An exalted past but what future? An elite school grapples with India's Right to Education Act, 2009

Year: 2019

Author: Langmead, Diana

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper discusses temporal and spatial incongruities and consistencies in an elite school’s performance of the aims of India’s ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’ (RTE) towards equity in and through education.

The RTE is a contemporary driver for social justice/reform impacting schools, particularly private schools, in India. Impelled by the ‘Education For All’ global initiative and aspiring to bridge distinctions, including between global, national and local interests, the RTE is a policy that enacts Indians' constitutional rights and authorises affirmative action strategies.

One of these strategies, Section 12(1)(c), is highly controversial. It requires all private, unaided schools to give 25% of their entry-level seats, fee-free, to children from disadvantaged sectors in their neighbourhood. Ripon College, an elite, independent, private school, is subject to this provocative policy. It is also the setting for my case study which utilises data collected periodically at Ripon, using ethnographic methods, over the RTE’s first decade of implementation.

Drawing on a legacy of aristocratic lineage traceable back centuries, Ripon regards itself as emanating from beyond its foundation 150 years ago. This trick of temporality reinscribes global and local distinctions and consolidates the perception of Ripon as ruler of its domain. As ruler, it is thus sanctioned to play host to those invited across its threshold. However, the RTE is an event (Wagner-Pacifici, 2017) that threatens Ripon's role and rule. Thus, the policy disrupts the rhythm of the (re)production of privilege that is Ripon's everyday practice.

Working with Derrida's notion of hospitality, I explore Ripon’s ensuing and ongoing struggle with the RTE as the school attempts to straddle global/national/local aspirations and discourses while protecting and projecting its eliteness. Amidst Ripon’s discourse of denial and resistance, hegemonic relations of hospitality become disordered. The complexities and connections of these shifting and nuanced relations are glimpsed through an examination of the disturbances to, and overlays of, time and place occurring as the event unfolds.

By examining Ripon College's navigation of the reconfigurations of hospitality stimulated by RTE's Section 12(1)(c), this paper reveals a continuing process of engagement across, and through, intersections of time and of place as the future is made present (Koselleck, 1985/2004) for an equity policy at this elite school.