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Interrogating School Choice: A Case Study of a Village in Haryana

Kamlesh Narwana
p. 49-73


La question du choix éducatif des parents occupe, depuis quinze ans, une place centrale dans les discours sur l’éducation en Inde ; ce que reflète l’augmentation remarquable du nombre d’écoles privées dans le système éducatif indien. Alors que l’enseignement est généralement dispensé en langues vernaculaires dans les écoles publiques, l’adoption de l’anglais comme langue d’enseignement dans les écoles privées explique en partie leur essor. Cet article étudie la manière dont les parents déterminent leurs choix d’éducation dans le village d’Haryana, où écoles privées et publiques proposent un enseignement en anglais ou en hindi. Sur la base d’une enquête intensive de terrain à la fois quantitative et qualitative, l’étude démontre que l’introduction de l’anglais dans les écoles gouvernementales a profondément modifié le marché scolaire puisque trois des quatre écoles privées du village ont fermé. En ce qui concerne la question du choix des parents, l’article montre que si l’école privée accueille des élèves issus de familles privilégiées, de nouvelles formes de ségrégation apparaissent dans les écoles gouvernementales : les plus aisés choisissant l’enseignement en anglais et les pauvres et les basses castes se retrouvent dans l’école où le médium est l’hindi. Au-delà de la question du coût, du genre et de la caste, l’étude met également en évidence la part significative jouée par d’autres facteurs comme les enseignants, les dépenses cachées ou les projets d’avenir dans la détermination des choix d’éducation des parents.

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1Exploration of parental schooling choice has dominated the Indian educational discourse for the last one and a half decade. This reflects the noticeable increase of private schools in the Indian school arena. While the share of private schools stands at 22% in India, (DISE, 2015-16), in states like Kerala, Delhi and Chandigarh it is as high as 62%, 59% and 40% respectively. The important aspect of this school choice debate is its focus on small fee charging private schools for less privileged sections of society. This new category of private schools has provided the lower strata of society with their first taste of school choice. It has been observed by many studies (Kingdon, 1996; PROBE Team, 1999; Tooley & Dixon, 2005; Juneja, 2010) that these small private schools started mushrooming from the late 1990s. Nambissan (2010) noted that after the middle class fled from state schools during the 1980s, the lower middle class started following suit by the increasing desertion of these schools in the next decade or so. State schools are now largely dominated by children from the poorest, belonging mainly to lower castes and minorities.

2Perception, not necessarily evidence, of the high quality of private schools is often cited as an important reason why parents choose these schools for their children (Ashley & alii, 2014). Dissatisfaction with the poor quality of government schools has been noticed as a driving factor for parents’ attention towards the small private schools. In this context, Johnson and Bowles (2010) argued that the popularity of private schools in India is explained by parents “voting with two feet” and choosing quality. English medium schooling is often equated with “good education” by low income parents, a fact exploited by the private sector (Nambissan, 2012). In her study on low fee private schools in Delhi, Ohara (2012) noted that the parents emphasized the importance of English education and considered English-language schools to be superior to classes that are taught in Hindi. The private schools are providing services in the form of English medium of education rather than local language instruction, which corresponds with the parental wishes (Barid, 2009). Underlining the parental preference for the increasing growth of private schools, Muralidharan and Kremer (2006) observed that given the dysfunctional state of government schools, English medium turned out as an important demand-side variable which leads to a widespread presence of these schools even in rural India where English is taught a whole grade earlier than in government schools. As per the 2014 National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), out of 100 parents who prefer private schools, 92 of them cited English medium of instruction as one of the most appealing factors for their choice besides better quality education and good environment in private schools (Jain, 2016). Thus it has been agreed upon by many studies (Mehta, 2005; Tooley, 2007, Desai & alii, 2010; Barid, 2009; Harma, 2009; Ohara, 2012; Nambissan & Ball, 2011; Singh & Sarkar, 2012; Nambissan, 2012; Nawani, 2013; Sucharita, 2013) that in the absence of English medium government schools and with an increasing demand of English education, this aspect has been one of the significant factors determining parental choice in favour of private schools.

3Against this background, the present paper attempts to explore parental school choice where the government school also provides education in English. The study is situated in the context where government schools are offering education both in English and Hindi medium along with their private counterpart. In 2007, the Haryana government, under its Model Sanskriti Schools Scheme, established twenty Model Sanskriti Senior Secondary Schools, one in each district. These schools offer education in English for all classes1. The paper attempts to understand the complexity of school choice and the functioning of school markets in one particular village located in the Jind district covered under said scheme. It explores the impact of the introduction of the English medium in government schools in the village’s school market by looking at the supply scenario i.e. the functioning and availability of different types of schools and, at the demand scenario i.e. in terms of enrollment trends in different schools. Secondly, by drawing upon parents, teachers and students’ interviews, the paper analyzes the complexity of school choice in the new paradigm. It tries to understand which factors – in addition to the medium of instruction – are influencing the parental choice. Parental choice is examined between private vs government schools and between different government schools offering Hindi and English medium.

