The Indian government launched the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE ACT) in 2009. This summer it upheld the constitutional validity of reserving 25 per cent of seats in schools for students from poorer sections of society. While this reform was a welcome move towards inclusive growth of the country, it was not universally welcomed.

Students at schoolThe author conducted a qualitative interview among 30 individuals hailing from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The sample consisted of mothers, teachers, and reformists working in the field of education. Open-ended questionnaires were conducted to assess opinions on the Act’s decision to ring-fence 25 per cent of seats for poor students.

66 per cent of the total respondents feared that this act would lead to an increase in their financial burden. They were of the opinion that the educational institutions, especially private ones in the urban areas which are now compelled to offer free admission to students listed as ‘below the poverty line’, were likely to impose the additional costs on existing students by increasing their tuition fees.

Almost 80 per cent of the respondents felt that integration of students would pose as a serious threat in these institutions where students from different socioeconomic backgrounds would find it hard to create ‘casual acquaintances’ and friends. India may have combated its ‘caste differences’ to a certain extent due to various reforms, but ‘class differences’ in society remain a social menace. In schools parental income, parental social status, lifestyle, possession of material wealth and personal assets all illuminate these class differences.

The difference in social strata may not be observable in an apparent manner as school uniforms tend to make ‘all students equal’. Yet socioeconomic disparity often leads to humiliation, bullying, de-motivating behaviour leading to poor performance and discrimination. It hinders the development of social leadership skills resulting in shy withdrawn children lacking in confidence and self-esteem.

An educational institute represents a distinct community setting with a climate that is created and perpetuated by physical structures, policies and social norms that serve as a guiding principle for the institution. Issues related to class differences are often directly or indirectly woven into academic issues resulting in an atmosphere consisting of majority and minority group members.

Children in school uniform
In his book, “The Nature of Prejudice’, social psychologist Gordon Allport (1954), specified several conditions that any academic institution can adopt to build a cohesive culture. One such condition is ‘intergroup cooperation’. Schools with students from different socioeconomic backgrounds can assign students to ‘task oriented cooperation’. For example, when students are engaged in meaningful activities such as a community development task, which is different from their everyday classroom teaching, they tend to form cohesive teams.


Community services, science projects or multicultural activities helps mitigate class differences and create inter-group bonds. Fostering a learning environment and creating a community where all students feel included and valued, should be the outcome of modern education systems.