I got an opportunity to interact with a set of undergraduate students when Shashank, a colleague in the university, invited me to take a guest lecture in his course on `school and society’. The theme was `why quality schooling for all’. In order to use the lecture time for a Q&A session, I have sent a short note to students beforehand, with 10 reasons/propositions.
- There is a connection between lack of education and poverty
Households with a higher level of education are less likely to be poor. This is valid in India too. Poverty among the illiterate Tribal households was about 57 percent when that among the same group with primary schooling was only 20 (Thorat, 2010). There is a similar situation among lower castes too.
- Those who have some schooling gets higher incomes even in the rural areas of India
A person with secondary education is nearly 2.3 times more likely to be in a non-agricultural job in rural areas (Jatav and Sen, 2013). There is a widening wage difference between agricultural and non-agricultural jobs. One estimate made 10 years ago showed that those with middle-school education with a rural non-agricultural job got 197 Rupees more per day than an illiterate farm-worker (Eswaran et al, 2009).
3. Schooling is likely to encourage women to have fewer children
This is well-known and there is documented evidence from different parts of the world. Different estimates note that secondary education may help bringing down fertility rate (the number of children per woman) from above 5 to around 3.
- The schooling of women is likely to reduce infant mortality rate
An additional year of schooling for a mother, on an average, has resulted in a reduction in infant mortality of 9 per 1000 nearly 25 years ago (World Bank 1993). A similar situation is found when there is an increase in the average number of years of education within the household.
- The schooling of parents has a positive impact on the schooling of children
It is well known that the education of women encourages them to send their children to school. This impact is more so for the education of the girl child (Bhalla, Saigal and Basu, 2003). We have seen mother’s literacy important for ensuring regular attendance and the retention of children in schools. More importantly, the schooling of parents has a positive impact on the learning achievements of children.
- The education of girls may mitigate certain aspects of gender violence
Though the education of girls may not reduce dowry-related problems or sexual harassment in public places, it can have an impact on other aspects. The prevalence of female genital cutting in Africa is one practice which has come down with the education of mothers and grand-mothers. Domestic violence is another issue where the education of girls has a beneficial impact (Kishor and Johnson 2003).
- Schooling for some and not for others widens income inequality
Even from the late seventies, the strong and direct relationship between inequality in school-enrolment and that related to income has been noted (Psacharopoulos, 1977). (This could be more for lower-end inequality – that between the poor and middle-class). This is due to the decline of the real wages of least-skilled workers and the substantial increase in that of most skilled ones (Juhn et al, 1993).
- Schooling helps to reduce the prevalence of certain types of crime in society
This was found to be the case in the US. Completing high school was found to reduce the probability of being in jail by about 0.76 percent for whites and 3.4 percent for blacks in US (Lochner and Moretti, 2004). However education need not discourage people from carrying out white-collar or political crimes.
- Schooling reduces certain kinds of morbidity
The evidence is from US and Scandinavian countries. An additional year of schooling reduces the probability of dying in the next 10 years by 3.6 percentage points (Lleras-Muney, 2005). An additional year of schooling reduces the risk of bad health by 18.5 percent (Spasojevic, 2003).
- `Quality’ of schooling is important for individuals and society
Cognitive skills of the population – rather than mere school attainment – are significant correlates of individual earnings, the distribution of income, and economic growth (Hanushek and Wosmann, 2007).
The lecture time was used for an active Q&A session. Most students are alert and they have asked a number of interesting questions.
Students are aware of the difficulties in enhancing the quality of schooling in India. There can be multiple perspectives on quality: It can be the one measured through standardised test scores. It may be a holistic indicator that reflects multiple objectives of education. Quality can be related to the appropriateness of education to the sociocultural context of children belonging to specific groups such as tribal population. Whatever be the measure of quality, India is not doing well.
