Is Education a Level Playing Field?2

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 a 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 a little shocking! It may be possible that it is happening because of gender inequality. Even well-to-do families send their girl children 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 a school education report in Bihar, where the ratio of girls in public schools was 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 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 off the playing field for them! Apart from a better-quality education that private schools offer (debatable topic), the well-to-do children also have access to paid tuition which can be directly linked to an increase in the learning gap between 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 at studies and my mother decide to send me private tuition from standard 8. I started doing much better in academics 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 schools, it is not possible for the teacher to help each student.

To understand the outside school learning support intervention and its effect on the learning gap, let us look at the United States public education system which is much stronger and where children from different economical backgrounds come together to study. (Again, a point of debate. Even though most children go to a school in the neighbourhood, the neighbourhood is divided economically within a city). However, the education system in the US is much stronger and more 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 the socioeconomic 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 careers as the advantage gained over the summer break lead to a 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 schools are closed, children coming from economically better families are having access to online education while economically weaker children do not even have textbooks. The divide in knowledge is creating a further difference in society making it more difficult for children from underprivileged communities to break the cycle of poverty.

So, when we talk about the ‘Learning gap’ it is not just the 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 the public education system, being aware of the learning difference can help us to understand our limitations 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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