Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Local Democracy, Rural Community, and Participatory School Governance

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Local Democracy, Rural Community, and Participatory School Governance

Article excerpt

This article considers the indigenization of democracy in India by conceptualizing participatory deliberative decision-making practice as a tool to strengthen the functioning of local schools and to enhance democratic responsiveness within communities. Drawing on case-studies of bottom-up approaches to school governance, this study examines an array of innovative participatory governance practices that have emerged in diverse rural settings to make the state more responsive and accountable to the education of marginalized children. The author argues that these practices have enabled a fuller realization of people's rights and have enhanced their ability to influence larger institutions and policies affecting the schooling and life-options of their children.

Citation: Arvind, G. R. (2009). Local democracy, rural community, and participatory school governance. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 24(2). Retrieved [date] from


Since 1950, the Constitution of India has mandated free and compulsory education for all children until the age of 14. This national commitment was to be realized through the overall development of a more egalitarian, inclusionary, and equitable public education system. Yet, the goal of universalized elementary education continues to be elusive, both in qualitative and quantitative terms, in spite of much-publicized education reform efforts of the 1990s. Nearly 14 million children in India do not attend school. Of these nearly 14 million children, 52-55% are girls. Further, most children leave government primary schools without gaining basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic (Pratham, 2007).

It is not difficult to discern the identity of these children: they are children of communities at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, largely located in rural and poor urban areas. Educational statistics (Government of India, 2006b) indicate the extent to which non-enrollment and discontinuation of education are associated with particular social groups and locations. Rural girls belonging to disadvantaged groups like Scheduled Castes or Dalits and Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis1 illustrate this phenomenon with 50% and 56% respectively having dropped out of school. Male-female differences are highest among the poorest quintiles of the population in both rural and urban areas. Educational participation corresponds to religious groups, as well. It is estimated, for example, that 25% of Muslim children in the 6-14 year age group have either never attended school or have dropped out (Government of India, 2006a).

Dalits ("untouchable" castes), Adivasis (tribal groups) and Muslims (a religious minority) represent the most poorest and disadvantaged segments of Indian society, with social and spatial identity as the central axis of their exclusion (Kabeer, 2006). Govinda (2007) delineates three major levels at which exclusion from school occurs: (1) non-availability of school; (2) dropping out during the initial years of schooling without achieving basic literacy and numeracy skills; and (3) acquisition of basic competencies but the inability to transition from lower primary to upper primary grades. Other factors that exacerbate social exclusion from education in India include underinvestment in resources for elementary education, discriminatory school practices, disjunctures between socio-cultural ethos of home and school, and institutional arrangements of public schooling that lack accountability and responsiveness (Jeffery, 2005).

Expanding and deepening community participation in the state's actions may represent one promising strategy to address these various factors that result in educational exclusion. Critical commentators like Sadgopal (2004, 2008) hold that the government and its varied organs have made education too dependent on over-centralized bureaucracies and uniform practices that overlook the nation's rich plurality. …

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