In an increasingly global and diverse society, DEI sensitization benefits students from learning DEI in education and nurtures a multicultural mindset, fostering understanding and empathy while combating stereotypes. Initiating DEI education from a young age is crucial, addressing systemic inequalities and empowering students as advocates for social justice. The responsibility for DEI extends beyond organisations, involving the government, educational institutions, and corporations through inclusive policies. Educational diversity mirrors the corporate world, encompassing various dimensions like gender, age, abilities, and socio-economic background, creating a dynamic melting pot of experiences and perspectives.
Educational institutions across levels (primary school, middle school, high school, UG/Graduate/PG) like corporations need to have intentional practices of diversity, equity and inclusion to ensure that the country’s demographic dividend is optimised for the economic growth of the country while simultaneously creating a sustainable and inclusive society.
DEI sensitization often includes teaching students to be culturally competent – to be aware of their own cultural beliefs and values and appreciating other cultures and respecting people for their beliefs, values and for who they are.
At a policy level, attention has to be paid for the unique needs of students to ensure equitable education delivery. Identifying barriers faced by students is extremely important to create equitable education policies to address those challenges. The barriers can be different in rural areas when compared to cities or metros. Further, the challenges can be different for girls and students who belong to other marginalised groups and who are at the intersection of multiple marginalised identities.
For example, if clean toilets are an area of concern for girl students, there has to be an SOP in place for all educational institutions on the same so that girls do not drop out of schools. Making schools accessible with accommodations for people with disabilities is also very critical to deliver the promise of equal opportunity to education. If there are students who are first generation students, schools may have to conduct additional coaching for these students to provide a level playing field.
COVID taught us the importance of digital literacy. To ensure that students with limited financial resources are not denied the opportunity to get onto the digital bandwagon, Government schools and schools with modest funding can collaborate with the corporate world for adoption of their schools as part of the CSR programs to ensure that no child is left behind on the digital literacy front. This collaboration can be extended to ensure that the performance of students in rural areas are brought up to the level of their city/metro counterparts to lay the foundation for equal access to opportunities.
Sensitising students about caste, religion and reservations and having conversations (however difficult they are) around the equity driven measures like reservations goes a long way in recognising privilege and building empathy rather than viewing it as a zero-sum scenario. These measures will go a long way in avoiding tragedies resulting from identity-based discrimination which seem to be plaguing higher education institutions.
Gendered terms, fuelled by historic societal biases, have long-term and real-world effects. Hence sensitising from a young age about the power of words to break down gender inequality and long-held gender-based stereotypes is key to building respect for marginalised and underrepresented communities. This when coupled with identity-based discrimination can have an impact on the choices made by students for higher education.
Initiating gender sensitization at a primary school level, followed by age-appropriate content in middle and high school, can foster an appreciation for consent and boundaries, contributing to the denormalisation of sexual harassment. Primary schools play a crucial role in dismantling gender stereotypes, encouraging students to be authentic and challenge traditional norms. Cultivating a questioning mindset promotes better understanding, preventing assumptions that may persist into adolescence and adulthood. Further, being on the periphery as part of the out-group affects the social, emotional, and cognitive development of students while impacting their morale and self-worth.
One of the most critical elements of making DEI successful at schools is to co-opt parents into the DEI curriculum. Without the support of parents it can be a futile effort. To foster diversity and inclusion in schools, some educators have adopted inclusive pedagogical approaches, which aim to create equitable learning environments where all students feel valued and included. This can involve diverse reading materials, inclusive language, and creating spaces like ‘safe rooms’ for open dialogue.
Sensitisation on implicit bias has to be a non-negotiable module for both the students and teachers. Encouraging all dimensions of diversity at educational institutions will facilitate real life interactions and exposure. Empowering students with knowledge at an impressionable age can ensure that stereotypes, biases and discriminatory behaviours are not carried into adulthood.
The Government as well as schools need to invest in upskilling teachers to become better as inclusive educators. Policy makers need a robust mechanism to upgrade the school/college curriculum which is reflective of the world we live in – ensuring that representation of various identities are inclusive and not stereotypical and contribute to breaking biases. Educational Institutions especially at higher level education, can also focus on increasing diversity among faculty and staff to provide students with role models and mentors from various backgrounds.
India is a highly diverse country with numerous languages, cultures, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, which makes DEI an important consideration in the education sector. However, the implementation of DEI principles can vary significantly among different institutions and regions in India.
Efforts to promote DEI in Indian education institutions are likely to continue evolving, given the country's commitment to social justice, inclusivity, and equitable access to education. However, challenges related to resource constraints, infrastructure, and cultural norms may continue to affect the pace and effectiveness of DEI initiatives in the Indian education system.
India's diverse educational landscape benefits from affirmative action policies, yet inequalities persist, especially in rural areas. While some institutions embrace inclusive practices for students with disabilities, there's room for improvement. Challenges in implementing DEI education include resistance to change and resource constraints. Addressing this gap requires ongoing advocacy, research, and policy changes. Institutions must hold themselves accountable, using DEI metrics to assess progress. Commitment to DEI not only enhances learning outcomes but also shapes empathetic future leaders, fostering thriving and inclusive global organisations. This commitment is crucial for societal change and problem-solving.