Inequalities in Classrooms written by Gargi Banerjee

Inequalities in Classrooms written by Gargi Banerjee

Global Inequality: Current State of Play and Potential Solutions

According to the United Nations Human Development Report published in 2004, the wealthiest 1.8% of the global population owns over 85% of the total global wealth. The ultra-rich often accumulate their wealth on the backs of people who work for poor wages, and over time, this contributes to a greater disparity in income, and in-turn accumulated wealth. Even with rapid economic growth in some countries, this gap has not narrowed—for example, in countries like India and China, economic growth may have helped people out of poverty, but the richest 1% have gained the lion’s share of these economic benefits.

The implications of this disparity are manifold, —how a country fares in the development indices may hinge on its ability to mitigate the problems associated with economic inequality. It is important to note here that although “development” as a term has been associated with economic development, in recent times scholars and practitioners have used a more holistic definition to encompass a multi-disciplinary sense of human development.

Some of the potential solutions that can be of help in decreasing the inequality levels amongst nations have been codified in the development aims of international organizations like the UN in their Millenial Development Goals (MDGs) or the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).2These goals are interdependent. For example, education (SDG 4) as a social determinant of health, is closely linked to several facets of the SDGs of the United Nations3. Improved gender equality (SDG 5), good health and well-being (SDG 3) and decent work and economic growth (SDG 8) have well-documented links with access to quality education. In this context, it might be worthwhile to examine how inequality itself plays out in academic settings and what kind of policy adjustments might augment the attainment of quality education, especially in a country like India.

Educational Inequalities in India

There has been a body of research on educational stratification that suggests that despite overall educational growth, educational inequalities between different social strata remain persistent, and sometimes may even widen, with this being particularly evident in higher education. The “why” of this, however, is poorly documented. These considerations pose a serious challenge to nation states looking to implement inclusive, egalitarian educational policies. India with its several affirmative action policies like caste-based reservations across educational levels, schemes like mid-day meals, scholarships and fellowships at all levels aims at broadening the access to education, but how much of it is of the desired quality still hinges on the performance of the key players in this field, that is, the teachers.

If we consider a secondary-level classroom to be a microcosm of the Indian society, at any given time in the classroom, a teacher will influence the cognitive development of students from various social strata.Students from historically disadvantaged groups are very likely to respond differently to certainlearning situations than a student from a more affluent background. It is an established fact that family background influences cultural knowledge and perceptions which give students from more privileged backgrounds the ability to navigate the education system better than their disadvantaged peers. Therefore, even though they might start at the same level, their academic progress will take on different trajectories. Educationists have opined that in these scenarios, a teacher’s ‘emotive performance’ in a classroom could be key to ensuring that the unequal backgrounds do not translate to unequal attainment of knowledge. Their success in teaching can depend largely on emotional dimensions like self-awareness, self-motivation, empathy, and social skills like conflict management.

Building Critical Emotional Pedagogy to Address Inequalities in Education

How can teachers monitor their own emotions and the emotions of their students, and direct their thinking and behavior? Mayer and Salovey in their research on emotional intelligence identified three adaptive abilities4–(i) the ability to evaluate and express emotions in oneself and others (verbal and nonverbal), (ii) the ability to control emotions in oneself and others, and (iii) the ability to use emotions to solve problems and in decision-making. In pedagogical situations, this would mean that teachers are equipped to recognize and identify the emotional states in their students. At the next level, teachers should also be aware of their own emotional responses that may help or hinder their ability to deliver educational material and design learning, assessment and grading.

The Mayor and Salovey Four-branch Model of Emotional Intelligence

A study conducted in 2015 found significant differences on various sub-scales of emotional intelligence (EI) between private and government school teachers in India. Government school teachers had higher scores with respect to all dimensions of EI than private school teachers. However, there was no discernable difference in EI between male and female teachers. 5Yet another study found that there was a significant relationship between emotional intelligence and professional development of secondary school teachers. 6A third study concluded that the emotional intelligence of teachers at the secondary level is about average. About 53% of the teachers surveyed were at median as far as their emotional intelligence was concerned, while 26% of the respondents had above average EI scores. This study also established that there was a significant difference in the EI mean scores between rural and urban teachers, but experience had no bearing on the EI scores.

These findings underline a need for structured training and intervention programs for teachers, designed to build a critical emotional pedagogy for teachers in various socio-economic conditions. A literature survey in this regard confirms that India’s existing teacher training programmes and curricula are woefully out-of-date and inadequate. Most B.Ed. courses that run for one year require 30 days of practice teaching at a stretch. This falls short of the recommended 210 working days put forth in the National Curriculum Framework on Teacher Education (NCTE 2009) recommendations. It is unfortunate, however, that the NCTE does not set any priorities for training in the effective domain. It is imperative that the content in teacher training programmes are restructured on a regular basis to accommodate the changing needs of students so that they empower teachers and teacher educators to take a more holistic approach towards teaching. Apart from changes to the B.Ed. curriculum, regular pre-service and in-service training and orientation can go a long way in ensuring that teachers are able to manage the evolving needs of students in their care and provide quality education to those they have been entrusted with.


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