ICT for Education in Gujarat: Draft Recommendations

This paper presents draft recommendations for ICT in education for the state of Gujarat. The recommendations reflect the vision of the role of technology in education crafted by leading educational organizations like the NCERT. The recommendations drafted herein are based on the reports and data available in the public domain, released by MHRD or other state level government bodies. Part of the recommendations are also based on interviews with teachers and students in a school (which represents largely the character of ICT implementation in Gujarat) and on the author’s work experience in ICT. The draft recommendations apply to elementary education (I to VIII) in government schools and aided schools working under PPP various models.

 1.0     The Vision of Education Technology and ICT in Education in India

The idea of using technology in education first appeared in the Kothari Commission (1964-66) albeit in a different form. Often referred as ‘innovative teaching methods’ or ‘audio-visual instruction’, the role of using technology to aid the transaction of the curriculum is not a recent idea. Sections 8.10 to 8.13 in the NPE 1986 specify the importance of media and technology in reaching out to ‘distant areas and deprived sections’ with a view of promoting equitability with the more affluent sections of the society. (NPE, 1986). Similarly, the NCTE Act of 1993 mandated the presence of experts from educational technology to be part of the National Council of Teachers.

The strong impetus to education technology however came from the National Curriculum Framework document of 2005. This document foresaw the role of ICT as an equalizer in society by bridging social divides by becoming a provider of information and education in remote areas, bringing scientist and children closer to each other to demystify science, promoting children’s creativity, converting education into a two-way discourse rather than the one-way dissemination that it is presently. (NCF 2005).

The accompanying position paper on Education Technology also envisioned the use of ICT in education for a) revitalizing and reorienting existing resources b) enabling systemic reforms by using technology in an equitable and democratic manner c) refreshing the skills of in-service teachers by creating a system of lifelong professional development d) pre-service teacher education where they learn flexible models of reaching curriculum goals and use of media and technology-enabled methods of learning and last but not the least e) ICT as a tool in school education to enable students to develop explanatory reasoning and other higher-order skills and to create knowledge rather than be passive users.

The National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education 2009 (NCFTE 2009) supports the aforementioned vision laid out by NCF 2005 by calling upon the imaginative use of ICT for the preparation and support of pre-service and in-service teachers.

2.0     The ICT @ School Scheme

As stated in the ICT@School document, ICT or the scheme of Educational Technology (ET) was initiated in 1972 during the IV Plan. Recognizing the critical role of ICT in achieving the country’s developmental and educational objectives, the National IT Task Force in 1998 recommended the introduction of ICT infrastructure in schools. The Government launched its flagship ICT scheme for schools, the ‘ICT@Schools’ in 2004 to promote ICT literacy and ICT enabled learning  in government and government aided secondary and senior secondary schools. This scheme was revised in 2010. It has four focus areas:

  1. ICT infrastructure for secondary and senior secondary schools
  2. Establishment of smart schools ( smart school in each district as a technology demonstrator for neighbouring schools)
  3. Teacher capacity building and engagement
  4. Development of e-content

This document serves as a road map for the implementation of ICT at the state level funded by the centrally sponsored scheme (CSS).

3.0     Education in Gujarat: Basic Data

Here is a quick overview of basic education related data in Gujarat based on UDISE[1] data.

  • Gujarat has 33 districts.
  • Number of government schools is 33843.
  • Number of private schools is 10205.
  • Total number of schools is 44051.
  • 7% of schools (assume government + private) have electricity.
  • 8% of schools (assume government + private) have computers.
  • Gross enrolment ratio for 2015-16 is 95.7%.

4.0     ICT in Gujarat

ICT related activities and policies are managed by Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training or   GCERT. GCERT coordinates with the department of education, Commiserate of Schools (CoS), the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and NGOs among other statutory bodies in the state. A complete list of educational bodies under the ambit of GCERT is provided in Annexure 1.