4The paper is laid out in six sections. The first section briefly discusses the status of English medium education in India. The second one presents the research context and methodology. The third section deals with the schools’ profile in the study area. The following part captures the impact on the school market by looking at the functioning of schools and enrollment trends. Section five explores the dimensions of school choice by looking at private vs government on the one hand, and Hindi medium vs English medium government school dichotomy on the other hand. The last section concludes the findings of the study.

School Education and English medium of Instruction in India: A Brief Glance

5English medium of instruction is seen as a very important historical and political dimension of the school education in India (Sarangapani & Winch, 2010). The teaching of English and its use as a medium of instruction is rooted in colonial history. During the colonial period, the introduction of English education was aimed at acculturating Indian people in European attitudes and at imparting to them the skills required for working in the colonial administration, particularly at its middle and lower rungs (Kumar, 2009). The English language became entrenched in the Indian school education system under colonial rule. As the language of the new national elites, it continued to maintain its status and desirability in post-colonial India (Sarangapani & Winch, 2010).

6In the post-independence period, the preference for English as a medium of instruction rather than any vernacular language has very obvious reasons. This allurement of English education is mainly attached to social status and economic opportunities. Faust and Nagar (2001) perceive that English education, along with the changes in attitude, lifestyles, mannerisms, and aspirations that it brings, becomes a form of cultural capital that provides higher economic and cultural status. From an economic perspective, in the era of globalization with well-developed information technology and corporate sector, the knowledge of English is considered indispensable. Das (2005 as cited in NCERT, 2006: 1) observed that the opening up of the Indian economy in the 1990s has coincided with an explosion in the demand for English in schools because it is perceived to open up opportunities. Underlining the monopoly over English education by the upper caste and class, Rao (2008: 66) argued that English medium education has been the exclusive privilege of one caste and class’ situation and life’s chances. Who chooses, or who was chosen for, the English medium is largely dependent on what Bourdieu terms as the cultural capital of the children: a student with English medium education is destined to be highly mobile and expected to join the elite ranks of the adult society (Rao, 2008). Deardin (2014) observed that income levels have a clear influence on the nature of school enrollment among households: government school enrollment declines in higher income segments while the demand for English medium schools increases for the same income segment group. It is also important to mention that due to post-independence language politics, the Indian government was compelled to adopt a policy of education in the regional language/mother tongue and of explicit exclusion of English in (primary) government and government supported schools (Acharya, 1981). Explaining the school education split along language and management lines in his case study of Banaras, LaDousa (2005) highlights that the language divide among schools is paralleled by differences of administrative control and financing: Hindi medium schools are usually less expensive and under government administration whereas English medium schools usually charge higher fees and are affiliated with one of the private administrative boards.

  • 1 The corresponding figures in the 6th Survey were 7,21 %, 12,49 % and 13,34 % Secondary stage respec (...)

7As per « the 8th All India School Education Survey » (2016), the share of schools with English medium of instruction is reported as 15,49% schools at the primary stage, 21,08% schools at the upper primary stage, 28,73% schools at the secondary stage and 33,06% schools at the higher secondary stage1. 17% of total students are reported to be studying in English medium schools in India (Sharma, 2016). Given the recent parental preference for English medium education, there has been noticeable development in different states policies in the context of introducing English as a subject and medium of instruction in government schools. In the last one and a half decades, English has been introduced as a subject in government schools by about 27 states (out of 30) at primary level. The states of Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland have made English the main medium of education in all schools. The other states such as Kerala, Punjab, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi are in the process of increasing the share of English medium schools up to more than 90%. Manipur, Sikkim, and Nagaland have almost reached a 100% English medium schools (Jena, 2016). Going with these trends, the Model Sanskriti Scheme was implemented in Haryana to provide access to English medium instruction in government schools. In a state like Haryana, where the private sector controls 30% of the schools (District Information System for Education—DISE, 2015-16), the introduction of English medium in government schools can be expected to have impacted the parental school choice. The paper attempts to understand the complexity of parental school choice by looking at the impact of the introduction of English medium in government schools in this particular village.

Research Setting and Methodology

  • 2 As per English Oxford dictionary, the official name given in India to the lowest caste, considered (...)
  • 3 To clarify the poor sex ratio, it is important to mention that Haryana is a patriarchal society. As (...)
  • 4 Each government school has two different sections as Primary (class 1 to 5) and Upper Primary and S (...)

