Education and India’s Poor

[via Vivek Padmanabhan] NYTimes has an article entitled “India’s Poor Bet Precious Sums on Private Schools.”

In this democracy of more than one billion people, an educational revolution is under way, its telltale signs the small children everywhere in uniforms and ties. From slums to villages, the march to private education, once reserved for the elite, is on.

The schools, founded by former teachers, landowners, entrepreneurs and others, and often of uneven quality, have capitalized on parental dismay over the even poorer quality of government schools. Parents say private education, particularly when English is the language of instruction, is their children’s only hope for upward mobility.

Such hopes reflect a larger social change in India: a new certainty among many poor parents that if they provide the right education, neither caste nor class will be a barrier to their children’s rise.

Even those with little cash to spare seek out these schools. Ram Babu Rai, who farms less than an acre and earns about 1,000 rupees a month ($22), working part time, sends one of his three sons to a private school here. Just sending one boy is a struggle, costing him 2,200 rupees a year ($49), including the 10-year-old’s orange and navy blue uniform.

“With my little means, I have to manage my family,” Mr. Rai said. “But still, I thought to spare some extra money for the boy, so he will do well in life.” A member of the cowherders’ caste, Mr. Rai dreams that his son will become a “big officer.”

India’s government has long devoted more attention and proportionally more resources to higher education, which has helped it soar in so-called knowledge industries.

But it has neglected elementary education. India spends only about 1.7 percent of gross domestic product on primary education, and 3.4 percent for education overall (compared with about 5 percent for Brazil). Up to 40 million children are out of school, something the government hopes will be remedied by a law passed in 2002 that made free and compulsory education a fundamental right for children up to 14.

But the law did not address the quality of government schools, and that, parents say, is the problem.


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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.