‘My child studies day and night but I don’t understand it when he still continues to fail. The reality is that my child is not able to learn.’
This lack of ability that Kaluram, an adivasi (tribal) father, is troubled by here, is an intrinsic absence of skills that might have enabled his child to perform better in school. As educational practitioners and researchers, this internalisation of innate failure by an adivasi father would be troubling and we could potentially analyse this lament through two varied though interconnected processes. In India, research on the schooling experiences of poor children have largely focused their analysis on quality of education issues that include costs of ‘free’ schooling, teacher’s ability to transact curriculum and resource equity issues (Banerji 1997; Rampal 2002; Tilak 1998). The disparities in educational quality that these studies have revealed have helped explain why children are ‘pushed-out’ rather than ‘drop out’ of school (PROBE 1999). The second lens – less used in the Indian context – to probe Kaluram’s lament would be to focus on the processes that affect the creation of schooled identities among marginalised children and utilise this to understand the complexities that underpin this feeling of lack. Given this felt absence of skills, what would ‘inclusion’, integration into this school space continue to signify for Kaluram’s son? To what extent do existing discourses on social exclusion problematise ‘inclusion’ and its effects on the identity–creation of marginal, formerly ‘excluded’ individuals and groups?
The effort in the article is to engage discourses of social inclusion and exclusion through experiences from the field that push our present understanding of these concepts out of a convenient dichotomised categorisation, into a complex, more subtle reading of the experiences of marginalised children in school. I utilise the experiences of adivasi (tribal) children in government schools in a village in Harda district, Madhya Pradesh (see Balagopalan and Subrahmanian, this volume, for more details on the case study) to discuss the complex and often interrelated factors that affect an adivasi first generation learner’s experience in school. The article argues that while some of the overt discrimination that the first-generation learner continues to experience in school can be addressed through certain policy reform processes of the modern state, there are certain fundamental exclusions that get reinforced for this learner through his/her deeper insertion into formal schooling. These exclusions are intrinsic to the history of Indian modernity and its reliance on the institution of formal schooling to exercise a ‘civilising’ role among marginalised populations.
This article is divided into two sections. The first section is devoted to highlighting examples of overt discrimination that confront the adivasi child once he/she enrols in school. The larger policy reform – as well as the expanded definition of social inclusion for the south – that this research project aims to influence can quite easily facilitate certain formal changes within the existing functioning of schools, which could potentially address these instances of overt discrimination. This could be done through legal recourse as well as through changing institutional structures that currently enable teachers to carry out as well as condone discrimination against children. However, the second section, while discussing the needs and desires of parents for formal schooling, also highlights the ways in which these parents and children continually internalise constructions of themselves and their adivasi community as inherently lacking vis-à-vis the demands of formal schooling. The fundamental disjunctions between formal schooling and the everyday lives of adivasi children that this section focuses on is an attempt to recognise that processes of exclusion, intrinsically tied to formal schooling, often exceed the state’s attempt to redress these through policy reform processes.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 35.1 (2004) ‘Neither Suited for the Home nor for the Fields’: Inclusion, Formal Schooling and the Adivasi Child