8The paper is based on the case study of a village in the district of Jind, Haryana state. To give a brief demographic profile, as per the 2011 census, the village has a total population of 9118 (4835 males, 4283 female). The schedules castes2 represent 26% of the village’s total population. The average sex ratio of the village is 8863. The closest town is Narwana, at a distance of 6 kilometers. With regard to the schooling context of the research setting, there are three schools: two government-funded and one private. All three schools are providing education up to senior secondary level4. Out of the two government schools, one is fully English medium (EMG henceforth) and another one provides education in Hindi medium (HMG henceforth). Janta Senior Secondary school, the only private school, offers both Hindi and English as mediums of instruction. As reported by interviews with different stakeholders, the students from the village also go to different private schools in nearby towns (Narwana and Kalayat). The students from 3-4 surrounding villages, who don’t have access to senior secondary schools, are studying in both of the government schools in this village.

  • 5 As per English Oxford dictionary, backward castes refer to the members of a caste or community who (...)
  • 6 While government schools’ data is available under DISE since 2005, the Educational Management and I (...)

9Given the unique presence of different types of schools offering both Hindi and English medium of instruction5, the village is purposively selected for this study. A mixed-method approach has been employed to understand the role of medium of instruction and other factors impacting parental school choice. To observe the overall enrollment and access trends, quantitative data pertaining to sex and social category wise enrollment, and other important information such as pupil teacher ratio (PTR) and teacher professional status has been obtained from the District Information System for Education (DISE)6. For collecting qualitative data on parental choice, 65 parents, 40 students and 17 teachers were interviewed. To understand the different aspects of schooling choice semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with parents. Interviewed parents include a mix of government (EMG and HMG) and private school children’s parents. An effort was made to include parents from different social backgrounds i.e. 20 scheduled castes, 20 backward castes and 25 unreserved categories. Students have been interviewed to understand their experiences in different schools. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted with teachers to understand their perception of parents’ choice for different schools. Heads of the private school (and of those private schools which stopped working) were interviewed to gain insights about their experiences of the village’s changing educational scenario.

Brief profile of the schools

  • 7 As per 24th June 2017 exchange rate, 1 Euro is equal to 72 Indian rupees.

10The HMG and EMG schools have been functioning since 1974 and 2007 respectively. The private school came into existence in 1995. All three schools are enrolling both boys and girl students. While the private school has pre-primary facilities, the government schools don’t have any of such provisions. All three schools have professionally trained teaching staff. The Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR) in both government schools is 37 which is higher than State government norms. On the other hand, the private school has a very lower PTR at 17. All the schools have cemented buildings. They all have separate toilets for girls and boys. The EMG and the private school have desks and benches while few sections of secondary and senior secondary classes in HMG School do not have any sitting arrangements and students in these classes carry their own mats for sitting. Both the government schools provide free school uniforms, books and stationary and mid day meal up to 8th class under the Right to Education Act (RTE henceforth). Scheduled caste students also receive monthly stipends in government schools under State schemes. The private school does not provide any such incentive. While the private school offers transportation facility charged an extra 100 rupee (rs) (approx 1,38 €)7 per month, government schools don’t have transportation services. To look at the fee structure, the government schools don’t charge any fee for primary and upper primary classes while students in secondary and senior secondary classes pay 50 rs per month (25 rs per month for scheduled caste students). The private school charges 400 rs (approx. 5,4 €) per month from primary and upper primary classes and 600 rs (approx. 8,10 €) for secondary and senior secondary classes.

Impact on School Market

11As mentioned earlier, different studies have pointed out that the poor quality of government schools is one of the main reasons for parents’ attraction to private schools. However if the government schools function at a reasonable level/well, competition in market will force the private schools to follow suit otherwise they will be forced out of business (De & alii, 2002: 5236). Similar trends are noticed in the study area. The introduction of English medium in government schools is found to be having a considerable impact on the functioning of the school market in the village.

Impact on Supply

  • 8 Two of these schools were unrecognized and the third one (Nav Jeevan Jyoti) was recognized.

