-achieving middle class girls today … does that sound patronising? But it is true! I think we are the most unfortunate class and gender in the history of Indian society, just because we are allowed to have never-before aspirations and willpower, and claw our way out of the hell-holes ascribed to us, but then there are situations standing in our way which still remain insurmountable.

This happened almost a year ago – when I emailed D to give her some updates on my life. And this has stayed with me – because it makes so much sense. Of course, I can’t really speak about or on behalf of women from other strata or backgrounds – I can only speak about women I have known or, actually, to be more precise, I can only speak about myself.

In a throwback to my earlier life, I see how what I perceived as independent decisions were in fact taken within well established though invisible boundaries, sometimes by family, society, or circumstances, but mostly by own unconscious internalisation of those boundaries and limitations. That leaves me worried. Have I never really been as independent as I thought of myself to be? Am I wrong in thinking and believing that I am a free agent? Are we the product of the very spaces we occupy, spaces made available to us, not spaces that we carve for ourselves?

I find myself at cross- roads again, and true, I worry about what the future holds for me. But I worry too because I don’t know how much of what I decide to do will be my own doing. We are drilled with the idea of responsibilities and even admitting to ourselves that maybe we do not want to be responsible for somebody else seems blasphemous and wrong. Which is why taking decision, especially as a woman, becomes difficult, because of the compulsion of doing the right thing while still trying to prove that you have it all. We live in a world where we have to show that we have it all, that we are super-human beings capable of fighting all odds. Walking this tight rope between constantly fighting and proving your worth, and society deciding what you can do or should fight for actually leaves no fight in me. And I question whether any of this is worth it after all.

ICT and Social (In) Equality

ICT and Social (In) Equality

My six weeks field internship had been on the nature of the relationship between the low fee private schools and education service providers. As I studied three schools and met and spoke with various actors such as the school management, teachers and even service providers, I was amazed by the number and varieties of digital technologies being marketed and gaining entry into the classroom. To accessorise digital technology, words such as access, equality, quality, and fun were used by both the school and the service providers. The assumptions were that the presence of the smart board (which has now replaced the generic white board and projector) will suddenly improve teaching, lead to better student outcome, and eradicate social and educational inequality. Since these schools cater to the poor, the provision of technology enabled classes and education is emphasised by them as their attempt to ensure that their students have access to quality education. But how exactly is technology going to lead to social equality doesn’t come out very clearly. Is it, as Selwny summarises, because it can address issues of both equality of opportunity and equality of outcome? I am not sure what is the logic with which the school authorities or the service providers work or how they think that such interventions would lead to greater social equality.

On the flip side, my observations seem too suggest that digital technology, in reality, might be a barrier to social equality. For instance, the cost of installing white or smart boards is very high and must be borne by the parents. This is antithetical to the notion of education being a public good. Services such as these put a price on education and even when the school is a so called low fee school, it is limiting students and parents who can access it because of the additional costs that they must now bear because of the large presence of service providers in these schools. And these additional costs are going up with the pervasive presence of ed-tech companies, who use the market rhetoric of money directly equaling quality education. There is also a re-imagination of what quality means- which is now being measured in tangibles such as the number of CCTVs a school has or the smart boards or even learning programmes the school offers. Most service providers also admit that they personalise or customise the package they sell to different type of schools. This means that the amount of money that a school (or the parents) can pay, directly determines the nature of the package they can access, which has layers taken off of it to match the school’s financial capability.

The truth of the matter is that technology is not an enabler, but a force that is leading to greater commercialisation of education and has become the new tool for the neo-liberals who believe that education is best served as a commodity.

