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BW Businessworld

Classrooms, Cultures And Cases

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The book is a collection of ethnographic studies conducted on various schools in India and has been edited by Meenakshi Thapan, a professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics and co-ordinator of the D.S. Kothari Centre for Science, Ethics and Education in Delhi university. In Ethnographies of Schooling in Contemporary India, the authors have explored what it’s like to be in the classroom of Indian schools, and sought to get a perspective on the dynamics involved.
With a large population of school-going children in the country, we tend to look at education through criteria such as dropout rates, grades, student strength, attendance rates, student-teacher ratios and college entrance exams. However, these numbers cannot possibly capture the true picture of the process of schooling in the country. Just like there is more to a human being than just height, weight, salary or grades, any anthropologist will tell you that numbers alone cannot tell the whole story. The study is based on research conducted in three private and two government schools in Delhi, two aided Muslim schools in Ahmedabad and a private school in Andhra Pradesh.
Evidently, this book provides a gauge of various cultures prevalent in the sample schools. Here, it is pertinent to note that ethnographic studies require adequate training, since researchers may  “pollute” the data by making the students conscious, or using their own subjectivity and biases.
Also, the fact that the data being collected cannot be verified objectively makes an ethnographic study a very risky undertaking. 
Despite such risks, chapters such as Anuradha Sharma’s ‘Negotiating School and Gender: Peer Performatives’, Parul Bhandari’s ‘In Quest of Identity: Student Culture in a Religious Minority Institution’ seem well structured. Still, a more diverse sample of schools would have made the study more representative.
The book is an important contribution to the anthropological studies on schooling in India and, perhaps, one of the most definitive works on the subject. Besides being an useful manual to a postgraduate student, academic staff and a school head, the book will be equally useful to planners and administrators creating a wholistic way of nurturing students.
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 23-02-2015)