Obtaining data that would directly help the drafting of the recommendations in this paper was difficult. The key websites – the SSA, the CoS, the department of education, where one might expect to find Gujarat related data, did not load. In addition to this, there exists a large number of educational bodies that have reported different aspects of ICT for different years without mentioning a break-up of whether the schools mentioned were government, aided or private. To avoid mis-information, data collection for ICT in Gujarat was therefore was restricted to the following documents:

  1. The Revised ICT @ Schools Scheme (2012). This document published by MHRD details the scheme and its components, vis-à-vis the hardware, software, number of Smart Schools, teacher training, the bodies involved in teacher training and the annual work plan budgets at the state level. It is a comprehensive document that serves as a supplementary policy text to support ICT implementation at the state level along with the National ICT Policy document also published by MHRD, GoI.
  1. The GCERT Annual Report 2014-15. GCERT is a primary body involved with elementary education. This report documents the various activities related with the use of ICT in schools in the years 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15.
  1. The NISG Report. A report by the National Institute of Smart Government (NISG) that provides a detailed review of the state of ICT implementation in various domains and in different states, Gujarat being one of them.
  1. The minutes of meeting of the 42nd Project Advisory Board meeting. This 2014-15 document reports the status of ICT in schools and raises issues that need addressing.

There is a certain disparity in the use of terminology and more importantly the data reported. For example, the GCERT Annual Report uses the term IT with reference to school that could mean several things. It states that “IT infrastructure has been set up in all schools in 6000 secondary and higher secondary schools (as on 2012). Rollout across 22000 upper primary schools is set to be initiated”.

The above statement contrasts what the 42nd PAB minutes state where the term used is ICT with reference to schools. What the reports says is that 6380 schools were targeted to be covered under the ICT @ Schools scheme in two phases. As of 2014-15, ICT activities were in progress in 3650 schools approved in 2008-09. Against approval of 2730 in 2009-10, activities only for 2320 schools had been taken up and 410 schools have not yet been covered. So only 5970 schools have been covered under the ICT scheme.

The next section presents the draft recommendations that have been based on the study of the aforementioned ICT in Education related reports.

5.0     Draft Recommendations for ICT in Education in Gujarat

ICT in education is a composite, complex concept that when broken down, yields different elements of accessibility, hardware, software, educational content, the delivery of that content and the student’s experience of receiving that content. ICT in education, through these inbuilt elements holds a great many promises, the most important of them all, I think, is the unequivocal, unfettered access to high quality education, specifically to those who live in marginalized, ‘dark’ regions of this country. ICT in education offers hope the urgent need to universalize elementary education.

Some of the most desirable goals of ICT in education have been access to education, increasing its quality and bringing about ICT literacy among students and teachers. It is time that the goal post shifted from ‘bring ICT to schools’ or ‘build ICT literacy among students and teachers’ to ‘how can ICT raise the levels of educational discourse through enhanced learning outcomes. ICT in education must have dual goals. The first is to continue its mission to support the universalization of elementary education in support of RTE 2009, with a special focus on educationally backward blocks (EBB). Second, ICT in education must correspondingly pursue the vision set up by NCF 2005, i.e. the pursuit of higher order thinking skills among students; and the creation of a ‘humane and professional teacher’  as articulated in NCFTE 2009.

The draft recommendations described here are based on the gaps and opportunities seen in Gujarat education. However, a number of recommendations are externally derived, with a view to enhance the level of discourse – from improving accessibility to achieving excellence in the quality of education.

As mentioned earlier, this document addresses the elementary sections (I to VIII) of government schools only.

5.1       Closer Alignment with Requirements of National ICT Policy

Section 9.4 in the National ICT Policy specifies the role that states will play where policy implementation is concerned. A few requirements of this section pertinent to the recommendations are a) the defining of norms, standards, guidelines and frameworks to implement the policy, b) creation of a roadmap and a feasible timeline c) guidelines for national standards and norms for infrastructure, implementation processes at various levels, capacity building programmes, monitoring and evaluation criteria, targets and d) Framework for development, selection, evaluation, deployment in repositories, and use of digital content.

