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Perceptions and Realities in Four States

School Choice in Rural India

Indian parents are faced with more choices of schools, but with less information on schools and schooling. The study across four states in rural India suggests that perceptions of teaching–learning, discipline, and safety of children in schools determine school choice among parents. Expenses are a critical consideration for parents who send children to public schools, while the English medium is important for parents of children going to private schools. However, parental choices of low-fee private schools are often not based on accurate information, and parents emphasise many educationally unimportant but aspirational factors. The marketing efforts of schools and cultural aspirations of parents reinforce each other, allowing for a situation in which actual educational outcomes can be subordinated, or worse, undermined.

The elementary school system in India, since the 1990s, has seen significant expansion in terms of the growth in the reach of the public school system and the parallel growth of private schools.1 Even then, the public school system continues to be the main provider of schooling, especially for historically marginalised population groups and hitherto underserved areas. Much of the growth in the private school system has been led by the mushrooming of low-fee private schools,2 first, in urban and peri-urban areas, and subsequently, in many other places, including rural India. As a result of such a rapid and often inadequately regulated school expansion, parents are faced with more choice, but also encounter inadequate quality information.

It is in this context that contested opinions and arguments around school choices have emerged in educational policy debates. One such set of arguments underscores a market-based approach to school education where more options for schools would ensure competition among schools and weed out inefficient schools. This argument implicitly disadvantages public schools (Shah and Miranda 2013). However, the idea that parental choice would lead to optimal school outcomes has been critiqued by others. These studies have argued that a simplistic understanding of parental choice ignores how mechanisms of choice actually operate in the context of disadvantaged communities and, more importantly, have adverse implications for equity of education in the context of an already stratified schooling system (Härmä 2011; Srivastava 2007). Also, it has been shown that market-based solutions have not worked in countries like the United States (Ravitch 2010, 2013), and more so in school systems already characterised by existing inequities (OECD 2016: 123–27).

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Updated On : 16th Dec, 2019

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