Gender, Citizenship and Education

Gender, Citizenship and Education

A study [1] in Texas on the Social Science textbooks last year showed how something as apolitical as grammar is employed to play down Atlantic slavery in America. Statements like ‘some slaves reported that their masters treated them kindly. To protect their investment, some slaveholders provided adequate food and clothing for their slaves.are problematic on many levels. But it is the subsequent statements—‘However, severe treatment was very common. Whippings, brandings, and even worse torture were all part of American slavery’—as per the study, that indicate the use of grammar in focussing attention away from something. By simply removing people from these statements, questions such as ‘who whipped’ and ‘who was whipped’, are left out of the discussion. These choices were made keeping in mind the strong influence of Republican political philosophy in this state.

But it wasn’t merely that the textbook writers were influenced by a particular strand of political philosophy and so wrote what they did. To understand what went inside this textbook, or any textbook for that matter, one is forced to ask – what are some of the foundational assumptions made in a curriculum framework? You may well ask – why a curriculum framework? Because it is that which provides us the reasoning of what is there in the textbook. This takes us to the next question – what are these foundational assumptions? These could be epistemological assumptions, assumptions about learning, assumptions concerning the child and her context, and/ or an assumption about a desired society. It is the final assumption that I want to take up for further examination. Moreover, it is an assumption of a desired society in a democratic set- up which is of interest here.

In a democratic set-up, we seek a society that is pluralistic and is based on the principles of justice, equality & freedom. Human beings in such a society should be autonomous beings, ‘connected with each other in mutual appreciation and knowledge’ (NCERT, p. 16).

We might consider that these assumptions are given, standard and same for all, specifically in democratic societies. However, it is important to study and map the approaches used to reach an idea of what we consider to be a desirable democratic society.

White (1983) states that democracy implies that everyone ‘has an access to an equal share in the exercise, or control, of power’, and that ‘no conception of the good life is arbitrarily imposed on anyone, and no one is subject to arbitrary interference’ (p. 6); thereon she unpacks the basic assumptions of democracy and meanings of power, participatory democracy and egalitarian society. If the twin principles of justice and freedom form the bedrock for democracy, it is important to recognise the fact that a) no democratic state (consequently, political power) can be controlled by one set of people and b) the state cannot work within a defined notion of ‘good life’ and impose it on the people, even in the guise of being a morally good life. These two principles (justice and freedom) therefore are the starting point for her argument.

She then moves on to look at three basic assumptions which are necessary to make these two principles work:

  1. There are no moral experts who can tell us what constitutes a ‘good life’. The right to take such a decision lies with the individual herself.
  2. So that each individual can work towards their defined idea of a ‘good life’, a wide range of goods, services and opportunities should be provided by the state for realisation of the many concepts of ‘good life’.
  3. Democratic citizens have certain abilities and behaviour traits, like wanting to be guided by rule, ability to make choices, unprejudiced tolerance towards others.

Clearly, all three assumptions have implications for education. First, it is important to recognise that nobody can tell me what a good life is and subsequently I too have no right to impose what I feel is a notion of good life on somebody else. Second, education is, according to White, a fundamental institutional machinery which makes some of the opportunities possible for an individual to realise her idea of a ‘good life’. Third, even with some basic assumptions about the nature of people, if we want them to exercise ‘unprejudiced tolerance’, the children will have to be educated in this important trait that is expected of a democratic citizen.

This last idea of a ‘democratic citizenship’ and its subsequent implication for education is something that White and Enslin (1997) explore. They compile contemporary debates on the idea of citizenship, raise some problems in coming up with a working model of ‘who is a good citizen’, and examine some of the implications this has for education, particularly when education is seen as imparting ‘citizenship education’. This means that in a democracy we have a certain ideal of what democracy means and should be; we locate citizens as an important component in this structure, then make a list of ‘civic virtues’ which we expect the citizens to possess, and attach a tremendous amount of importance to education.

However, identifying what we feel constitutes a democratic citizenship, and then arriving at a suitable definition for it, is not an easy job.

At the beginning of their work, White and Enslin raise the question of why there is a genuine concern with introducing a dichotomous understanding of citizenship by pitting maximal/active citizenship against the notion of a minimal/passive citizenship. It is simply presumed that the first model, having a more positive ring to it, is the more desirable model. But through the paper, with the help of arguments from the works of other political philosophers, they show exactly why, a) this is not adequate, b) it creates an idea of citizenship which is exclusive rather than inclusive, and c) this has great implications for education.