12Prior to the introduction of English as a medium in government schools in 2007, there were a total of four private schools in the village i.e. another three private schools8 besides Janta Private School. Interviews with different stakeholders revealed that two of these got closed down within two to three years after the government schools started offering English medium, and the third one (Nav Jeevan Jyoti School) closed down in 2012. To remain competitive Janta School was also compelled to start English medium of instruction in 2012. The head of the Janta School lamented that the English medium government school has become very popular in the village: « Many of our clients started sending their children to this school. Our school has also started the English medium to keep pace with the growing demand from parents. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 7th December, 2014). Interview with the Head of another closed down private school (Nav Jeevan Jyoti School) also reflected similar concerns for this issue when he noted that: « the English medium government school had changed the educational scene of the village. Parents want English education for their children. We could not employ new teachers to cater this demand. The teachers demand high salary for teaching in English and given our small budget and lower fee structure, we could not offer them high salaries. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 10th December 2014). Though private schools in India are not allowed to function “for profit”, still, making an income is always at the core of the school business. Betts & alii (2005) emphasized that in the private sector, the motivating factor determining supply-side decisions is profit. The Heads of these schools expressed similar opinions on the reasons behind the closing of their schools. One of them informed us that: « the number of students declined so rapidly that in the last session, we had only 35 students (in comparison to approximately 200 students in previous session). It thus became difficult to meet the expenses with such a small number of students. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 8th December 2014).

13The closure of three private schools and the introduction of English medium in the fourth one clearly highlight the impact on the supply, i.e. the functioning of the schools in the village school market.

Impact on Demand: Enrollment trends in different schools

  • 9 The DIES data provide information only from 1st to 8th class.
  • 10 It was informed by the head that out of these 205 students, very few students were from the village (...)

14The changed supply scenario is directly linked with the parental demand for different schooling. To comprehend the changes in the demand pattern, the enrollment trends of the last four years (2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014) have been analyzed. They highlight the decline in the popularity of private schools as there has been no considerable increase in the private school enrollment. As per the DISE data9, while Janta School has witnessed a continuous decline in enrollment except for last year, Nav Jeevan Jyoti School had stagnating enrollment with 205 students before getting closed down in 201210. However, when Janta School initiated English medium instruction, the school started improving its enrollment rates as the trend increased from 229 in 2012-13 to 295 students in 2013-14 in the last session.

15Another interesting aspect of this pattern emerged in both government schools. These schools witnessed opposite developments. While enrollment in HMG School indicated a continuous decline, EMG school witnessed a constant increase over the years. The school Head explained that the very first year of its foundation, the EMG school registered 697 students. However, this trend started reversing by the next year, then improved (Figure 1) from 2011-12 onwards. The interviews with teachers and parents revealed that this pattern of decrease and increase in this school is attributed to the appointment of teaching staff and building facilities in the school. In the first year i.e. 2007, the PTR for primary classes was as high as 74 and Student Classroom Ratio (SCR) was 104 in this school. It was mentioned by the school authorities that in spite of repeated claims, the government did not appoint sufficient teaching staff and the building was also not upgraded to accommodate the increasing number of students. The Head of the school said that the school got new staff in 2012 and this proved to be a major factor to meet the demand: lowering the PTR further resulted in increasing the school enrollment. Interviews with parents also confirmed this aspect as they reported that the school started getting sufficient facility in the recent years. Now the school has sufficient building which has reduced SCR up to 29. It reflects a very important aspect that along with English medium, parents look for other facilities as well when choosing schools.

16On the other hand, while enrolling a high number of students, HMG School is witnessing a steady decline in enrollment which can be explained in terms of the parents’ inclination towards EMG school. Thus the enrollment trends analysis underlines an overwhelming majority of children in EMG school which further indicates the popularity of English medium school among parents over other government and private schools. The next section attempts to elaborate on parental choice for different schools.

Figure 1. Enrollment trends in different school

Figure 1. Enrollment trends in different school

Source : School Report Cards, DISE 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014.

Understanding the school choice

17Leclercq (2003) observed that the addition of private schools has caused the schooling system to be “extended and diversified” rather than “universalized”. Underlining the differential access, he noted that the children of different socio- economic backgrounds have separate access to schools of different types. Similarly, Ramachandran (2004) highlighted the hierarchies of access of different socio- economic groups to different kind of schools. She points out that as one goes down the social and economic pyramid, access and quality issues become more pronounced. To have a look at DISE statistics (2013-14), a clear differential access to different schools can be noticed. With lesser enrollment of girls (31%) and Scheduled Caste students (only 2%), the Janta private school appears to be more exclusionary of society’s marginalized sections. Though the government schools appear more inclusive and accessible by the disadvantaged sections, comparison between HMG and EMG schools provides another picture of “hierarchy of access”. In spite of being free of cost, both schools differ in their social composition. The HMG School is more accessible for girls (57%) and scheduled caste students (54%) than its English counterpart. The enrollment at EMG school is more biased towards boys and upper castes as it has enrolled only 37% girls and 30% scheduled caste students. To understand this accessibility pattern, school choice has been analyzed in the next part.

