Is Education a Level Playing Field?

While doing my fellowship with Azim Premji Foundation, I came across a field study titled “Is Education a Level Playing Field?”. The title of the study intrigued me to read through the 4 pages booklet.  The study does a comparison between children going to private and public school (Sample Data among 1210 families contains 51% of children from public school and the rest from private school). The demographic data highlights that 71% of bottom poor children and 17% of the top (economically) children went to public school. Well, it was a little surprising for me! My assumption was that if families had money, they would send children to private schools, so learning that families (with money) are sending children to public school was little shocking! It may be possible that it is happening because of gender inequality. Even well to do families send their girl child to public school because they do not see the importance of education for them. However, it is just an assumption that I have made based on my previous read (I have seen it in school education report in Bihar, where the ratio of girls in public schools were higher compared to boys which I learned later was because families preferred sending the boy child to private school).

Another data clearly highlights that girls (both private and public) are engaged more in household work compared to boys. Also, in general children going to public school were more engaged in non-school work outside school hours compared to children who went to private school.

One of the most interesting data that I found out was the comparison in learning support outside school between two strata of children.  Many families whose children went to public school could not afford paid tuition. Well, this clearly set offs the playing field for them! Apart from a better-quality education that private school offer (debatable topic), the well to do children also have access to paid tuition which can be directly linked to increase in learning gap for children who can afford it and children who cannot.  I personally have gained from joining a paid tuition when I was in Standard 8. I remember that I was not good in studies and my mother decide to send me a private tuition from standard 8. I started doing much better in academic after that. Well, it happened because I got personal attention from a teacher who worked on my weak concepts. However, in a class consisting of 45-50 students in both private and public school it is not possible for the teacher to help each student.

To understand the outside school learning support intervention and its effect on learning gap, let us look at the Unites States public education system which is much stronger and where children from different economical background come together to study. (Again, a point of debate. Even though most children go to a school in the neighborhood, the neighborhood are themselves divided economically within a city). However, the education system in the US is much stronger and robust compared to India.

In the US, children often get a long 3-month summer break. So, the children who take extra help and support during these breaks (it depends on socio economic status of families) for math and language, come back to school stronger and do better. It has a rippling effect on children’s future and career as the advantage gain over the summer break leads to long term effect on children’s future.

So, if a 3-month intervention can create such an impact on children’s lives, can you imagine the difference paid tuition and better education in private school can have on children’s future.  Looking at the current scenario when school are closed, children coming from economically better families are having access to online education while economically weaker children do not even have textbook. The divide in knowledge is creating further difference in the society making it more difficult for children from underprivileged community to break the cycle of poverty.

So, when we talk about ‘Learning gap’ it is not just difference between what a student is expected to have learned by a certain grade level versus what they have learned but also the gap that exists between two strata of students.

As a practitioner working in public education system, been aware of the learning difference can help us to understand our limitation and to focus on the elements of education that can help the children coming from marginalized communities to compete with the more privileged ones.





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Mr. Kushal Agarwal is the founder and director of Monkey Sports. Since its inspection in 2018, Monkey Sports has worked with 1900 + children and with 30 teachers in 14 schools.

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