In such a context, several students are doubtful of the usefulness of `schooling for all’. My response was that, though we should do everything possible to improve the quality, we should not underestimate the role of even minimum schooling. Or the absence of good quality is not a justification for not extending schooling to all. Some of the benefits of education mentioned earlier can be achieved by improving the literacy of mothers (to see that their children go to school) or by seeing that girls remain in school for 10 years even if they cannot pass the terminal examination. Even this `limited’ schooling may have a positive impact on delaying marriage, and reducing infant mortality and fertility rates.
There are concerns that unemployment may go up when the majority completes schooling. Such an outcome is not a justification to deny schooling to some children. There should be efforts to address the issue of unemployment. However the experience of India in comparison with countries in East- and South-East Asia may inform us that the underdevelopment of manufacturing sector (a reason for jobless growth) in our country could be shaped partly by its under-achievements in schooling.
While describing how the completion of schooling enables girls in Indonesia and other countries to be industrial employees, most students in the class have showed a sense of dissatisfaction. Though our undergraduate program has a significant section of students from poorer and marginalised social backgrounds, the majority comes from urban middle-class households. For them, there is nothing exciting when a person completes schooling and becomes an industrial employee. `Why do we keep our expectation so low’ is the concern. Given their circumstances and worldview, their question is genuine.
Those who have asked such a question in the class are like my daughter. When she passed out of college with an education in computer science, she did not want to take up the job of a software engineer in the three biggest IT companies in India. She and her friends have thought that the job in these companies is less exciting. However such a job can be a path towards economic and social mobility for the lakhs of youngsters who work in these companies. Hence it is OK for my daughter to look for a job elsewhere but it would be a serious mistake if she underestimates the liberating potential of these jobs for certain people.
The expectations of boys and girls coming from middle class families in India are so high (or different from that of poorer sections) that they may not see any big deal, if girls’ age at marriage goes up from 14 to 19. They cannot understand the liberating potential in the shift in occupation from a landless farm-worker to a schooled industrial employee. They may not be able to sense the benefit of having 200 Rupees more in the daily income of a household. It is OK for them to have higher or different expectations but they should not undervalue such `small’ improvements or changes in society. It can be costly to the society if these `higher expectations’ shape social policies. Our preoccupations shaped by the expectations of the middle-class would take away the energy and resources from those efforts required to address the issues of severe underdevelopment of the poor and marginalised groups. My colleague Ram chipped in by noting that it was this phenomenon that had led to the focus on IITs and the neglect of mass education in independent India.
Given the difficulties in providing quality schooling, won’t these efforts towards schooling for all, aggravate the fragmentation or polarisation in society? This is a concern of many middle-class intellectuals in the country. Though I respect their sensitivity, in my view, their logic and inference are incorrect. There will be `schooling for some’ even in the absence of any effort on the part of government or non-governmental organisations. That is evident from the history of India. Social fragmentation deepens when education is available to some but not to all, but that happens anyway in India. Hence the only way forward is to reduce the gap between `schooling for some’ and `schooling for all’.
Two students walked with me to the taxi after the lecture. One of them has told me that Dalit students may not get a favourable treatment in government schools. (I have mentioned the importance of strengthening government schools in the discussion). His observation could be based on his experience but my response was futuristic. If Dalit mobilization and politics are to make a difference, it can happen only in government schools. The girl who walked with us did not say anything but she seemed reflecting on her own education or social surroundings.
We need an education that helps middle-class students to stand firmly on the ground, and enable those from poorer and marginalised backgrounds to reflect deeply on their life situation.
Surjit S. Bhalla; Suraj Saigal; Nabhojit Basu; Surjit S. Bhalla; Suraj Saigal; Nabhojit Basu. 2003. Girls’ education is “it” – nothing else matters (much) (English). Washington, DC: World Bank. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/125591468750007257/Girls-education-is-it-nothing-else-matters-much
Eswaran, M., Kotwal, A., Ramaswami, B. and Wadhwa, W. 2009. Sectoral labour flows and agricultural wages in India, 1983-2004: Has growth trickled down? Economic and Political Weekly 44(2): 46-55
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