The recommendation is to amend the existing state level policy to include the aforementioned details. The existing policy at present only focuses on hardware requirements.

 5.2       Single Point Data Availability and Tracking

The most urgent need is to consolidate the progress report cards on ICT in education and build a single portal which reports regularly the progress, updates and ongoing projects in ICT in education. The Karnataka state ICT in education is an example to emulate. Details should include projects in action, projects completed, school level details of ICT, ICT usage, number of ICT teachers per school and student to computer ratio per school. This level of data tracking will lead to improved usage of ICT in schools.

5.3       Infrastructure

5.3.1     Connectivity

The state has a Mission Mode Project (MMP) to provide through common service centers – 100,000 tele centers, broad band connectivity, and a secure state wide area network with minimum 2 mbps broad band connectivity as mentioned in the NISG report. A phase-wise plan to connect at least 1000 schools per year needs to be prepared and implemented.  The schools should have stable broadband based Internet connection through the state wide area network proposed as a Mission Mode Project (MMP) in 2011-12. Schools that are in interior regions may have access to Internet through W-LANs or Wireless links.

5.3.2     Power Supply

The state of Gujarat has traditionally had power problems, and power is also more expensive in Gujarat compared to other states. According to UDISE, as of 2014-2015, 99.7% schools (which includes government and private schools) have electricity. However, it is not clear whether this power supply is stable, uninterrupted. The district electricity board authorities need to be given the responsibility to ensure at least 5 hours of uninterrupted power supply in schools during working hours.

5.3.3     Student to Computer Ratio

At present, 73.8% schools have computers according to UDISE data. At the national level the budgetary allocation with a 75% support from the centre, allows 10 computers per school along with required peripherals. The recommendation here however is to provide bolster the budgetary allocation to serve a healthy and feasible Student-Computer ratio of 2 to 1, especially for upper primary sections to enable greater contact time with the computer. The ideal ratio can be determined in consultation with IT and pedagogy experts.

5.4       A Statewide School Management System

It is recommended that Gujarat follow the Kerala model of Sampoorna, a school governance system. Sampoorna handles state-wide student information and improved service delivery to students from the school administration. Gujarat also needs to build a system that helps in examination management, student enrolment, admissions, attendance, student transfers, drop out monitoring and health data tracking (such as vaccinations). The system can also help in issue of transfer and migration certificates as is required by RTE 2009. This recommendation also appears in section 5.2 of the National ICT Policy (revised 2012) envisioned as having multiple functions of being a digital repositories of tools, content and resources; professional development and continuing education platforms; and guidance, counselling and other student support services.

5.4.1     School Management Committee

The School Management Committee is an important part of one of the four pillars the ICT @ School scheme. The proposed School Management System can play an important role in the recruitment of SMC members making the entire process transparent. The role of the SMC in addition to what is envisioned in the ICT Policy and the RTE is also to monitor the quality of the e-content on the behalf of the students for its context, its ease of use and to ensure that all children have equal access to the e-content.

5.5       A School Learning Management System

As of 2012, there were 820 e-content modules (mainly videos and animations) for classes 8 to 12, designed to work on Ubuntu operating system have been created. At present these are available for free without any user id access. Similar to what is described in 5.2, the state needs to invest in a school-wide learning management system which will host all the content developed so far, that each government school can have access to. Budgetary allocations for the same need to be made. The learning management system will allow sharing of content across the state school, track student completion rates, collect feedback about different modules and recommend the popular modules through a module ranking system.  This system can also subsume the Gunotsav data which is being collected from classes I to VII.

5.5.1     Digital Examinations

The MHRD Implementation Report states that the government proposes to do away with paper-pencil tests and move toward digital examinations similar to centralized talent search tests. It is recommended that students are prepared for such examinations and a timeline of two years be set within which to train teachers to develop digital tests. The outputs of these examinations can also be linked with the School Management System where a school level performance can be recorded for future reference.

