Psycho-Social Experience of Failure in Education

Home/ Psycho-Social Experience of Failure in Education
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSES2012064

Semester and Year Offered: Third semester

Course Coordinator and Team members: Vinod.R

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: Students should be comfortable with either Hindi or English, preferably both.

Aim: The term failure has a very strong evocative potential that encompasses understanding failure, fear of failure, failure as a relative concept, quality assessment of education, audit of implementation of education policy and reforms, paradox of equity, concerns for valid knowledge, systemic reforms (curricular reforms, examination reforms, teacher training reforms), dominant ideologies that perpetuate inclusion and exclusion in education. Examining the experience of failure therefore becomes poignant in acknowledging, accepting, recognizing and working with it. Hence, listening and relating to different aspects of failure in the education system throws up alternative social imagination, agency, utopia and resilience in education. The students would work on various aspects of failure to explore the experience and relationship of failure with drop outs, anxiety, and depression, suicide in the context of education. Students may work with themselves/drop outs to understand, articulate as to what happens to self when it is systematically oppressed and deprived and how does the self survive to reflect upon itself.

Course Outcomes:

To enable the students:

  1. To problematise the definition, regulations, conventions, social acceptance and individual experience of failure.
  2. To explore and compare various psycho-social theories of failure.
  3. To reflect on the concepts such as intelligence, identity and motivation to relate to educational failure
  4. To understand and reflect on quantitative and qualitative data on failure
  5. To understand educational innovations as response to failure.
  6. To evolve an understanding about the nature of relationship of self, family, community, significance of attachments, facilitating environments, ecological self and its relationship with success and failure in education.


Module I: Narratives of Failure

This unit attempts to problematise the very question and experience of failure and poverty of success through case studies, stories, anecdotes, audio-video lectures, play/films.

Module II: Deconstructing Failure from social psychology and psycho-analytic perspective

This unit attempts to familiarize students to theoretical constructs in social psychology. This would enable them to analyse various aspects of failure from intrapsychic and interpersonal perspective. The following aspects of social psychology that would be dealt are: attribution, self presentation, self esteem, social comparison, self as target of prejudice, humiliation, impression management, social perception, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, motivation, individual and groups. This unit will also help in examining biases in the success story of schooling and development of cognitive skills.

It would also focus on object-relation school of psychoanalysis, Eriksonian theory of psycho-social development to highlight the significance of early attachment to significant others determining their dispositions to success and failure.

Module III: Locating research on failure and success

This unit would situate different possibilities of engaging with questions on failure in qualitative and quantitative aspects of research. It would also enable students to explore various innovative practices and attempts at relooking success and failure from various vantage points. Attempt would be made to study assessments, compensation, and treatment of failure, grading, and norms across the country and also other countries to evolve comparative perspective to understand cultural construction of success and failure.

Module IV: Power and its relationship to success and failure

The discourse of power is central to the experience of failure, punishment, deprivation, and humiliation. Emotions like anger, envy, fear, greed, shame, worry, unease, pity and mourning traverse varied experiences of failure across class, caste and gender. Plagiarism and its relationship to failure, gender, caste and class as though success/ failure seem to be one of the organic binaries driving energy of domination, subjugation, exploitation predominant through ideologies of capitalism, patriarchy and nationalism. So, the vertical model of success almost creates an essential social construction of world view of success. Any subversion challenging the rat race in any modality experienced through children’s creativity or creative or insane moment of authentic living is looked down upon. Amongst the different ways of organizing power namely patriarchy, caste, class or gender there emerges pedagogy of success and failure that needs to deconstructed to understand worthiness/ unworthiness in the social context.

Unit V: Interpreting Failure

In this unit, the attempt would be to see how individuals as well as system respond to failure. For some, failure may be an act of rebellion, for some it may be a choice, some may endure it, and for some it may be a chance for innovation and creation, while for others it may be a mode to procrastinate. While the system may respond to failure by taking affirmative action, committing to unversalisation of education, different schemes, reservation to EWS in private schools, and on the other hand enabling chains of coaching centres to mushroom, promoting school choice, voucher systems, PPP, Corporate Social Responsibility, NGOs.. The plethora of emotions that the students, teachers, and the other participants in the set ups go through would be taken up based on students’ interests. It would also work around anger, rage, violence and one’s relationship with time in the discourse of education.

