Importance of diverse and inclusive classrooms
In a top private school in Delhi, one can observe teachers and students sitting after school hours and going over the basic mathematics concepts. These students, belonging to economically and socially disadvantaged background, are being offered remedial classes so that they are able to keep-up with the curriculum taught in the day. This has happened because of Section 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education Act. It mandates all private, unaided (non-minority) schools in the country to reserve at least 25% seats for students from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups at the entry level. If implemented effectively, it has the potential to impact at least 2 crore children in the next 10 years.
The raison d’etre of Section 12(1)(c) is the increasing segregation in schooling; any parent with reasonable means is deserting the government school system and opting for private education for their child. In the last few years, there has been increasing discourse around this policy, especially around access and admissions. While this is encouraging, access to these private schools is not the only factor that needs to be taken into consideration. It is critical for schools to provide a supportive learning environment to these students to ensure that retention and learning remain high. An inclusive classroom, where all students, irrespective of their backgrounds are thriving, is the essence of a quality education.
An international research highlights that ” ..the social composition of the student body is more highly related to achievement, independent of the student’s own social background, than is any school factor.” 1 This shows that diversity in classrooms promotes socially aware and mindful citizenry, and can be beneficial to all students in the classroom. In India, Gautam Rao highlights the importance and benefits of inclusive education in his paper: Familiarity Does Not Breed Contempt: Diversity, Discrimination and Generosity in Delhi Schools. His study reveals that students tend to be more prosocial in diverse schools. In addition, they are also able to interact better with students from different backgrounds. Their academic scores remain unaffected other than a marginally negative effect on English learning. 2
There are several organisations in India that are currently working to bridge the gap between enrolment and inclusion. Sajeevta Foundation, a CSF partner organisation, works with teachers in high-end private schools to promote inclusive learning through the use of innovative techniques and pedagogic approaches. The teacher training program conducted by Sajeevta is supported by an ongoing teacher mentor program which strengthens the impact. Similarly, Project Patang launched by the Center for Civil Society, has also worked with private schools in Delhi in order to improve social inclusion practices in classrooms. In addition to such external interventions, several schools in Delhi are making special efforts in the form of remedial classes and bilingual communication.
While some progress has been made with regard to inclusion, there is still a long way to go. With high private schools enrolment (roughly 42% students[ DISE 2014-15 data], and steadily rising), it is imperative that these schools are socially inclusive and are included in providing education for all. We at CSF believe that inclusive schooling is a bedrock for an inclusive society and Section 12(1)(c) is an important instrument to achieve this goal.