But first, they try to explain that citizenship is inexplicably linked with the idea of a state—no matter what its nature. Therefore, it is something that is conferred by a political body. This also helps understand how it works in including some groups while excluding others. Three qualifications are necessary to get the status of ‘citizen’—relevant knowledge of public affairs which justify participation, mature judgement which comes with age and finally, a sense of long term commitment towards the larger good of the nation-state for which the citizenship has been conferred. But again, there is a problem with the idea of conferring a citizenship which equates it with something that has to be earned. The alternative view, and one which they take forward, is that citizenship should be seen as having a dual nature where, on one hand it is a shared status with some inherent rights available to all who have been granted this status, but at the same time, it is also a normative ideal, with some civic virtues attached to it. Education, in these civic virtues—which we could explain simply as ‘duties’ towards the state and nation—becomes important. This basically means that education is important, in terms of knowledge and commitment, to enable everyone to reach the normative ideal.

Taking forward their concern with the minimal/maximal debate, White and Enslin examine the first aspect of citizenship, which is seen in terms of shared status, making citizens as bearers of rights. If one is to look at how the scope of rights has expanded over the centuries, it is quite impressive, but what is also evident is that individual, liberty rights (right to speech, free trial, life, and private property) which are seen in relation with citizenship, actually conform to a minimal notion of citizenship. Welfare rights (right to food, housing, education), which can provide a maximal notion of citizenship are seen as being more demanding on the state. Welfare rights would require the state to be actively involved and concerned about the citizens and are therefore has more to do with ‘action’ on part of the government. On the other hand, liberty rights promote ‘inaction’ by the government, and are therefore less demanding and more akin to a minimal notion of citizenship, where the citizen is left free. In this case, the minimal/maximal dichotomy doesn’t really work.

To add to the worry, an expansion of welfare rights, without an equivalent focus on gender sensitivity, could lead to further complications. If we look at this in context of the feminist theory, the case in hand becomes clearer.

While it seems that feminist theory would support the participatory, active, maximal model of citizenship to make up for women’s earlier exclusion from politics and public spaces, this is too simplistic an understanding of the implications of such a model for women.

For one, this model is too steeped in the idea of a male image. The distinction between a good citizen and bad citizen based on citizens as either being bearers of rights or citizens of ‘robust republican virtue’ (White and Enslin, 2007, p. 113) is troublesome.  Citizens of the latter category would necessarily put public life before their private life. It is against this point that the feminists have argued that while participatory model sounds like a good idea, it cannot work within the framework and assumption of the ‘robust republican virtue’ of excessive participation in the public sphere. This is because the gendered world works in a way in which the private domain is the woman’s responsibility while the public domain is man’s responsibility. Not only would this imply that women fall in the former category of being ‘just’ bearers of rights, the implication is also that citizenship excludes the private domain. But what a child actually sees and learns at home is part of her education too. This is why it is equally important to change the gendered relations at home which are actually producing an in-egalitarian family and which seems to imply that women’s exclusion from politics and public affairs is the natural order of how things should be.

So the demand is not only for a greater participation of women in the public sphere but equally that the private needs to be given its due too, while at the same time necessitating a re-ordering and re-structuring of home relations. To assume that what people do at home is not part of their civic duties is dangerous. And here, once again, the configuration of citizenship in a minimal/passive and maximal/active model raises many concerns.

Indeed, White and Enslin speak of an emerging modern view of citizenship which actually supports an individual in the private roles. In this scenario, democratic institutions such as a free and independent judiciary, a responsible press and so on perform the necessary vigilance, allowing the citizen to focus on their personal affairs. This resonates with what White (1983) implied, where she warned against a participatory model which might completely ‘politicize’ a person’s life. The choice of what one wants to participate in should be left to the individual because this again reiterates what democracy stands for—no one has the right to impose an idea of ‘good life’ on anybody. But this would imply that the citizens are educated enough, and have sufficient civic virtues (rational thinking, unprejudiced tolerance, trust and so on) to make such machinery work in a un- biased and conscientious manner.

