Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Latika Gupta.
Latika Gupta teaches courses in educational theory and pedagogy at the Central Institute of Education, University of Delhi. She is currently pursuing a study on the deconstruction of discourse of the recently enacted Right to Education in India.
The challenge facing the Indian system of education, especially at the elementary stage, cannot be adequately met unless we examine the discourses and practices that have shaped the social construction of childhood and schooling. The recently enacted Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act demands and creates an opportunity for identifying and deconstructing such discourses and to examine them, not merely as problematic practices, but rather as culturally drawn borders between state and society. This project interrogates two such discourses: ‘child labour’ and ‘child marriage’ so that the larger socio-economic and cultural context can be examined in which education works. It studies this larger context by probing two discourses that constitute the conditions in which children of disadvantaged backgrounds struggle in order to fulfil their aspiration for education and the personal and social purposes associated with it.
The first of these is the discourse of child labour. This is called a discourse because it has shaped not merely the state’s policies towards the poor but also the popular perception of the lives and potential of children who live in poverty. One dimension of this discourse is the perception that teachers have of poor children’s ability to learn and engage with school knowledge. Children who worked officially as labour or who help their parents because of poverty both fall in this category. When such children come to school and sit in the class with others, in what ways do they get distinguished for their working role at home, and what are the implications of this distinction for their adjustment at school and learning? At this juncture, it becomes important to ask: ‘While poverty persists, can the child’s education be protected from it?’
The second discourse is of child-marriage. In the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-III survey, 47.3% of women reported that they got married before the age of 18. Out of these, 2.6 percent were married before they turned 13 and 22.6 percent were married before they were 16. Faced with these figures, we need to ask: ‘What are the school’s epistemological and cultural resources to act on behalf of the state in its battle against a practice as persistent as child marriage?’ The discourse of child-marriage is not restricted to the event per se. Its phenomenological power lies in the socialization of girls by the family in the anticipation of an early marriage. Is the school prepared to deal and critically engage with a patriarchal milieu in which girls are prepared from early life for marriage—an extended notion of the discourse of child marriage—and responsibility for work, even though it is officially not labelled as labour?