5.6       SMART Schools

With each state having its own idea of what a smart school is, there is already a move to streamline the idea of a ‘Smart School’ is in Gujarat.  At present, schools which score an A+ in the Gunotsav festival are marked out for converting to SMART schools and the target is 6500 schools. This scheme is currently available for classes IX to XII. The SMART school initiative should become more inclusive and this initiative should also be extended to the upper primary section to begin with, and later also consider schools that are not in the A+ bracket, so as to improve the school level performance and help students move toward 21st century skills.

5.7       Teacher Education

The recommendations in this section may be considered as applicable to other states or at a national level. These emerged based on a discussion with a) two school principals who run schools in semi urban areas b) a formal interview with members of a private organization who are implementing ICT in schools (although they are private schools).

5.7.1     ICT Support Teachers

It is recommended that the state create a role for teachers – called ICT Support Teachers – who will specialize in supporting other teachers for the general use of ICT and the use of ICT for teaching. The ICT Support Teachers or ICTSTs will be graduates with ICT being one their subjects and would have completed a state level examination and certification training course (described below) as a part of their pre-service training. A teacher may also opt for this course while she is serving for enhancement of her current role. If the school is small or only has a primary section, the services of the ICTST may be shared by more than one schools. For example, she may spend three days in one school and the other two/three days in another school.

5.7.2     State Level ICT Certification for Teachers

The state should train, assess and certify teachers to fit the role of an ICTST. The teacher thus certified for support will be able to use ICT productivity tools for administrative purposes and also be able to use ICT for teaching using ICT tools. Her main role however would be to provide administrative, pedagogic and specific task related support to other teachers.

5.7.3     Curriculum for Teacher ICT Certification Course

The ICT @ School Scheme and the National ICT Policy already have outlined the curriculum for ICT training. It is recommended that in addition to the existing modules, new modules may be added. For example, ways to leverage ICT for teaching, by complementing what is already present in the ICT content. Another example of a module could be to help prospective ICT Support Teachers to understand the local socio-economic and cultural contexts.

5.7.4     Action Research

The GCERT may commission action research projects in partnership with local DIETs, (DIETs already have a mandate and function to conduct action research) schools and teachers (and ICTSTs) across the state. The studies may include research on what techniques and strategies work, which frameworks need to be re-adapted to local contexts and so on. This action research may be published and be made part of future ICT training programs for teachers.

5.7.5     Teacher Training Institutes (Institutional Support)

The NCTE 2016 has a two-year B. Ed curriculum which serves the purpose of pre-service training in ICT. In-service teacher training is presently conducted mainly by DIETs – District Institute of Education and Training. ICT training for teacher may also be proctored and conducted by DIETs and also by RIE – Regional Institute of Education under the aegis of GCERT.

5.8       Design and Development of E-Content

These recommendations have emerged on the basis of the fact that excessive attention is paid to hardware and the number of modules created. For a truly enhanced quality of learning, design of the modules will also need attention.

5.8.1     Established Design Process

The NCF 2005 encourages the use of constructivist methods that promotes higher order thinking skills (refer section 1 of this document). Similarly the importance of 21st century skills are also important. Teaching with ICT provides an opportunity to incorporate the elements of constructivist, as well as constructionist learning along with 21st century skills into subject teaching. To ensure that these elements are incorporated, an instructional and communication design process needs to be put in place that must be followed for the creation of e-content.

It may be noted that the design of the e-content leverages and uses the media potential judiciously given that multimedia assets are expensive to create. For example, the design process should ensure that a photograph need not be replaced by an animation if as such an expensive asset like an animation is not required.

There needs to be an implicit understanding among designers that ‘one size does not fit all’. Given the socio-cultural diversity of the state’s population, the content design should take care of rural-urban mix. Students who reside in rural areas need to have content that is highly contextual whereas those who reside in urban populations should have content suitable for them. This is one way to maintain social sustainability of ICT initiatives in schools.

This process may be monitored by the state managed Project Monitoring and Evaluation Group (PMEG). The process also needs to be documented in detail for the purpose of communication with third parties and private vendors involved in the creation of e-content.

