Is Privatization Dooming India’s Efforts to Combat Inequality?

Although India guarantees every one of its citizens access to education, critics are now claiming that the move towards more privatization in education is allowing this guarantee to serve as a tool to perpetuate inequality. GlobalPost is reporting that the eduation system serves as a means to carrying inequality from generation to generation by allowing only those who can afford to pay tuition to get the schooling that will set them on their path in life.

This crisis is even more acute because without education the Indian poor don't have another means of changing their condition or the condition of their families. The Indian society is already suffering from a great degree of inequality, with the poorest not having access to the basic necessities of life like clean water, shelter and food.

he Muslim minority ranks shockingly low by almost any measure of prosperity, thanks to historical discrimination. And while some members of the lowest castes have benefited from quotas in jobs and education, most have not. What I find most disturbing, and what originally drew me to this story, is that opposition appears to be growing to any efforts to create US-style "equal opportunity," not to mention real equality of circumstances. During my time living in India, I've seen elite university students launch a mass movement against the system's only functional attempt to uplift the lower castes — a perverse inversion of 1967's "Summer of Love."

In 2009, the government of Manmohan Singh and the United Progressive Alliance for the first time enshrined free universal education as a right guaranteed to every Indian under 14 years of age. It set up a system of accountability to ensure school quality and required private schools – already educating roughly 30% of Indian students – to set aside 25% of its seats to the economically disadvantaged. Private schools that receive government aid had to set aside the number of seats proportional to the aid they received.

The impact of the reforms are being seen for the this year, as the students for whom the path was cleared are entering private schools for the first time.

"It has the potential to be the world's largest school voucher program," says Parth Shah, director of the New Delhi-based Center for Civil Society, which has long argued that India should adopt the "school choice" concept pioneered by University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman.

There are plenty of reasons to believe that the RTE policy is on the right track.

But questions remain about what happens to the kids who don't fall into the vaunted 25% and could be left behind in the drive for reform, especially those who live too far away from either private or public schools.

"The focus of RTE has become this 25 percent, with little else being talked about," said the Center for Civil Society's Shah.

"That, in a sense, is diverting attention from all the other things that need to be done to fix the system. This is just a quick-fix for the group of people who might benefit from the scheme."

02 28, 2013
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