The Union government has urged all states to put in place measures and training programmes to combat discrimination faced by students from the Muslim and scheduled caste/scheduled tribe (SC/ST) communities in schools, recommending measures that include creating new reporting mechanisms, bringing diversity in school management committees and launching sensitisation programmes.
The recommendation is part of the government’s integrated education policy called the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, which has also identified a need to open more schools in Muslim neighbourhoods across the country.
“There is undue harshness in reprimanding SC children… They are excluded in public functions; made to do menial jobs and sometimes denied the use of school facilities…” says a document released under the policy, highlighting some of the several ways in which the “system” leaves out students from disadvantaged communities.
In order to fix such problems, the document notes, states should develop a reporting system, redress complaints quickly, and lay down norms of behaviour within the school for teachers as well as students.
“Teachers should be provided with context specific special training. There should be adequate representation of Muslim parents in the school management committee.”
A committee of parliamentarians had previously flagged the rise in dropout rates among Scheduled Caste children from 18.66% in 2013-14 to 19.36% in 2014-15. The committee members were however hopeful that the situation had improved in the subsequent years.
The Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan scheme notes that problems of exclusion often take highly local and context-specific forms.
The policy document also lists out measures that can help the inclusion of SC children.
“All the curricular activities including sports, music and drama should be encouraged as they help break social barriers,” it says in one such suggestion.
Attendance and dropout rates should be monitored closely and interventions such as creating boarding options or improving transport facilities should be made, according to another suggestion.
In the context of Muslim children, the government pointed out socio-cultural and economic constraints. “There is early withdrawal of male children to enable them to apprentice with artisans, mechanics etc. Even earlier withdrawal of female children is there due to social and religious reasons.
A large part of exclusion results from social distance caused by lack of knowledge and understanding about minority communities. Finding spaces to break these information barriers would go a long way in reducing the hostilities and insecurities that exist (sic)”.