A new democratic society that is being spoken of is the idea of ‘deliberative democracy’. The basic idea here is that everyone ‘deliberates’ on the issue at hand. The reasons everyone has are collectively evaluated and different points of view, even those contrary to each other, are included in this process. This makes a strong case for diversity, because it assumes that differences will always be there, but through this mechanism everyone feels a part of whatever final decision has been made. Now this mechanism could either function directly or indirectly (such as through representatives, the civil society, interest groups, or the press). This idea can be examined in tandem with the feminist theory on citizenship. For instance, let’s take Young’s communicative model of deliberation (White and Enslin, 2007, p. 115). This is to counter the fear that such a model of deliberative democracy would promote the views of the groups adept at argument, pitting them unfairly against a group which has always been excluded from the decision making process. In the model he suggests, Young says that it is possible to allow argument to be augmented by an ‘emotional and embodied talk’ by the second, hitherto excluded group. This becomes clearer if we look at Dorothy Smith’s method of reaching a situated knowledge, which does not already exist, rather is created when women come together to discuss their problems. A part of the Feminist Constructive Project, it aims at recovering women’s voices and experiences and argues that there is no universal woman and therefore no universal women problems. By inventing new categories for analysing women’s experiences, the idea that knowledge is subjective is propagated. This form of a subaltern perspective, giving an emotional and embodied voice to the lived experiences of women, could be connected with Young’s communicative model. Further, locating this within the feminist argument on citizenship, this model also provides an opportunity to women to be heard, and to participate in the process of deliberating on decisions which directly affect them.

Now that we have formed a certain basic idea of what should, or rather what should not define and limit citizenship to a standardised definition, I would like to study the implications of this for education. As already mentioned at the beginning, while providing a curriculum framework, the designers have a vision of a desired society in their mind. Schools are an important institution, providing access to opportunities for realising our idea of a good life. This means that school, and consequently formal education, is important.

Let us now start with a very simple demand that democratic citizenship makes on education—that it must give young people some understanding of what their status in the democratic society should be. It seems prudent enough to say that this is not enough. Considering that the very idea of citizenship is such a contested one, and that it does not exist as a complete, unambiguous entity, an education in simply what it means is not enough. What is important to impart is that this idea requires closer scrutiny—for instance, looking how a certain definition might include/exclude some groups, or what is the very nature of rights.

Second, distinguishing between citizens just as bearers of rights, and citizens as robustly involved in the public space and being vigilant, is actually necessary for continuance of a democratic government. But the very notion that being active is the best kind of citizenship is antithetical to the very idea of democracy (allowing individuals to decide what they think constitutes as good life for them, without any kind of imposition because there are no moral experts). This assumption of a desirable citizenship also takes away from the choice between wanting to participate or not participate. It brings to the fore the private-public distinction which feminists have already argued is problematic.

Third, how (and whether) gender is tackled in the textbook and the classroom is important. Let us take a few examples of how a conscious effort has been made to include discussions on gender and locating women in history in the NCERT textbooks, post NCF 2005. In the chapter on the French Revolution in the grade 9 textbook, a whole section is dedicated to what the revolution meant for women. By locating them not only as active participants in the making of the revolution but seeing them as a group who did not necessarily experience the revolutionary government in the same way as men, the chapter opens a whole new world of discussion. Similarly, the Social and Political Life textbook in class 7 has a whole unit dedicated to Gender, introducing students to the idea of gender stereotyping, prejudice and the resultant meaning for women. It also speaks of pro- women legislative acts which allow working mother’s to continue their work by sharing part of their child care responsibilities with the state via aganwadis. This is taken forward in class 10 with a discussion on gender and politics.