5.8.2     Training on Design Methods

Gujarat state DIETS, it is recommended, conduct periodic training sessions for its teachers as well as for their partner organizations, third party vendors on the concepts and vision laid out in the NCF 2005 and NCFTE 2009 respectively. The training should focus on concepts of constructivism and constructionism, with examples of ICT-based lesson plans that include both. The ICT Support Teachers can also play a key role here.

5.8.3     Established Development Process

The development of high quality e-content merits a systematic development process, similar to a product development process. The development process should incorporate adequate levels of design, subject matter and technical reviews to ensure consistent high quality for every module. It is recommended that the 820 subject modules that have already been created also be refreshed and re-designed as per the new process.

5.8.4     Established Standards

With a robust design and development framework in place, there is also a need for design and development standards that will help developers turn out a high quality learning module in time with minimum review and edits. The standards should specify design (such interactivity required, frequency and style of objective type questions etc.) language standards, technical standards especially for media assets, file naming standards and so on. Such standards can help reduce project execution time in large projects due to reduction in rework time.

5.8.5     A Quality Control Body

The ICT @ School has already recommended the presence of a Project Monitoring and Evaluation Group (PMEG). This document additionally proposes that the PMEG be given a regional status to ensure that e-content development takes place under the guidance of the PMEG group. This group needs to be composed of project management experts, design experts and also teachers who have adequate number of years of teaching experience.

5.8.6     Reusability of Content

The e-content creation should use principles of reusability so that media assets, text and code can be re-used.

5.9       Pedagogy and Teaching

5.9.1     Teaching and Learning Methods

ICT in education by definition implies varied teaching and learning methods. While teaching is instructive, often done via a teacher or a computer, learning is essentially carried out by the student’s own internal process. The need is then to create a balance between teaching and learning through a mix of methods like games, stories, simulations, scenarios, examples and non-examples.

5.9.2     Teaching and Learning Blends

ICT implies varied modes of delivery, that blend classrooms and technology-based delivery. Review framework given below. Note the examples within each intersection.

image-for-blog

These are some of the ways in which these modes can be blended with classroom sessions.

5.9.3     Classroom Teaching Approaches

ICT in a classroom merits a shift from didactic, behavioural approaches to facilitative approaches. The teacher’s role transforms into that of a facilitator. As a facilitator, the teacher needs to assist students to ask the right questions, arrive at answers with given information, form their views about current situations, learn to solve problems on their own, collaborate and cooperate. The requisite skills for this shift in teaching approaches need to be covered in the ICT training for teachers. The ICT Support Teachers can be the ‘go to’ persons at the school level for facilitating this shift.

5.10     Hardware and Software

In the classroom observations that I did, one major factor that emerged was failure of hardware components which led to a great amount of time lost in class. This also led to teacher demotivation and student distraction leading to a chaos in class. The recommendations given below emerge from here.

5.10.1   Maintenance of Software and Hardware

There is also a recurring expenditure provisioning in the state for maintenance of computers. The terms of maintenance should be extended beyond computers to printers, braille printers, speakers, monitors, mouse, keyboards, and electronic whiteboards. There should be a separate mention of software maintenance in the budget.

5.10.2   Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)

The state needs to adopt a policy of free and open software in line with the National ICT Policy, in order to protect the privacy and sovereignty of the students who would be using ICT. Privacy, security and integrity are best achieved through the transparency guaranteed by free software rather than the opacity of proprietary software.

5.10.3   Using Assistive Technologies

Assistive technology is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and also includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. (Wikipedia). In order to truly close the digital, socio-economic and socio-cultural divide states need to set aside a capital expenditure expense item for investing in and maintaining devices that will allow students with physical disabilities to actively participate in the digital learning movement.

5.11     Sustainability Plan

Sustainability is the ability of an educational ecosystem to maintain scholastic processes, functions, diversity and productivity into the future.  The state may draw up an overall sustainability plan with a horizon of at least ten years for the overall ICT initiatives. This master-plan for sustainability may be accompanied by a project-based sustainability plan (if the project sponsors feel it is needed). Given below is a template/master-plan form for sustainability pertinent to the requirements of Gujarat state.

