Mapping education inequalities – india news

Earlier this week, the government released the New Education Policy after a gap of 34 years. Among other things the NEP seeks to encourage school education in mother tongue, do away with a Chinese wall between professional and non-professional education and promote an inter-disciplinary approach. An HT analysis of unit level data from a recently released National Statistical Office (NSO) survey on education, which was conducted in 2017-18 shows that these are exactly the fields where India’s education landscape has massive inequalities has been undergoing a lot of churning. This two-part data journalism series seeks to highlight some of these aspects.

The first part will highlight that there is a deep aspiration for imparting English medium education to children, access to which continues to remain unequal. It will also highlight how socio-economic hierarchies determine access to professional education. The second part will discuss how share of students getting into professional courses, especially engineering, has fallen in this decade. This according to experts could be a result of their falling utility in the job market.

Students from the richest 20% of the society are seventeen times more likely to be studying law than those from the poorest 20%. And a student who does not belong to an other backward class (OBC), scheduled class (SC) or scheduled tribe (ST) is six times more likely to be studying management than a Scheduled Tribe (ST) student in India. Girls are less likely to be getting English medium education than boys, and more women take up humanities than men in India.

India’s education landscape is extremely unequal. These inequalities manifest themselves in the form of differences based on caste, class and, in some cases, gender. Those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder are more likely to be studying humanities than a professional course. They are also much less likely to have access to English medium education. Differences in geographical location can increase or decrease these inequalities.

Stereotyping, however, is of little help in understanding India’s education landscape. For example, the commonly held belief that most Muslims send their children to Madrasas (religious seminaries) and not proper schools is a myth which is not supported by data.

These findings are based on an HT analysis of unit level data of a nationally representative survey conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO) in 2017-18 and released in July.

The data points cited above are in keeping with the larger trend of students from privileged sections of the society, who are more likely to be studying professional courses.



The socio-economic have-nots also have a much lower likelihood of receiving English medium education. A student who does not belong to an other backward class (OBC), scheduled class (SC) or scheduled tribe (ST) is almost three times more likely to getting English medium education than a Scheduled Caste (SC) student. A student from the top 20% of society is ten times more likely to be studying in an English medium school than someone who belongs to the bottom 20%.



To be sure, both humanities and non-English medium education are the most common among Indian students.

Interestingly, even India’s poorest and socially most deprived parents are doing all they can, including spending beyond their means, to send their children to English-medium schools. The inequality in English-medium education is the lowest at the pre-primary level. For example, the share of students who do not belong to an other backward class (OBC), scheduled class (SC) or scheduled tribe (ST) receiving English-medium education at the pre-primary level is 1.4 times more than the share of SC students. This gap increases to 2.7, 2.9, 2.8 and 2.4 at the primary, upper primary, secondary and higher secondary level. Similarly, a student from the top 20% of the society is 5.4 times more likely to study in an English-medium school than a student from the bottom 20% at the pre-primary level. At the primary and upper-primary levels, this number increases to 11.6; and to 12.1. At the secondary and higher-secondary levels this ratio is 6.1.

Experts describe this as a precarious aspiration. There is a very high aspiration for English-medium education, even among the poorest. This often leads to parents sending their children to low-cost private schools which claim to impart English-medium education. While some government schools such as Kendriya Vidyalayas offer quality education at very low cost, they are difficult to get into. Local government schools are often understaffed and the teachers poorly paid, said Vidya Subramanian, assistant professor at the Centre for Education, Innovation and Research at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. This aspiration is precarious because interruption of incomes often forces poor parents to withdraw their children and put them in government schools, Subramanian added.

Overall access to English-medium varies drastically across states. Just 6% students were receiving English medium education in Bihar. This number is 63% in Telangana and 95% in Jammu and Kashmir. Because the survey was done in 2017-18, the report looks at the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir, which also includes Ladakh. Hindi belt states fare badly on both overall share of English-medium education as well as inter-caste inequality.


Dalit ideologue Chandrabhan Prasad blames the Congress’s politics of “plates over slates” and socialist baggage of anti-English politics for the poor state of English education among Dalits in Hindi belt states. Dalit children are attracted by mid-day meals to go to government schools and miss out on English-medium education, he said. North India’s Dalit and OBC (other backward class) politicians did not pursue right-based politics and only indulged in empty rhetoric off capturing state power. This has not helped the cause of education among Dalits, Prasad added.

The NSO data also busts an entrenched stereotype. In 10 out of 20 large states, the number of Muslims attending English-medium schools, expressed as a proportion of all Muslims attending schools is higher than the corresponding proportion for Hindus.

The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, has the highest prevalence of English medium education in the country. This goes against the popular notion that Muslims primarily send their children to Madrasas rather than modern schools. If a Muslim child is shown as receiving English medium education, he cannot be going to a Madrasa, as they offer education in either Arabic or regional language, said Ather Farouqui, General Secretary of Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu.

(This is the first of a two-part data journalism series on inequalities, aspirations and ongoing changes in India’s education landscape. The second part will look at fall in share of students getting into professional courses.)

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