School Choice: Private vs Government

18Consorting with the findings of studies by Srivastva, (2008); Johnson & Bowles, (2010); Singh & Sarkar, (2012); Galab & alii, (2013) parents’ perception about the good quality education in private schools emerged as one of the most notable factor influencing the parental choice in favour of private schools in the research setting. The parents have their own parameters to judge the quality of education in private schools. They consider that teachers in private schools teach with more seriousness as their job depends on it. It was mentioned that private schools are stricter and more disciplined because the teachers take their job more seriously. As reported by different studies (Muralidharan & Kremer, 2008; Goyal & Pandey, 2009; Maitra & alii, 2011) the pupils-teachers ratio is mentioned as an important factor for better discipline and more teaching activities in private schools. One of the parents interviewed, who used to send his child to a government school, shared his concern that teachers in private schools take full responsibility of the child once they enter the school premises:

« When my son used to go to government school, he used to come back within two hours. I requested school teachers to not let him come home during schooling hours. However, they did not pay attention. When one teacher has to take care of 40 children (as is the case with government schools), she won’t be able to pay attention to all children. This is not the case with private school where there are 19-20 students in one class. Now my son will remain in school for whole day. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 20th December 2014).

  • 11 B.Ed. (Bachelors of Education), JBT (Junior Basic Teacher) are professional teacher training degree (...)

19Another indicator to observe the perception of the quality of private schools is parents’ awareness of the teachers’ professional status. Parents were found aware of the fact that teachers in private schools are professionally trained now. It was frequently mentioned that now teachers in private schools also have a professional degree (B.Ed/JBT)11. It is important to note that, whereas different studies (Lall, 2000; Mehta, 2005; Mehrotra & Panchamukhi, 2006; Desai & alii, 2010; Jain & Saxena, 2010; Sarangapani & Winch, 2010; Nambissan, 2012; Nawani, 2013) argue that teachers in low fee private schools are not professionally trained, Janta private school has 100% professionally trained staff (School Report Cards, 2014). As per the 2013-14 DISE Flash Statistics, private unaided schools have 95,21% regular professionally trained teaching staff in the state of Haryana. With the increasing privatization of teacher training in Haryana, hiring trained teachers is no longer a problem for private schools in the state.

20One of the significant aspects of parental mistrust regarding the quality of government schools was highlighted when many parents reported that even the government teachers do not trust the quality of government schools and send their children to big private schools in nearby towns. One of the studies carried out by CRRID (Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development) found that 87,99% children of interviewed teachers were studying in non-government (private/aided) schools. The Board exam results also play an important role in informing parents about the quality of government and private schools. The private schools have been repeatedly performing better than their government counterparts. To share Haryana Board of School Education results for the 2015 secondary classes, private schools’ success rate was 53,61% while the government schools’ was only 30,32%. (Anshul, 2016).

21Lack of teaching activity in government schools due to non-academic duties of government teachers are also cited as a reason of the poor quality of government schools. One of the interviewed parents lamented that: « the government schools teachers are going for all kind of government surveys such as election card, census, health surveys etc. Half of the time, they are busy in arranging mid day meal. They do not get time to teach which is their primary duty. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 29th November 2014). In private schools, teachers are appointed only for teaching students, not for doing government surveys. The Annual Survey of Educational Report has maintained that the learning achievement of private school children is much higher than their government counterparts. According to the 2016 ASER report, while in government schools only 25,1% children of standard III can read standard II level text, for private schools, the percentage for the same category is 60,9%. Similarly, in the context of arithmetic skills, only 27,7% children in government schools in standard III can do subtraction while 73,6% of private school students were able to solve it.

22Besides the quality of education and academic issues, parents also consider factors ancillary to education quality (Hamilton & Guin, 2005) such as distance from home and availability of day-care. In this context, similar to De & alii’s study (2002), another important reason mentioned for choosing a private school is that it has pre-primary section. As per the 2010 Right to Education Act, the government schools give admission directly in first class as they do not have pre-primary classes. There is one government day-care center which is not attached to government schools and does not provide any education. One of the interviewed mothers threw light on this aspect by stating that: « private schools admit children at the age of 3-4 years. Therefore, when the child reaches first class, he/she becomes accustomed to going to school. Government schools give admission only at the age of 6. If we start sending child at this age, he/she does not take interest and creates problem in going to school. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 20th November 2014). School transportation facility and school location are reported as important aspects for choosing private schools. Government schools are at the outskirts of the village while the private school is located inside the village. For the families living far from the private school, the school bus remains another attraction for sending small children to school.