5.11.1   Economic Sustainability

The plan should be able to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. How will the ICT project be funded in the long term?
  2. What is the source of the initial funding? What is the likelihood of the permanence of that source? Have local/multiple/other sources been identified? How will the funds be recycled? For example, can parents contribute part of the cost of running an ICT based school and how much?
  3. Identify the most cost-heavy infrastructure and the cost of maintaining it. For example, electricity in Gujarat state is expensive. So can a technology-based solution be found to cover for economic sustainability? Like solar-based units that can power computers. Maharashtra has set an example in solar computing.
  4. What are the areas to check for during the transfer of ownership in a BOOT model?

5.11.2   Social Sustainability

  1. Find ways and means to first alter the mind-set to remove resistance and create acceptance amongst teachers – the most impacted stakeholders in any ICT education project.
  2. Create a community level buy-in and acceptance of computers as a means of learning. Chiefly parents and next, village (in case of rural areas) gram sabha They will also help maintain economic sustainability.
  3. Plan for regular updates and communication with parents on the progress, the benefits of ICT for their children, using sustainable, easily accessible means like mobile messaging.

5.11.3   Political Sustainability

  1. Governments are more likely to support and sponsor projects that deliver the results. To that extent, building a school management system or a single window tracking system (as described above) will go a long way in ensuring political support for ICT in education.

Second to None: The Role of Women in their Own Education

INTRODUCTION

This is an extract of a paper I wrote in 2015 for my ‘History of Education’ assignment which is a part of my MA in Education course. I found it fascinating that women in India, as early 300 years ago, were so committed to learning to read and write. Not because they sought independence of any kind, or because they could have great careers. Such things did not exist at that time. Learning to read and write, in harsh conditions, against  all odds, simply because they wanted to, because they saw themselves as capable to learn and because they wanted to ‘see’ the world outside through books. This article chronicles the role of women’s own agency in educating themselves against all odds and opposition around early to late 20th century! I hope it leaves you inspired!

SECOND TO NONE

Azizunisa Begum was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s mother. Born in 1780, she was able to read difficult religious texts in Arabic and Persian through the strict confines of the purdah. (Basu, 2005). Moving up on the timeline, you find Rashundari Devi, born in 1809 in Bengal. She taught herself to read amidst stiff opposition and obstacles. (Basu, 2005). Moving further up the timeline, there was Parvatikunvar, born in 1828 in Gujarat, who was taught to read and write by her mother. (Basu, 2005). And Tarabai Shinde, born in Maharashtra in 1850, learnt to read and write at home from her father. (Sarkar, 1999).

These are but a few images, from the larger picture of women’s education in colonial India. Scattered and disparate as they may seem, these examples have in common the operative agency of women that was unwilling and unbending against the strictures of caste and gender that were dominant at that time. These and several other examples are signposts of a time that was replete with stories of women who defied norms and sought whatever means available to alter their pitiable state of bondage. Education was seen by many – women and men both, as one of the means to break free from oppressive practices and put an end to the ignominious state of affairs.

Whether through their own grit, or assistance from the educated, progressive and reformist gentry, women acquired the means to educate themselves and others in the wake of strong superstition and the imposed subservient positions.

THE WAY THINGS WERE

Pre-colonial records of eighteenth century paint a bleak picture of women’s education. One may come across a reference of a learned woman in a vast span of time in history; like Gul-Badan Begum, daughter of Emperor Babur or Jehanara Begum, daughter of Shah Jahan, (Acharya, 1978) or Hati Vidyalankar, a child widow of Kulin Brahmana family from Rarh who was proficient in Sanskrit literature, philosophy and law ran a chatuspathi (center of Sanskrit learning) in Banaras. (Chakrabarti & Chakrabarti, 2013). The idea that women’s education was alien and unheard of.

