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Improving Equality of Educational Opportunity in India ~ New OPHI Research at RES Conference

How do we increase equal opportunities in education? The first study to explore this question empirically through the extent and correlates of equality of educational opportunity across India was presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2010 annual conference in March 2010.

Equality of educational opportunities promotes socio-economic mobility and better future economic outcomes. The research by Niaz Asadullah of the University of Reading and Gaston Yalonetzky of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, University of Oxford examines how equality of educational opportunities varies among Indian states.

They find that, in general, income poverty reduction supports greater equality of educational opportunities. But it was not the only cause: in some states – such as West Bengal and Orissa – educational inequality was significantly reduced despite high levels of rural income poverty.

Drs Asadullah and Yalonetzky look at the level of education that people achieved compared with their background (social class, religion, gender and whether they live in rural or urban areas) across states in India between 1983 and 2004. In an ideal situation of equality of opportunity, people’s life chances and achievements should not be affected by their background. But they find important inequalities between groups.

The authors find that the states that were most successful at reducing income poverty – such as Kerala, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh – were also successful at improving educational opportunities. States that were unsuccessful at reducing poverty – such as Bihar, Assam and Madhya Pradesh – were the least equal in terms of educational opportunities.

Kerala was the most successful state at reducing poverty between 1983 and 2004. Already among the least opportunity unequal states for education in 1983, Kerala reduced this inequality to become the least unequal in 2004. In 1983, 56% of the population had completed at least primary education and 13% at least secondary education. By 2004, primary education completion had risen to 76% and secondary to 30%.

Other states in the North East (such as Tripura) and South (such as Tamil Nadu) also became less unequal in educational opportunity.

Conversely, the Northern states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh became more unequal in terms of educational opportunity. The incidence of rural poverty is high in the Eastern states of Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. Yet both West Bengal and Orissa made significant progress in reducing inequality of educational opportunity, while the situation worsened in Bihar.

The paper raises a key question – which kinds of income poverty reduction increase equal opportunities in domains such as education? – which is of interest for its own sake and is also a key determinant of future economic outcomes. It is a critical question because not all income poverty reduction supports greater equality of educational opportunities.

Notes for editors: ‘Inequality of educational opportunity in India: Changes over time and across states’ by Niaz Asadullah and Gaston Yalonetzky was presented at the Royal Economic Society’s Annual Conference, 29-31 March, 2010.

Niaz Asadullah is a Lecturer at the University of Reading. Gaston Yalonetzky is a Research Officer at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, Department of International Development, University of Oxford.