School Choice & Charters

Trends in India: Expanding Middle Class Drives Private Schooling

By Vaishali Honawar — April 22, 2008 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

American politicians and business leaders often point to India as a country where students do extraordinarily well in math and science. The perception is fueled, to a large extent, by the large numbers of software engineers and doctors who immigrate to the United States, and by the outsourcing of jobs to the large educated workforce in India.

Nation at Risk: 25 Years Later
America Scouts Overseas to Boost Education Skills
Researchers Gain Insight Into Education’s Impact on Nations’ Productivity
Catching Up on Algebra
Trends in China: Schooling Shifting With Market Forces
Trends in India: Expanding Middle Class Drives Private Schooling
Trends in the European Union: Education Seen Driving Prosperity
Trends in Japan: Japan Continues Search for Academic Triumph
COMMENTARY
E.D. Hirsch Jr.: An Epoch-Making Report, But What About the Early Grades?
Howard Gardner: E Pluribus...A Tale of Three Systems

But a closer look at India’s education landscape reveals that its image as a rising force in science and math fields is driven mostly by changes in the private school sector that educates a small number of students and by the mushrooming growth of higher education institutions that churn out physicians and engineers.

“The real secret to India’s success is the private school industry,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C., who has studied engineering colleges in India. As the middle class has expanded dramatically over the past few years, he said, more money has flowed into the private schools, allowing them to improve the quality.

With a population of 1.12 billion, India is home to a middle class that is larger than the entire U.S. population. Yet poverty is widespread, and only 61 percent of adults are considered literate.

A high-quality education is often a privilege reserved for those who can afford it. The primary and secondary education system is made up of three largely class-based tiers.

At the top are the “international” schools—elite, expensive schools that follow a Western curriculum and cater to the upper crust. Also attracting the affluent are the private “public” schools modeled along the lines of Britain’s boarding schools such as Eton and Harrow.

At the second tier are the private schools that educate most of the country’s middle-class students.

Education Highlights

Curriculum: Government and most private schools follow a curriculum set either by the state or the central government’s education department. Since the 1960s, the central government has required math and science study for the first 10 years of schooling. Other required subjects include social science and three languages, including English. Physical education is also taught at most private and some government schools, which generally also offer several extracurricular activities, including the creative arts and sports.

Testing: Students are tested rigorously several times throughout the year in each of the mandatory subjects. At the end of the 10th grade, students must take a state board exam in all the mandatory subjects and pass each before they can move on to the last two years of secondary education. At the end of those two years, they take another board exam that they have to pass to move on to college.

Spending: Government spending on all education is around 3.8 percent of the nation’s $2.74 trillion gross domestic product. Forty years ago, an education commission recommended that the proportion be increased to at least 6 percent.

Access: A government initiative is trying to increase access to schooling for poorer students. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, launched earlier this decade, aims to enroll all children ages 6 to 14. It has so far succeeded in enrolling 185 million of the estimated 192 million elementary-school-age children, although it is not clear how many actually remain in school. Only 40 million of the estimated 90 million secondary-school-age youths, those 15 to 16, are actually enrolled in school. This year, the government rolled out a plan to get every secondary-school-age youth enrolled by 2015.

On the bottom-most tier sit the government-run schools, where dropout rates across all grades run as high as 60 percent.

The quality of government schools, where 80 percent of students are educated, remains “abysmally low,” said Dilip Thakore, the editor and publisher of the magazine Education World.

Mr. Wadhwa said one reason affluent and middle-class Indian students do well in math and science is the strong curriculum. Another is their interest in those subjects. “There has always been an emphasis among the people on getting into math- and science-related fields. The jobs most highly respected are engineering and medicine,” he said.

Victor Paul, the Boston-based Education Development Center’s country director for India, said Indian students’ motivation to do well in math and science comes from an “intrinsic drive” to put their country “on the top of the globe.”

It “is not in the spirit of competition with other countries,” said Mr. Paul, who is based in India, “but with an intrinsic drive to achieve excellence.”

Related Tags:

Special coverage marking the 25th anniversary of the landmark report A Nation at Risk is supported in part by a grant from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the April 23, 2008 edition of Education Week as Expanding Middle Class Drives Private Schooling

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Charter School Governance Shapes Those Schools’ Approach to Equity
New research finds that the entities governing charters influence the schools' commitment to equity.
5 min read
Young students file back into school at Somerset Academy Charter South Miami, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, in South Miami, Fla.
Students head back to their classrooms at Somerset Academy charter school in Miami in December.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
School Choice & Charters Q&A Voucher Programs Gain Strength With Help From the Courts, An Expert Says
A school choice expert explains how recent rulings could prevent future voucher programs from getting blocked by opponents.
8 min read
Group of white paper planes going in one direction on a light blue background with one individual red paper plane heading in a different direction
E+/Getty
School Choice & Charters Charter School Enrollment Holds Steady After Big Early Pandemic Growth
The numbers show that most students who left their district schools in the first year of the pandemic did not return.
2 min read
Image of an empty classroom.
urfinguss/iStock/Getty
School Choice & Charters Federal Funding and Charter School Closures: What the Latest Government Data Show
The Government Accountability Office examined closure rates over 15 years and $2.5 billion of federal funding.
2 min read
Illustration of weighing funding against schools remaining open
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty