Historically, people of privilege in India have culturally sanctioned inequalities of gender, caste and class, arguably more than any other ancient civilization. But there is also a centuries-old tradition of pluralism and a lived tolerance of diversity.  However, the early resolve of newly Independent India to acknowledge and reverse its troubled history of entrenched inequalities has considerably weakened in recent decades

We observe with concern the shortfalls and gross inequities of existing educational arrangements which have failed to create anything like a level playing field for India’s children. Where a child is born continues to determine a child’s destiny in democratic India. Among Dalit, Tribal and Muslim children between the ages of 6 to 13, 5.96, 5.9 and 7.67 per cent respectively are out of school, compared to About US box 3 2.67 for the remaining population.  Fewer children from these groups complete schooling: 56 per cent of Dalit and 70.9 per cent of tribal children drop out of school by Class X, compared to 49.3 per cent for the overall population (MHRD, 2009; 2010) 1 2. Schools, therefore, must be recognized not just as a site of socialization, but also where life chances of children are moulded (Vasavi, 2014)3. Govinda and Bandopadhyaya (2011)4 articulate the link between quality and equity, stating categorically that “mere provisioning for school is not enough to prevent drop out as the poor quality of education and lack of opportunities for progression create a lack of interest in education and cause exclusion” (p.19).

A number of recent studies point to how education has been unsuccessful in creating environments that promote well-being and enable learning for all children, in opening avenues of social mobility, and in decreasing the inequalities and biases in our society relating to class, caste, religion, gender, region, and disability (Nambissan, 2009; Jan Sahas, 2009; Bagai and Nundy, 2009; and AARTH-ASTHA, 2012) 5 6 7 8. A multi-year, cross-national study of changing patterns in access, conducted by the Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity , has found that the stratifications within the system have in fact reproduced and strengthened these inequalities (Lewin, 2011)9.

Further, the current education system is failing not only historically disadvantaged communities, it is failing almost all our children, the disadvantaged and the privileged. In the typical classroom in India’s schools, most students operate in an environment of toxic stress, struggling with a piecemeal curriculum that does not engage their beliefs about self and citizenship, and which will notAbout US box 4 equip them to change their life chances. Even privileged students, growing up in ‘supportive’ environments are rarely required to engage deeply with issues of equality, citizenship, and social justice, or to develop the character strengths they need to grapple with the complexities of an increasingly unequal and rapidly globalizing country. And even more rarely do children on either side of this great divide have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other’s strengths and build a shared vision of society.

We believe that the spirit of the Right to Education requires us to guarantee the right of every child in India to receive an education that empowers her to take charge of her learning and her life, to participate in the democratic processes of public life, and to contribute to creating a just, compassionate and equitable society. As classrooms across India become ever more diverse, providing this kind of empowering education to every child requires us to ensure that conversations about self-development in the 21st Century, and about citizenship and social justice in the complex modern world, take place in school classrooms all over India, and that every child has the opportunity to develop the requisite knowledge, attitudes, and cognitive and non-cognitive strengths in the course of her school education.

And this in turn means that the same conversations about self-development, citizenship and social justice must first take place in the classrooms of institutions that develop teachers, school leaders and other educators. It also means that these educators must develop the same attitudes, skills and capacities that students require, to engage productively in the modern world.

About US box 8

The Opportunity

About US box 5 Many local, national and international organizations have worked for many years to develop successful innovations in the areas of Democracy, Citizenship and Social Justice, Life-skills Development and Character Development etc. Many of these innovations and best practices are available on the net in different mediums and formats: talks, videos, podcasts, poetry, short-fiction, scholarly articles, reports, and pedagogical tools including skill inventories, assessment tools such as rubrics, project designs and exemplars of student work. Educators across India could learn from and build on this innovative work in India and around the world.

About US box BarrierThe Internet has transformed and democratized access to these innovations, to current research and to accurate data on every conceivable topic.  Yet most educators in India continue to struggle in isolation to deal with the complex realities of overcrowded and diverse classrooms, with few opportunities to engage with new ideas or with high-quality education resources.

In our understanding, access to this knowledge requires both consolidation of the knowledge so that it can be retrieved easily by users and also, most importantly, engagement of potential users so they construct for themselves a deep understanding of this knowledge and are able to use it flexibly in their own contexts.

The Ferdinand Centre therefore seeks to synergize different streams of innovative thought and knowledge creation: to create powerful learning opportunities for students and educators across the country to dialogue with disciplinary experts as well as existing high-quality education materials, to help them deepen their understanding of critical current issues, to create new knowledge relevant to their own contexts, and to develop the capacities they need to participate meaningfully in civic life.


  1. Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. (2009). All India Survey of Out of School Children of Age 5 and 6-13 Years Age Group, Social and Rural Research Institute, IMRB. (Accessed on 13 January 2014).
  2. Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. (2010-11). Statistics of School Education 2010-11. (Accessed on 13 January 2014)
  3. Vasavi, A.R. (2014) ‘Government Brahmin’. Caste, The Educated Unemployed, And The Reproduction Of Inequalities. TRG Working Paper Series.
  4. Govinda, R., Bandyopadhyay, M. (2008). Access to Elementary Education in India: A Country Analytical Review. (Accessed on 25 March 2014)
  5. Nambissan, G. (2009) Poverty, Markets and Elementary Education in India. Centre for Policy Research, TRG Working Paper Series.
  6. Jan Sahas Social Development Society (2009), Exclusion and Inclusion of Dalit Community in Education and Health: A Study.
  7. Bagai, S, Nundy, N. (2009) Tribal Education: A Fine Balance. Mumbai: Dasra.
  8. Alkazi, R, Rajasree, V. (2012) Second Annual Report On The Status Of Children With Disabilities Under The Right To Education Act.
  9. Lewin, K.M. (2011). Making Rights Realities: Researching Educational Access, Transitions and Equity. Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE).