"Deliver us from this darkness": Formal education and lower class children in Tamilnadu, India

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Sari K. Biklen


education. formal education, elementary education, social structure

Subject Categories

Elementary Education and Teaching | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education


This inquiry examines the persistent inequalities in educational access and retention in Tamilnadu, India. Formal, universal education through schools is an agent of change and in a modernizing, democratic society, it is seen as a public responsibility. The fit between public provisions for formal education of the lower class/castes and the material conditions in which these groups live forms the major thematic. The intersection of various social stratifiers, namely caste, class and gender, is foregrounded through the analyses of daily life of the lower class/castes. I argue that the voices of the lower class/caste groups are unheeded in policy-making and institution-building. Participant observation and interviews at Olcott Memorial High School in Chennai, Tamilnadu, and interviews with the parents of working children in Sivakasi, Tamilnadu, provide the data to probe the contradictions between the lived realities of the lower class/caste groups and the official knowledge presented in the prescribed textbooks. Disciplinary practices during instructional interaction reveal how ideologies of class and gender intersect at the site of the classroom. Policy documents and newspaper accounts of schooling ideologies are examined to explicate the structural and systemic elements in place. Interviews with parents from the lower class/caste groups show their views on education and/or child labor as preparation for individual mobility. The inquiry posits that a variety of delivery mechanisms for formal education and a wide range of instructional practices should be envisioned to make universal schooling a reality for the children of the lower class/caste groups. It also reiterates the necessity of expanding support services like pediatric hospitals and public libraries in the residential areas of the poor.


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