Is there a quantity-quality tradeoff as enrollments increase? Evidence from Tamil Nadu, India
Developing countries have been quite successful at expanding school enrollment, especially at lower levels. But for any given level of educational efficiency, increased enrollments require inreased resources, in order to maintain quality. If those resources are not forthcoming, the increase in educational quantity may come at the expense of educational quality. When public budgets are constrained, is there a tradeoff between quantity and quality of education? If so, what public policies can diminish the decline in quality? The authors find a negative effect of expanded enrollments on school conditions and learning, using a cross-district time series analysis of Tamil Nadu, India. A wide array of initiatives undertaken by the government of Tamil Nadu has made schools accessible and attractive to families. But the resources have not kept up with enrollments and those resources that exist have not always been efficiently utilized. Most notably, the student-teacher ratio has risen dramatically over the past decade. In addition, while many new schools have been started, many of them do not have buildings, or have only meager buildings. The quality of education, as measured by the pass rate on the statewide tenth grade examination, has suffered as a result. The study shows that the rise in the student-teacher ratio and the consequent diminution of the growth rate in examination passes has been greatest in districts with the fastest enrollment growth -evidence of a quantity-quality tradeoff. Districts with a high proportion of privately-managed schools perform better. Policy changes such as greater use of private management and finance and greater local discretion in publicly-managed schools might improve the situation.
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