The Pandemic Highlights a Need to Educate for Equity and Social Inclusion
BLOG by Minati Panda, Professor of Cultural Psychology and Education, JNU President, National Academy of Psychology (NAOP); Director, National Multilingual Education Resource Consortium (NMRC), http://nmrc-jnu.com; Editor of Cultural Cognitive Psychology Journal (Springer) & MLE Newsletter Swara.
In a not so remote village of southern Odisha (India), Sunita Pradhan, a migrant, who lost her husband and her elder child to Covid and poverty while traveling back to her home town from Surat during lockdown reveals unsettling contractions of the state machinery.
Sunita says, “…when we joined the groups traveling to Surat for work in 2016, I thought we still had some place in India to go, earn a living and support our family in the village. But, while traveling back, I realized that I belong nowhere. Railway stations are not mine, the roads are not mine, the police are not mine, the factory is not mine and my life is also not mine. After the death of my husband and son, I fear if my village remains mine. In the eyes of my in-laws and neighbors, I will probably be an ominous outsider who brought death to her husband and son. My worst fear is that my in-laws may send me back to my parents who are already suffering from ill health and poverty.”
This is just one of numerous cases of entrenched patriarchy and the state induced dystopia both in public and personal lives of people in developing countries. Numerous such narratives are documented across borders about how physical spaces suddenly become out of bounds for those who were earlier making their living in those spaces. The Corona pandemic is a crisis, with deep and unforeseeable consequences for the poor and marginalized. It has pushed an additional 97 million people into extreme poverty in the year 2020 with abysmal signs of recovery in the year 2021. More than 40 percent of children in developing countries like India who were already under-nourished are now at the threshold of severe physical and psychological breakdown. Women and child abuse has increased significantly, as police entries attest. Incidences of mental health breakdown have almost tripled in border and armed conflict areas. The breakdown of social networks, limited access to healthcare, fear of contracting the virus, social disengagement, and the fear of being a burden on their families have caused unbridgeable violence to the old. Forced physical and emotional dislocation, othering, loss of citizenship, individual helplessness and psychic dispossession have become ubiquitous features of this time. Further increases in global inequality due to class, caste, gender, race, ethnicity etc. are feared to cause egregious violation of human rights, putting almost all societies in a state of economic and health emergency.
The pandemic has turned homes, urban spaces and border areas into primary sites of exclusion, trauma, psychological abuse and violation. The poor and the marginalized are losing their claim on the labour intensive urban and semi- urban spaces. The city that they build and maintain no longer belongs to them. They were always the “other” in those cities, but they still found a place in some corner of the city to live. The pandemic has stripped them of that space as well as a livelihood.
Studies show that the sheer magnitude and obviousness of human miseries during pandemic is fast immunizing its victims against a full disclosure of state failures and the menacing capabilities of the neoliberal market. We need a very different kind of education that counters this process of normalizing different forms and modes of domination. It is not enough to make education equally accessible. Education needs to build basic intellectual and emotional capabilities in people that help them identify forces that violate the basic human rights to live a free and dignified life. It should discuss how certain groups and societies obstruct possibilities for many to develop a sense of being.Education needs to humanize the interactional spaces and create capabilities to realize that this earth belongs to everybody and the politics of exclusion and othering is mutually destructive.
Human rights education, therefore, needs to be a formidable part of both school and higher education. The historical narratives about how gender binary, patriarchy, caste, class, religion and ethnicity have contributed to delegitimize certain groups and individuals, denied their claims to universal knowledge and power and treated them as “other” need to be part of the school curriculum. In other words, people’s histories of domination and suffering should find a legitimate place in school curricula.
Linguistic human rights (LHR) is one of the several human rights that UNESCO has been emphasizing in the last few decades. Psycho-linguistic research shows how lack of use of children’s mother tongue in school education results in poor development of literacy skills among children in the early years and of higher order critical faculty in later years. This not only deepens the social and economic inequalities between the linguistically privileged minority and the minoritized majority, it reproduces the existing power structures of the society. Use of children’s multilingual resources in the curriculum and classroom pedagogy reorganizes the power structures of the classrooms, creates a sense of belonging among the children, fosters the identity of a participant and pluralises knowledge.
Another excerpt from Sunita’s Narrative
“…I am worried about my second child. She was studying in Gujarati medium school in Surat and was doing ok. She had some health issues and therefore was not regular. But, she was doing fine in the school. I am now worried about her as she doesn’t know Odia language. Schools here teach in Odia. I can’t read and write. But, I want my daughter to study and do a Government job. I don’t want her to live like us.”
- Freire, Paulo, 1921-1997. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York :Continuum, 2000.
- Williamson, B., Eynon, R. & Potter, J. (2020). Pandemic politics, pedagogies and practices: Digital technologies and distance education during the coronavirus emergency. Learning, Media and Technology. Volume 45, 2020, Issue 2