Neoliberal Ideology, Systemic Change and the New Illusions of Equity and Inclusion in Education

Padma Velaskar

(Centre for Studies in the Sociology of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai)

Abstract

As part of the profound influence that neoliberal global capitalism has exerted on its economy, politics and culture, the Indian state launched a massive process of educational restructuring. In keeping with capitalist philosophy, not only is education being geared to the new market economy but is also being reconceptualised as a profitable enterprise and a marketable commodity. The infusion of neoliberal ideas into the education “sector” has made for significant shifts in its structuring and governance, and created a multifaceted impact at many levels – societal, systemic and individual. The changes need to be viewed from wider critical perspectives and their effects need to be systematically studied and demonstrated.

Drawing on available empirical evidence and in particular from insights gathered from my own study of the municipal school system of Mumbai, this paper attempts to make sense of the way new policies have unfolded on the ground. It explores their systemic impact with a focus on emergent patterns of educational inequalities. The paper argues that while exacerbating the historical legacies of state neglect and hierarchical inequalities, the new structures of provision, the values and principles on which they are founded and the politics of policy implementation have together had damaging effects. They have undermined the public education system and created new inequalities and new mechanisms of injustice and discrimination in education. Neoliberal educational ideology is thus a new, powerful instrument of domination and hegemony and its practice induces an aggravated erosion of democracy, justice and equality within the system. Under its contemporary alliance with the culturally supremacist neoright forces, prospects for attaining even the diluted version of the constitutional ideology as articulated in neoliberal notions of equity,inclusion, freedom and empowerment are illusory.