23As seen in the discussion on access, gender preferences are one of the important factors while choosing a school. Here are excerpts from an interview with one mother whose two daughters (Primary. St III and IV) go to the HMG school and whose son (first class) is enrolled in the private school:

« Interviewer: Why do you send your boy to private school?
Mother: The private school is near and the boy is young. For going to government school, he has to cross the main road which is not safe. That’s why we enrolled him in the nearby private school.
Interviewer: So did you send your girls to nearby private school when they were also young?
Mother: No.
Interviewer: Why not?
Mother (this time with more aggression in tone): How does it matter to family even if girl die? We have two girls; it hardly matters even if one of them died. Boys’ safety is more important. God has blessed my family with one boy after cursing us with [the] birth of two girls. Boy will carry on the family lineage and will be the earning member of [the] family. His education is more important. These girls will go to their home after marriage. We will marry them once they finish their matriculation. We have limited resources and we want to invest these in boy’s education. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 7th december 2014).

24While mixing gender preference and quality of education in terms of pupils/teacher ratio in private schools, one of the parents – whose daughter goes to the EMG school and son to the private school – argued that:

« the EMG school is providing good education, that is why I had enrolled his daughter in this school. But his son is very bright in studies and he needs extra attention of teachers. This is possible only in private school where they have small class sizes. Teachers in private schools pay more attention to brilliant students. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 6th December 2014)

25In the context of gender preferences, it was also found that in many cases “boy students” remain active choosers for the schools. Parents with considerable wealth mentioned that their son has chosen this school himself. One of the interviewed fathers also explained that « after trying [changing] different schools in the village, his son has now joined a big private school in a nearby town because his friends also joined this school. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 10th December 2014).

26Nevertheless, discussion with Heads of the private schools underlines the importance of English medium. As mentioned in the previous section, the opening of an English medium government school had hugely impacted the enrollment in private schools as it has resulted in closure of three of them. The Head of Janta private school also mentioned that he has started English medium to maintain its clientele. So now in this new educational scenario, the above mentioned qualitative narratives underlines that quality of education, discipline, location, transportation facility, preprimary facilities and gender preferences remain the deciding factor for schooling choices.

New hierarchies of access: Choosing between Hindi and English medium government school

27As school choice is embedded in socio-economic and cultural contexts, there is a need for exploring the school choice beyond the government-private dichotomy. To quote James & Woodhead (2014: 75): « Whilst trends in India are often framed as a choice between the government versus private sector, individual households may be faced with a much more complex array of options, including one or more government schools as well as several private schools of varying financial and/or practical accessibility ». Similarly, Rao (2010) pointed out that new forms of inequality have emerged within the structures of the State run educational system. This has implications for educational choices, as both students and parents are searching for educational opportunities that can help overcome existing structural constraints. In the present study, school choice between EMG and HMG schools is found to be much more complex than choice between government and private schooling. While English medium turned out as an important factor in choosing between EMG and HMG schools, there have been many hidden factors which have determined the schooling choice and access.

28The EMG School is known as providing better quality education than its Hindi counterpart. As discussed earlier, it was also substantiated by interviews with parents that teaching and learning in English is assumed as “good quality education”. It was repeatedly expressed by parents whose children study in the EMG school that: « teachers have to teach in English and students have to put more effort in learning everything in English. As this learning process demands more effort from both teacher and students, it would definitely result in improvement of education. That’s why this school is providing good quality education. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 9th December 2014). Though quality education is a broad concept, to discuss parents perception of good quality education, parents seem convinced that English education is good in itself: since comprehending all subjects in English needs more hard work, that means the school and its education are of good quality.

29One of the important aspects of considering the EMG school as of good quality is the “special appointment of selected teachers” in this school. The State’s education department had entrusted the job of recommending the names of teachers capable of teaching in English medium to the District Education Officers (henceforth DEOs) and principals of the Sanskriti schools. The “capable” teachers of the same district were to fill posts in the Sanskriti schools (The Tribune, 2007). The principal of the EMG school also declared that teachers appointed in this school are the best teachers selected from the district on the recommendation of DEOs and the principal of the school. Interviews with parents (whose children study in this school) highlighted that they are aware of this aspect. To quote one of the parents’ statement: « good education comes with good teachers and this school has the best teachers of this district. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 9th December 2014).

  • 12 In the context of social position of teacher in village society, it is important to mention that th (...)