In Bengal, most Brahmin women and those from lower castes were denied all forms of education except that one type which was closely associated with that of domesticity – vratas or bratas. (Acharya, 1978). Often cast as playful, socio-religious rituals, it involved rote learning of epics and ritual text that ‘taught’ women to undergo penance in the form of fasting and praying for the well-being and longevity of their family, specifically their husbands and sons. The bratas were often enjoyably performed by little girls who were thus ready to be betrothed at an early age between five or ten years.

These instances are more exceptional in that they serve to prove the proposition that learning for women was severely restricted and if available it was reserved for women of nobility or elite class like that of rulers or Brahmins, usually at home under strict seclusion.

Women, however, were neither ignorant nor without knowledge. Women, more than men were responsible for the oral transmission of knowledge which usually came in the form of smriti literature, music, ballads and folklore. Women’s learning and their role in generational transmission was more crucial to cultural survival than maintenance of Vedic tradition by men.  (Sen, 2002). In that sense, writes Samita Sen, when colonial education spread across India, the shift was much bigger for women in terms of nature of learning, content and method. (Sen, 2002).

UP AGAINST THE WALL

A review of the reasons for lack of education for women is appalling. It was believed that a woman who can read and write could ‘make secret assignations of illicit nature’. (Sen, 2002). Such a woman, who forgot her domestic place would invite the wrath of gods, which would eventually lead to her being a widow. Even if the gods would spare her husband, her own immorality would lead to her husband’s death. Superstitions like these resulted in educated or literate women being labelled as immoral. (Sen, 2002).

It was in social contexts as harsh as these that women needed to exercise their agency.

CONTENTIONS ON EDUCATIONAL PURPOSE

It was Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who in 1818 questioned some of the norms based on which education was denied to women. He rejected the idea that women were incapable of learning, hence denigrated to their life of domestic chores. He reversed the idea to say that because they were denied education, they were not learned and hence perceived as incapable of any intellectual or useful activities. This idea found affirmation when Mary Wollstonecraft, an advocate of women’s rights, wrote about the reversal of cause and effect with regard to women’s education and empowerment. (Sarkar, 1999).

Even though women’s education was deemed as un-necessary, it was found that it did find its uses acceptably in certain situations. In the case of widowhood, they were expected to manage family properties, know how to read land agreements and books of accounts. Rashundari Devi put her education to practical use by writing a plea in her husband’s absence. The low-caste boshtomis, a devotional sect, were literate and integral to women’s education in that they were assigned as teachers for upper caste households. (Sarkar, 1999)

 STANDING HER GROUND

The subject of women’s education, though largely subsumed under the nationalist discourse, was at the helm of the social enlightenment so desired by reformists. From a life behind the veil to being de rigueur, women’s educational journey marshalled support from various sections within society – mainly Missionaries, empathetic government establishments and national reformists looking at societal transformation. The biggest impetus however came from women their own agency.

Here are a few examples.

Rashundari Devi, born in 1809 in Calcutta, taught herself to read and write by scratching letters of the alphabet onto a corner of a blackened wall in the kitchen. She had the support of her mother-in-law which by itself is commendable given the popular myth of impending widowhood that awaited women who tried to study. She used her literacy to pen her autobiography in Bengali – ‘Amar Jiban’. Credited as the first Indian autobiography, the book chronicled her life of drudgery and monotony in great detail. It was praised immensely during those times for its crisp and beautiful, descriptive prose. Portraying things as they were, her book epitomizes the strength and determination shown by her in view of the times she lived in. (Tharu & Lalita, 1991)

Pandita Ramabai was a prolific social activist and educator and served as an inspiration for generations of women ahead of her. She was born in 1858 in the state of Karnataka. Her father taught her to read and write Sanskrit and interpret Vedic texts. She became a widow within two years of her marriage. In living up to her late husband’s desire to educate young widows, she founded the Arya Mahila Samaj in Pune. She strived for the cause of women’s education and deliverance from the oppression of child marriage. In the years that followed she went on to establish many institutions like Mukti Sadan, Mukti Mission and wrote and translated several books including the Bible. One of her most important books was ‘The High Caste Hindu Woman’ in which she revealed the darkest aspects of the life of Hindu women.  (“Pandita Ramabai” 2015)