A disclaimer would be prudent here. The attempt is not to evaluate the textbooks or to highlight these examples as being perfectly virtuous to reach the desired aim. The attempt here is rather to see how there are ways in which a discussion on gender can be and should be initiated in the class. Also, just placing them in the textbook is not enough. Indeed the Position Paper on Curriculum, Syllabus and Textbook, provides a fictitious dialogue with a teacher in rural India to drive home an important point. The teacher is asked the question, ‘why do you want the children to notice this difference (between boys & girls) and then keep this information in mind?’ and continues asking more probing questions, till it is presumed that the teacher might arrive at this answer- ‘Because it seems to be a reasonably effective way of developing sensitivity to issues of social justice social justice, a commitment to equity and capability to act to right the balance’ (NCERT, 2005, p.15), which become important on this discussion on democratic citizenship.

Two things arise out of this example: one is why it is important to teach gender and second, the teacher needs to know why a certain section has been included in the text. However, I want to make a third point here—in the students’ engagement with the text and classroom practices, the need to be able to question what is there, why it is there and how it is presented is essential. Linking this to what White and Enslin say about explaining how any idea of citizenship requires closer scrutiny, we can argue for the same principle here. The very presence of gender in the syllabus is an opportunity enough to have a dialogue on the forms it takes in our lives. But at the same time it is also an opportunity to subject the text on gender to closer scrutiny and question whether its inclusion is justified or not, while also looking at and understanding the biases of the curriculum makers. For instance in the history textbook for class 7, in the chapter on the ‘Delhi Sultans’ a section speaks about women rulers in India – Razia Sultan from North India, Rudramadevi from Warrangal and Didda from Kashmir. One could question whether this inclusion logically flows with the chapter or is a forced aberration. The point is that teacher needs to a) discuss the issue of gender differentiation, b) question why it is important to study these queens, c) why gender mentions are so few and far between, and finally d) is there a continuation of practices to keep women away from the political space and what might the repercussions be. From the point of view of citizenship education, this is important because democracy needs thinking, rational human beings.

A fourth implication for education could be in terms of schooling practices themselves. What happens inside the school, in the classroom atmosphere, will have to unfold along the same democratic lines it chooses to promote. Involvement in the school processes, in how decisions are taken, why it is important to participate, and the right to exercise the choice to participate or not should become important components of school life. Additionally, the student demographic profile, both in terms of gender and social strata, should be diverse enough to encourage the development of skills of negotiation and shaping a tolerant disposition. If the aim is to promote a pluralistic society, then a pluralistic society needs to be created in the classroom—in other words the classroom should reflect the society. Similarly if the aim is to re-order and re-structure gender relations in this society, it needs to start within the school itself.

Fifth, while giving relevant knowledge and developing skills and attitudes for an effective participation, a corresponding social change , starting with education aim and schooling structure, will be needed to ensure that male dominance is not maintained; rather representation is used effectively to tackle issues of gender and gender inequality in the society.

These implications for education, particularly gender and citizenship, are not only based on the studies we have read but my own experiences of having taught in grades 6-10. The importance of framing democratic citizenship through education cannot be undermined. It needs to be treated with a great deal of care, if the desired outcome is to be achieved.

 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/22/opinion/how-texas-teaches-history.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

References:

Enslin, P., White P., ‘Democratic Citizenship’, The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education, 2007

White P, ‘Democratic Principles and Basic Assumptions’, Beyond Domination: An Essay in the Political Philosophy of Education’, 1983

NCERT, National focus group on curriculum, syllabus and textbooks. NCERT, 2005

 

 

The Promise

The Promise

Don’t think about it
Keep yourself busy
Give it time
Meet new people
Simple, you say?
I guess.
But I made a promise to myself
The Promise
It’s now time to inflate the bubble again
Don’t let the hurt get to you
Don’t let anybody reach you
Seems doable
Seems sensible