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Engendering Education Policy

Karuna Chanana

The main premise of this note is that the Indian educational policies are critical to any assessment of the role of the government in spearheading social change through education. I argue that the policies which are designed to promote the education of girls and women are not expected to be change agents since they are conceptualized within a narrow framework. Educational policy is analysed here to demonstrate how it “genders social relations” (Lesley and Watson 1999:1). Moreover, in spite of the insights and understanding gained from the women’s movement, an overall framework which will mainstream gender and encompass all the children, girls as well as boys, has not emerged. This narrow conceptualization has not helped in bridging the gender gap in education. Therefore, one has to look at the conceptual framework underlying the Indian educational policies and programmes which are characterized by a discourse of inclusion and exclusion (Gale and Densmore 2000).   In addition, the emphasis on the instrumental value of education in the context of girls denies them agency; even the most informed educational policy adopts a compartmentalized approach in which, at the most, women are assigned a chapter along with separate chapters to other social groups and the disadvantaged sections of society; that the educational policy for girls is constructed around the social roles of women; and further that there is hardly any policy analysis from a gendered perspective. Moreover, the exclusion of girls from education will continue so long as schools are sites for the maintenance of gender identity and inequality with the active support of educational policies and programmes. Therefore, the questions that need to be asked are: Why are women given education?   Over time, various views have emerged on the need to educate girls and women. To begin with education was seen as an instrument to improve the condition of women in order to reform society. In the post-Independence period, these have ranged from equality, to development of society and to empowerment. However, none of these conceptions question the existing structure of social relations and social roles of men and women or visualize the use of education as a tool to transcend the social division of labour within the schools and the society. Moreover, there are no debates around the education of boys. The exclusion of boys from the discourse on education for girls indicates an assumption that the goals of education for boys can be ...

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