Besides homes, schools are the places where children first experience equity and inequity. The inequities between genders, castes, those of different abilities, those of different economic standing or other markers of status gradually become apparent as the child gains experience in school. Despite significant systemic changes in recent years and attempts to address issues of inequity in school systems in all the states, gaps are still visible in many classrooms.
Our first response to inequity may come from a basic sense of fairness, in that particular children suffer unfair disadvantages as a result of inequities, and we react with compassion. More problematic, however, is the ways in which traditional inequities place certain choices out of the reach of affected children. This shapes their futures as adults and, ultimately, affects the quality of participation by citizens in our democracy.
For example, if a girl has to drop out to get married at 14, she loses out on a crucial stage of her schooling and also on the opportunity to develop her skills and her capacity to earn in future. If a boy of 12 has to go to work in a power loom, to repay a loan his father has taken from the owner, the options for his future are severely limited. In such situations, just being regular in going to school can play a critical role in reducing the effects of larger social inequities, and in helping children participate in social and economic life from a stronger position as adults.
To make a difference in the lives of children from under-served communities, the education they receive must be learner-centric, provided in the mother tongue, and relevant to their own experiences. Authentic and active learning experiences are needed to nurture higher order cognitive development, so that children are able to move away from rote learning and deepen their own understanding of the subject matter. Such an education has to be conducted flexibly, in an environment that encourages students to ask questions, learn freely, and develop self-confidence.