NAC advices schools to avoid religious spaces

Panel suggests steps to end discrimination in classroom

A panel headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi wants schools to be more secular and suggested that they avoid religious spaces or programmes that would prohibit participation by certain sections of students.

Seeking to end discrimination in classrooms, the National Advisory Council (NAC) — the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government’s interface with civil society — on Monday proposed that the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development take steps along with state governments to prepare an Equality Declaration as well as a Code of Conduct for all schools.

Best practices

The “possible best practices” proposed by the NAC’s Working Group on Right to Education included promotion of secularism and religious harmony in schools. “Schools should avoid religious spaces and programmes that will isolate and prohibit sections of children from participating,” suggested the panel, adding: “The curriculum should promote religious understanding and harmony, peace building.”

The NAC, in its earlier incarnation during the UPA’s first stint in power, had been instrumental in conceptualising and drafting the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which was finally passed by Parliament in 2009.

The advisory panel’s Working Group on Right to Education noted that discrimination in classrooms and school spaces was among the most widespread forms of exclusion, although it was difficult to prove.

“Discrimination may occur along multiple axes of a child’s identity — class, caste, gender, religion, disability, family occupation, region, language, and others, and any combination of these,” noted the NAC Working Group, which is headed by author and activist Farah Naqvi.

It pointed out that differential and unfavourable treatment due to the identity of a student might reveal itself in any aspect of schooling, including “unfavourable seating arrangements, restricted access to facilities, including water and mid-day meals, lack of attention and nurturing, discouragement of a child, restricting participation in activities, selectively giving demeaning work, unwarranted disapproval, manifest forms of disrespect to the child’s background or identity or any other behaviour or action that is demeaning, humiliating or that may cause harm to a child’s growth and development.”

Equality Declaration

The advisory panel’s Working Group on Right to Education suggested that the Ministry of Human Resource Development prepare a draft Equality Declaration and take steps to ensure through dialogue with state governments that a similar declaration was prepared at the state level and posted publicly and visibly — through wall paintings or posters — in every school.

It recommended that the MHRD, in consultation with the NGOs and experts, also prepare a model Code of Conduct to prohibit and prevent discrimination and promote inclusion in schools and share and discuss it with the state governments so that they eventually adopt it.

The NAC suggested that the teachers be trained or prepared to handle discrimination. It also recommended that the Union Government make budgetary provision to promote equity and inclusion in schools.

The “possible best practices” listed by its Working Group on Right to Education included encouraging girls to voice their issues, training teachers to understand gender discrimination and facilitating boys to respect and treat girls as equals. They also included the head of the schools and teachers recognising and analysing socio-economic contexts of children to understand their barriers and constraints in accessing education.

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