This Introduction sets up a binary framing between the ‘marginal child’ and the ‘subaltern student’ to help contextualize this Special Issue’s efforts to frame educational exclusions in India within a longer history of modernity, childhood and the democratization of schooling. Broadly speaking, the ‘marginal child’ refers to discourses that focus on the ‘victimhood’ of particular populations of children while leveraging their hypothetical schooled futures as the ideal solution to their current situation. In contrast, the ‘subaltern student’ embeds a more historicized framing that draws our attention to first-generation students’ cautious hopefulness around formal education as that which coexists with, and is shaped by, their parallel recognition, navigation and experiences of school spaces as sites that devalue their identities as learners. Each figure, one discursive and the other real, aids in disclosing how recent efforts to realize all ‘children’s right to education’ contain distinct techniques of knowledge production, particular understandings of schooling’s spatial and temporal norm, and contrasting ideas around children’s value and futurity, i.e. practices that have significant ethical and political ramifications in shaping contemporary conversations around educational inequities in India.
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