Residential Education for Disadvantaged Girls: An Alternate Field?




Educational spaces promise the hope of a more progressive society, in which individual experiences and outcomes are freed from socio-cultural and economic backgrounds. They are often hoped to be ‘liberating’, imagined as potential ‘interventionist tool(s)’, for ‘removal of disparities’ and as tools for ‘political awareness and transformation’. In this regard, residential schools take a step further as they physically separate students from their social origins, bringing them into new shared spaces that they co-inhabit with others, under greater supervision. We probe one such effort in the context of a large, national-level programme that, in its stated objective and design, seeks to challenge norms that are informed by one’s caste and gender.

As spaces, separated from the society and governed by the state, societal disparities are often believed to be residing largely outside the schooling system. Under these imaginations, the value of education lies in simply ‘bringing and keeping’ girls in schools.

Gender is ‘inextricably intertwined with other critical markers including region, religion, class, caste, sexual orientation and disability’. For a girl child from a backward community, disadvantaged along the lines of caste and gender, there are at least two struggles she has to face and any sincere effort to empower has to enable them to fight both. As several social movements, efforts of feminist groups and state initiatives have demonstrated, educational spaces can potentially serve as such a space. However, as efforts to adapt them into more formal state systems have revealed, there are tensions between the imagination of gender and caste that have emerged under government educational programmes and the very feminist movements they draw on.

In light of policies attempting integration of educational spaces, prior studies have tried to understand integration among students falling in the socio-economic categories of the ‘advantaged’ and the ‘disadvantaged’, in the context of out-of-school children; in the context of the Right to Education (RTE); in the context of Dalits and Tribals in schools. In contrast, there has been limited examination of spaces that exclusively cater to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is despite the push for higher enrolment for girls and ‘backward communities’.

Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBV) is a residential secondary school programme, run by the Government of India (GOI). It was launched ‘for setting up residential schools at upper primary level for girls belonging predominantly to the SC, ST, OBC (Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Class) and minorities in difficult areas’. Let’s understand the state’s imagination, articulation and the lived experiences of students in one school as they negotiate residential educational spaces under the programme, seeing it as an effort to offer an alternate ‘field’—a space that possibly has rules and norms that are different from, and hopefully challenge, the prevalent norms of the society. Seeing it as a site of schooling and state interventions, we trace the history of the programme, its evaluations and document informal daily interactions between the inhabitants of the educational space.

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