Unit VI: Narratives of Survival and Resilience

This unit would look at various levels of resilience and understanding to cope up and rise above failure. It would also examine the pathology of success.

This would also focus on constructing case studies of individuals who have succeeded in negotiating failure in their own idiosyncratic ways. Field visits to spaces where groups of people have been working with drop outs or marginalized sections of education discourse.

Students would be encouraged to participate in exhibitions, talks, seminars, protests, campaigns held at AUD and outside.

Assessment schedule with details of weightage:



Date/period in which Assessment will take place

Weightage (%)


Diary/Book review/film review/

Mid august



Interview and case study report

September 1st week



Home assignment/collage/group project/data analysis of research studies.

Second week of April



End Semester Exam/term paper on working with dropouts

End Semester week



Essential readings:

  • Gandhi, M.K (2011) An autobiography or the story of my experiments with truth, Rupa, New Delhi. Pp. 26-29
  • Premchand, M (2004) Bade bhai sahib in Idgah tatha Anya Kahaniyan, Star Publications, New Delhi. Pp. 52-58
  • Holt, J (1984) How Children Fail, Penguin Books, England. Kumar, K (1996). Learning from Conflict, Orient Longmann, New Delhi. Pp ix-24, 59-81
  • Pathak, A. (2002) Social implications of schooling: knowledge, pedagogy and consciousness, Rainbow publishers, Delhi. pp 7-108
  • May, Rollo (1972) Power and Innocence: A Search for sources for violence, W.W Norton & Company, New York. Pp 99-113, 219-235, 121-142.
  • Erikson, E.H (1950) Childhood and Society, Norton Company, New York. Pp 247-274
  • Baron, R.A, Branscombe, N.R, Byrne, D, Bhardwaj, G (2010) Social Psychology, Pearson, New Delhi. Pp. 84-108, 120-143, 188-222
  • Rogoff, B. (1981) Schooling and the Development of Cognitive Skills in Triandis, H.C, Heron, A (eds.) Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology Volume 4 Developmental Psychology, Allyn and Bacon Inc., Boston. Pp 233-292.
  • Guru, G. (ed.) (2009) Humiliation, claims and context, Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pp 23-40, 209-225
  • Dressman, M, Wilder, P, & Connor, J.J. (2005). Theories of failure and the failure of theories: A Cognitive/ sociocultural/ macrostructural study of eight struggling students, Research in the Teaching of English, Vol. 40, No. 1. Pp 8-61
  • Birtwistle, T. & Johnson, L ( 1997). Failure: A cultural notion? Journal of Further and Higher Education, Vol. 21, No. 1,
  • Nawani, D (2013). Continuously and Comprehensively Evaluating Children, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. XLVIII No. 2.
  • Nandy, A (2010). Foreword to the Second Edition 2010 in Nagaraj, D.R. The Flaming Feet and Other Essays, Permanent Black, Ranikhet. Pp. ix-xx.
  • Nagaraj, D.R (2010) The Flaming Feet and the other Essays, Permanent Black, Ranikhet. Pp. 21-60, 75-89.


Suggested readings:

  • Foucault, M (1977) Discipline and Punish The birth of the prison, Penguin, London. Pp 170-194
  • Chakravarti, U (2006) Gendreing Caste: Through a Feminist Lens, Mandira Sen for Stree, Kolkata. Pp 139- 171
  • Pine, F. (1985) Developmental Theory and Clinical Process, Yale University Press, London. Pp 54- 72, 108-122.
  • Riesenberg-Malcolm, R (1999) On bearing unbearable states of mind, Routledge, London. Pp 93-112.
  • Kumar, K (2008) ‘Learning from Iqbal’, A Pedagogue’s Romance Reflections on Schooling, Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pp-129-132.
  • Bach, R(1970) jonathan Livingston seagull a story, First Avon Books, New York.
  • Pathak, A (2002, June 05). The Pathology of Success, The Indian Express.
  • Frankl, V.E. (1959) Man’s Search for Meaning, Pocket Books, New York. Pp 119-157
  • Hesse, H (2003) Siddhartha, Rupa, New Delhi. Pp 62-94