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Private schools in India: More learning, more inequality?

Wed, March 28, 11:30am to 1:00pm, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 2nd Floor, Don Diego 4 Section B


While access to secondary school in India is now close to universal, findings from Young Lives 2016-17 school survey reveal high levels of inequality and low levels of student attainment in Grade 9. Poor performance and poor progress among pupils in state government schools especially, are revealed as urgent concerns, requiring policy attention. At the same time, increasing numbers of so-called ‘affordable’ private schools, ostensibly at least, offer an alternative to the ‘quality lottery’ found in state government schools, for those who can meet the costs. Around 36% of children in urban India now attend private secondary schools, but, somewhat unsurprisingly, the evidence shows that private (unaided) schools are attended by more advantaged children, with important implications for equity in educational outcomes.

Evidence on whether private schools in India are ‘more effective’ is mixed, and existing research has found that private school effects on learning outcomes will vary according to factors such as subject, locality and child age. Utilising newly available data from the Young Lives 2016-17 school survey in India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), this paper examines the extent to which private unaided schools are ‘more effective’ in raising learning outcomes and whether they are equally effective for all children who attend them. These analyses are explored in light of the huge inequalities in learning outcomes between more and less advantaged children in India and the challenge which this presents to the view of education as a driver of knowledge exchange, social mobility and equal opportunities.

Within a value-added framework, the paper explores some of home and schooling factors associated with greater learning within and between private schools to identify the extent to which they contribute towards or challenge educational inequalities within India. We report on the substantial variation seen in school effectiveness, particularly amongst those schools attended by the most disadvantaged and investigate some of the characteristics of more-effective private schools, including higher fees and larger school size. Finally, we consider the suggestion that, although on average private unaided schools add more value than other school types, not all private schools are ‘equally better’. Those schools attended by more advantaged children tend to be both more homogeneous and more effective but the ‘quality lottery’ might in fact extend to include many private unaided schools – the same types of school which will often be portrayed as a solution to the failing state system.

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