GEETHA B. NAMBISSAN* POONAM BATRA**
Equity and Excellence: Issues in Indian Education
A significant trend in recent education policy in the major capitalist countries is the emphasis on excellence and efficiency in education. Couched in various phrases such as 'back to the basics', 'uphold standards', 'upgrade schools' and so on, the stress is on the need for 'quality' rather than 'quantity' in education. Commentators on education link this trend in policy to wider economic and social processes, particularly to the crisis of western capitalism: economic recession, the resource crunch and the corresponding necessity to restructure capital. What is evident, however, is that beneath the rhetoric of excellence is the slow but steady shift away from even a semblance of equity and social justice that was beginning to characterise schooling in these countries in the sixties and early seventies. Commenting on US federal policy, Secada (1986) says '. . . . standards of "excellence" replaced those of equity; ability and selection replaced needs and access; social and welfare concerns were ignored as productivity took the fore.. .'1
Indian education policy today also reflects an increasing preoccupation with excellence in education. While the Kothari Commission Report (1968) does refer to the creation of a minimum number of 'quality institutions', the major emphasis was on the equalisation of educational opportunities among different social groups. In the New Education Policy, 1986, almost twenty years later, while we do hear an echo of the need for universal schooling, considerably more pronounced is the concern voiced for 'good quality education', the need to 'sift talent' and to identify and promote 'excellence' at the school stage itself. What appears as a shadowy outline of a shift in policy can be more clearly seen in the Programme of Action and subsequent documents where details are given of Navodaya Vidyalayas—schools that are being established in rural areas with the specific objective of identifying and promoting excellence and talent.
*Zakir Hussain Centre for Educational Studies, JNU, New Delhi.
**Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi, Delhi.