Global Poverty Research Group

Schooling participation in rural India

The research question

In this project the sources of low participation rates in schools in India are being investigated. About one third of all Indian children are out of school. Considering the crucial role of elementary education in development, the universalisation of schooling in India is one of the most urgent development issues in the world today. Yet, relatively little is known about the precise reasons why so many Indian children are out of school. In public debates, the tendency is to highlight a single ‘explanation’. In official circles, for instance, the problem is often blamed on parental indifference towards education -- a convenient argument since it diverts attention from the responsibility of the state. Others consider that child labour is the overwhelming obstacle. Neither of these single-focus explanations, however, stands up to careful scrutiny, though they each contain a grain of truth. The real challenge is to build a balanced picture of the determinants of school participation, which integrates different lines of explanations. This research analyses the determinants of school participation in rural north India, based on the PROBE household survey which includes detailed information on school characteristics. It is found that school participation, especially among girls, responds to a wide range of variables, including parental education and motivation, social background, dependency ratios, work opportunities, village development, teacher postings, mid-day meals and infrastructural quality. Mid-day meals are particularly effective: the provision of a mid-day meal in the local school roughly halves the proportion of girls excluded from the schooling system. School quality matters, though it is not related in a simple way to specific inputs.

Relevant recent papers

Drze, Jean and G. Kingdon. “School Participation in Rural India”, Review of Development Economics, 5, No. 1: 1-33, February 2001.

Reseachers to contact for this project

Geeta Kingdon