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Shaping education aid and primary education for India

12 December 2014

Professor Geeta Kingdon has shaped UK government policy on educational aid to India. She has also helped to ensure that millions of poor children in Uttar Pradesh - India's most populous state - qualify for free places in private schools.

Research at the UCL Institute of Education has, since the 1920s, influenced national education policy in India. Professor Geeta Kingdon of the UCL IOE is also President of City Montessori School, Lucknow - the biggest school in the world, with 47,000 students. Her research focuses on returns to education, low-fee private schools, the role of unions, and teacher performance.

Two of her research projects have had significant influence on UK policy on development aid for education in India, as well as on access to education for millions of children in Uttar Pradesh. The SchoolTELLS study, conducted with Dr Rukmini Banerji of the education charity Pratham, highlighted low teacher competence and high rates of teacher and pupil absenteeism in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, another of India's poorest states. Only 25% of teachers could solve a basic percentage problem designed for 10 and 11-year-olds, and the researchers recommended that in-service teacher training, rather than punishment, was required to address under-performance.

Based on her research, in 2011, Professor Kingdon advised the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development that the UK should continue offering technical assistance to India and argued that although the cost of such aid was relatively small, it paid for evidence-based policymaking. This argument contributed to the government's decision to continue technical assistance to India even though financial aid is being stopped from 2015.

SchoolTELLS also had more direct influence on aid policy. It informed discussions on teacher attendance between the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DfID) on one hand and Indian government officials on the other. DfID has used the research to support its business cases, while the Indian Ministry of Education consulted Professor Kingdon and then commissioned similar studies (by other researchers) in five other Indian states, with UNICEF funding.

With an independent consultant Vandana Sipahimalani-Rao, Professor Kingdon also studied contract or 'para' teachers to acquire a detailed knowledge of earning levels and income distributions in Indian states. This work led to a crucial intervention by Professor Kingdon in 2012, whilst a member of the Uttar Pradesh working group on the implementation of India's Right to Education Act (2009). The Act decrees that children from 'economically weaker' families should be allocated 25% of places in private schools, which are considered of better quality than state schools and cater for about 18 million of Uttar Pradesh's pupils (c. 57% of the total). It was originally proposed that families with an annual income up to 250,000 rupees (just over £3,000) would qualify for these free places. However, from her research on earning levels in India, Kingdon realised that at least 75% of the state's population earn less than that sum. She argued that the ceiling be reduced to 100,000 rupees, to ensure the subsidy is targeted at the very poorest. This new ceiling came into being on 4 December 2012. As a result, many poor children are able to attend private schools for the first time - even elite high-fee schools.

Funders included DfID and the Spencer Foundation

Image

  • Children at a rural Uttar Pradesh school provided with lunch, image courtesy Ajay Tallam, available on Wikimedia Commons and used under CCSA2.0 licence