30The role of the teachers in informally influencing the school selection emerged as one of the important factors12. Teachers in the EMG school opined that: « many parents wanted to enroll their child in this school, however every child is not meant for English medium. Neither these children get any academic support at home [given the limited literacy level of their parents] nor are these children getting any private tuition [due to limited financial resources with the family]. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 4th December 2014). In the name of convenience, many parents are indirectly forced to enroll their child in Hindi school. This explains the high enrollment of scheduled caste children in the HMG school. Being the most disadvantaged section of society, scheduled castes are at the lowest rung of social, economic and educational hierarchies. The fact that only students who are not performing well (and cannot afford to have tuition or academic support at home) and girl students are sent to the HMG school was further confirmed by teachers at the HMG school. Interviews with teachers of the HMG school and students also reveal that migration from the EMG to the HMG school is also part of the punishment for the most undisciplined and naughty students. Narrating one student’s case, one of the HMG school’s teacher explained that:

« This student [who was earlier in EMG school] is good at studies. But he is very naughty and always indulges in arguments and fights with his fellow students. He was threatened by teachers in EMG school repeatedly that if he won’t mend his ways, he will be thrown out of this school. That’s why he was sent to this school. However, this is not the real solution. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 9th December, 2014).

31These two aspects underline that these students (weak in studies and undisciplined) have no choice in the given context of informal selection mechanisms set by the teachers. The existence of cream skimming, which was earlier reported in private schools (Pandey & Goyal, 2009; Epple & Romano, 1998 as mentioned in Galab & alii, 2013) and stated here by EMG school teachers, does not leave much choice to parents who are not able to provide academic support at home or by private tuition.

  • 13 The science and mathematics subjects are taught only in English at senior secondary and graduation (...)

32Choice of subjects for senior secondary and future aspirations is another factor which influences the school choice at later stage of schooling. Reflecting on choice for private schooling, a study by Galab & alii (2013) underlines the strong impact of parental aspirations. The study reports that the parents who wish for their children to work in a high status occupation much like to enroll their children in a private school than those who only aspire for their children to be in a low-status occupation. It was found that studying in English medium is considered important for science and mathematics subjects13. Studying social sciences subjects in English is not considered necessary. Students who want to study social sciences come to HMG schools in senior secondary classes and those who want to study science remain in EMG schools. It was informed by the Principal of the EMG school that the institution used to offer social sciences courses in English. However, because students didn’t want to study these subjects in English, the school abolished this stream. The HMG School is now the only one to offer social sciences courses. Parents who are sending their children to EMG schools aspire for medicine and engineering professions for their children and consider English necessary for a prosperous future. On the other side, parents whose children go to the HMG school could not talk much about their future. This uncertainty was also related to financial constraints as one of the parents expressed her helplessness: « we don’t have money to send our child to go to town for further studies. » (Balerkha, Haryana, 20th November, 2014). So up to a certain extent, the choice for different government schools in the study area (like choosing private school) is found related to anticipation of the cost of future studies as well.

33Here also, gender preference is determining the choice. Many parents expressed that they will teach their daughter up to class 10 or 12 in village school. As mentioned above, the importance of English medium is seen only in context of higher studies in science, and since girls won’t go for higher studies they were enrolled to Hindi medium. They don’t feel safe sending their daughter to a nearby town for further studies. Financial limitation was another factor mentioned for not being able to send daughters for further studies. Out of their given limited resources, the education of boys is considered more important than girls’ education.

  • 14 Section 16 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 stipulates tha (...)
  • 15 Board exams are conducted by the State School Education authorities. These exams are known as the m (...)

34A very interesting dynamic of school choice in elementary and post-elementary schooling emerged in the form of the “No Detention Policy14”. It was pointed out by the teachers that many students study in the EMG school up to 8th class then they switch to the HMG school. Under the “No Detention Policy”, the teacher cannot fail/detain any student till 8th class. Students are very much aware of this factor. As studying in the EMG school is also a matter of social status, students want to be in the EMG school up to the 8th class. Teachers reported a number of migrations from the EMG to the HMG School in 9th class. As for 10th class, exams are conducted by State boards, so the students find it a viable option to appear for these exams in Hindi medium as they are afraid to fail the board exam15.

35Thus, the choice between the EMG and the HMG school is much more complex and have different dimensions. While up to a certain extent it is replicating the factors similar to choice between Government and Private, the role of teachers, the cream skimming, the social status attached with studying in English medium and the “no detention policy” present a new picture for understanding the complexity of choice in the research setting.


36The paper attempted to analyze different factors determining school choice in a new educational paradigm where government schools started English medium of instruction. The study noticed a remarkable impact of this policy move on the school market. While it resulted in the closure of three private schools, there has been a significant increase in enrollment in government schools. After analyzing the enrollment pattern in different schools and interviews with different stakeholders, it is apparent that after the introduction of an English medium government school in the village, the popularity of the private schools has considerably decreased. The closure of private schools and the high enrollment at the EMG school also underline, as also indicated by Harma (2011) that parents prefer government schools to their private counterparts if they find the quality of education satisfactory. Similarly, Tooley & Longfield (2015: 62) argued that if government schools improve, then it is likely that the real growth of private schools would slow, and if government schools do not improve, then the growth of private schools is likely to accelerate. To maintain itself at the competitive edge, the existing private school also had to start English medium instruction.