Swarnakumari Debi was born in 1855 and was among the first women writers in Bengal to gain prominence. She taught herself to read and write at home and participated creatively in the literary efforts of the household. She started the first all India Women’s Association that brought into focus women’s issues. (“Swarnakumari Debi” 2015)

Ramabai Ranade was born in Maharashtra, in 1863. Ramabai was a women’s rights activist and an educator. Married to Mahadev Govind Ranade, she soon started learning to read and write. She started the Hindu Ladies Social Club in Mumbai to develop public speaking skills amongst women. Distraught and desolate after her husband’s death she continued her work by establishing Seva Sadans and organizing the Bharat Mahila Parishad to educate and awaken women. (“Ramabai Ranade” 2015)

Lady Abala Bose, born in 1864 in Calcutta, was a social activist and educator known for her work in the betterment of the conditions and the upliftment of widows. She was also a feminist who wrote passionately about the status of women as ‘being a mind first and a physical body after’. She set up the Nari Shiksha Samiti in 1915 through which she established primary schools, prepare suitable textbooks and open child welfare centers. (“Lady Abala Bose” 2015)

Sarala Devi Chaudhrani was born in Calcutta in 1872. She studied at Calcutta University and completed her B.A., receiving a gold medal in English Literature.  She was the founder of the first women’s organization in India, the Bharat Stree Mahamandal in Allahabad. Promoting education among women was its primary goal. This organization went on to open several branches in Northern regions of India. (“Sarla Devi Chaudhrani” 2015)

Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was a remarkable Mulsim educationist. Born in 1880 in Calcutta, she strived for gender equality and other social issues. She set up a school for Muslim girls in 1911 in Calcutta. In addition to writing short novels, Sultana’s Dreams and Padmarag, she also founded Anjuman-e-Khawateen-e-Islam which was an organization that served as a prominent voice in issues related to women and their issues.

In 1893 in Calcutta, Mataji Tapaswini, a Sanskrit scholar, established the Mahakali Pathshala. The school educated young women from conservative families. To satisfy the conservatives, they developed a curricula dominated by home science and religious lore. She also set out to systematize traditional education girls received at home.  Her school flourished until the 1920s. (Sen 2002)

Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy was born in 1886 in Madras. Her life is memorable for that she aspired to be different from other women in her times. She studied till matriculation securing several gold medals. She continued her studies from home after being denied school when she turned older. Much against the wish of her father she went on to become a doctor and is credited today as being the first woman house surgeon in a government hospital. She was also the first woman legislator in India. (“Muthulakshmi Reddy” 2015)

Sister Subbulakshmi was born in 1886 in Madras. As was the practice then, she was married at the age of nine even though she had secured a first rank in the public examination of the Chingleput district in the Madras Presidency. Widowed at a young age she went on to become the first woman graduate in Madras Presidency with first class honors in 1911. She worked toward rehabilitating child widows and educating them. She started the Sarada Vidyalaya and was the principal of Lady Willingdon Training College and Practice School. She established several other associations for women and children. (“Sister Subbulakshmi” 2015)

Vidyagauri Nilakanth was born in Ahmedabad, and worked for women’s welfare. She started tailoring schools for women, edited a magazine on education with her husband. She conducted literacy classes for women and was awarded the MBE (Member of British Empire) and Star of India.

Sister Nivedita’s school in Calcutta was for girls from poor families. Inspired by Vivekananda to attempt the best in Eastern and Western literature, she sought to provide modern education in the context of Indian culture without making it academic.

Worth mentioning here, in addition to the above, are the multitude of associations and organizations founded by women who shared a vision about the common future of their gender. The three major associations that emerged after the end of the First World War are Women’s India Association, the Women’s India Association, the National Council of Women and the All India Women’s Conference.

These are but a few examples that underline the rise of women’s education in colonial India.Of the many who make it possible for us to read and write and learn whatever we want, let us also wave a thank you to them all today.