Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. What causes such under-representation of minorities in education? What can be done to attain full equity and inclusion in higher education? Conclusion. Way forward.

Education is the single greatest tool for achieving social justice and equality. Inclusive and equitable education is critical to achieving an inclusive and equitable society. According to recent All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19 share of enrolled minorities still continue to be under-represented. Unfortunately, prejudice and bias, especially against minorities among other factors, has impacted minorities capacity to benefit from the education system, that hold the nation back from growth, innovation, and progress.

What causes such under-representation of minorities in education?

  1. Lack of access: A first basic cause for the exclusion is that children from minorities often suffer from a lack of access to schools, especially quality schools. Despite the dramatic leap in access to schooling over the past decade, there remain very serious barriers to access to education, especially for areas with large populations from educationally underrepresented groups.
  2. Poverty: Poverty plays a major role in both exclusion and discrimination. Poor families struggle to send their children to school (even when there is access), and to provide support for their schooling when they do. Children from poorer homes often also suffer nutritional deficiencies that have a direct impact on learning.
  3. Lack of Infrastructure: The lack of quality infrastructure, functional and secure toilets, and safe drinking water in schools in poorer areas represents a severe form of discrimination in education for children from socio-economically disadvantaged communities. The lack of good libraries, laboratories, and learning supplies at school hits children from disadvantaged communities the hardest, as they generally will not have as many educational resources at home.
  4. Social bias: Social mores and biases also contribute in a serious way to discriminatory practices. For example, many communities believe that girls need not go through formal schooling.
  5. Poor curriculum: Curriculum and textbooks often also play a role. An analysis of the existing curricula, pedagogy or textbooks exhibits a biased picture of life where the view of the “powerful” prevails. For example, the earning member of a family is almost always male in our textbooks; there are almost no references to people that are differently-abled. Thus many of our classroom processes do not welcome or encourage children from disadvantaged or underrepresented communities.

What can be done to attain full equity and inclusion in higher education?

  1. Affirmative action and programmes are needed to increase enrolment of students who may have faced race, caste, gender, or geographical discrimination.
  2. In addition, policies and schemes such as targeted scholarships, conditional cash transfers etc. can significantly increased participation of minorities in the higher education.
  3. Reservations in higher education to minorities should be accompanied by structural changes like land reforms and an inclusive educational support systems.
  4. The poor should get special weightage but a watchdog body should keep an eye on their progress.

All the above measures are absolutely critical to attaining full inclusion and equity for all the minorities but they are not sufficient. What will also be required is a change in culture. All participants in the education system, including teachers, principals, administrators, social workers, counsellors, and students, will need to be sensitised to the requirements of all students, the notions of inclusion and equity, and the respect and dignity of all persons. Such an educational culture will be the best tool to help students become empowered individuals who, in turn, will enable society to transform into one that is responsible towards its most vulnerable citizens.