37In analyzing educational accessibility in different schools, the paper found that the private school is mainly chosen by upper caste/social privileged section with considerable resources. The choice revolves around factors such as quality of education, discipline, location, transportation facility, preprimary facilities and gendered preference. The school providing education in English medium is found more popular than its Hindi counterpart. Nevertheless, the introduction of English medium in the government school has resulted in a new segregation within government schools as the EMG school witnessed more enrollments of boys and children from upper strata of society. A replication of the “choice between private and government schools” is visible with the “choice between EMG and HMG schools”. The HMG school is ghettoized with poor, lower castes section of society. The patriarchal notions about girls’ education remain another factor for higher enrollment of girls in this school than its English counterpart. Thus in the new educational scenario, new hierarchies of access emerged leaving the marginalized section with the assumed inferior option (here HMG school). Though the factor of school choice somewhat differs in both dichotomies (private vs government and English vs Hindi medium government schools), the assumed good quality school remain beyond the reach of poor and marginalized sections of the population.

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1 The corresponding figures in the 6th Survey were 7,21 %, 12,49 % and 13,34 % Secondary stage respectively. The reference year for 6th AISES is 1993.

2 As per English Oxford dictionary, the official name given in India to the lowest caste, considered “untouchable” in orthodox Hindu scriptures and practices, officially regarded as socially disadvantaged.

3 To clarify the poor sex ratio, it is important to mention that Haryana is a patriarchal society. As per census 2011, Haryana has recorded its sex ratio as 879 which is less than the national sex ratio (943) (Narwana, 2015). The sex ratio trend in village follows the national trend.

4 Each government school has two different sections as Primary (class 1 to 5) and Upper Primary and Senior Secondary (class 6 to 12). In government records, these sections are counted as separate schools termed as Government Primary and Government Senior Secondary Schools. However, there is no differences in the functioning of these schools as both function under Department of Education. For this paper, these sections are treated as one school.

5 As per English Oxford dictionary, backward castes refer to the members of a caste or community who are recommended for special help in education and employment. Unreserved category represents the upper castes of society.

6 While government schools’ data is available under DISE since 2005, the Educational Management and Information System department started collected data collection for private recognized unaided school since 2010. This data set does not cover unrecognized private schools which remain a challenge for researchers to capture the real picture of this sector in India. The private school covered under study was approached to get enrollment data for previous years however the school authorities refused to provide data on these aspects.

7 As per 24th June 2017 exchange rate, 1 Euro is equal to 72 Indian rupees.

8 Two of these schools were unrecognized and the third one (Nav Jeevan Jyoti) was recognized.

9 The DIES data provide information only from 1st to 8th class.

10 It was informed by the head that out of these 205 students, very few students were from the village. The school was providing affiliation to two unrecognized private schools of a nearby village.

11 B.Ed. (Bachelors of Education), JBT (Junior Basic Teacher) are professional teacher training degrees for teaching Elementary and Primary classes respectively.

12 In the context of social position of teacher in village society, it is important to mention that there is always psychological inferiority among the parents of children in government school. Generally, only socially and economically backward sections send their children to government schools. Even if the teacher is from same community, he is being treated as a Bada Aadmi i.e. influential person who can cause harm to the future of their children if he is not being listened or obeyed. They always hesitate in speaking in front of a teacher. Further, economic status of teachers obstructs this teacher and community partnership (Narwana, 2015).

13 The science and mathematics subjects are taught only in English at senior secondary and graduation level. Till 10th class, all students study the same subjects. After passing 10th class, students have to opt for specialization in any stream (social sciences, medical or physical sciences or commerce).

14 Section 16 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 stipulates that “No child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education”.

15 Board exams are conducted by the State School Education authorities. These exams are known as the most difficult examination system in India as these are conducted by external authorities.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Enrollment trends in different school
Légende Source : School Report Cards, DISE 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014.
Fichier image/jpeg, 764k
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Kamlesh Narwana, « Interrogating School Choice: A Case Study of a Village in Haryana »Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs, Hors-série n° 5 | 2017, 49-73.

Référence électronique

Kamlesh Narwana, « Interrogating School Choice: A Case Study of a Village in Haryana »Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs [En ligne], Hors-série n° 5 | 2017, mis en ligne le 29 janvier 2018, consulté le 28 novembre 2020. URL :

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Kamlesh Narwana

Assistant Professor, Punjab University Rural Center, Kauni, Sri Muktsar Sahib, Punjab

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