Demand for literacy in rural India: A case study in Bihar State

Baranwal, Mahesh

     This study examines the factors promoting or preventing primary schooling--the main instrument of literacy--in rural India. It involved participant observation as well as a quantitative survey of families in a village. The study finds that, in rural India, among the children who do not attend school, for a substantially large section, the main cause of the lack of schooling is neither poverty nor lack of access to primary schools, but a lack of tradition of education--especially for girls--in families that often creates a mindset that, at best, tends to be ambivalent towards education vis-a-vis other priorities, whether in terms of money, time, or effort. This resistance against education is aggravated by the poor quality of schooling, which, in turn, is largely the result of the lack of say the villagers have in the running of the schools.
     Six percent annual growth in Indian economy in the 1990s and increasing migration of workers from poor states to more prosperous states have reduced the percentage of people below the poverty line in India to 27. Despite occasional dramatic examples of child laborers in the media, surveys have found very small proportion of primary school age children not going to school work at home, that too very few hours, little of that work being income generating. Surveys on the costs of schooling tend to overstate the necessary costs of schooling to a poor parent since they add costs that are marginal to schooling such as uniforms and note the average costs, mixing what the rich parent spends with what a poor parent does. The necessary annual costs for sending a child to a rural government primary school work out to be less than four days of wages of the lowest paid typical adult laborer.
     The regression analysis shows the consistently significant factor for the schooling of boys as well as girls to be father's education. For girls, caste, not family wealth, is a significant factor in their schooling.*
     *This dissertation is a compound document (contains both a paper copy and a CD as part of the dissertation). The CD requires the following system requirements: Microsoft Office. Supplemental filesSome files may require a special program or browser plug-in. More informationSee for more information. Mahesh Baranwal Dissertation Figures.doc (1MB)

Stolzenberg, Ross