Redistributing Educational Attainment: Evidence from an Unusual Policy Experiment in India
In 1983 the ruling communists in the Indian state of West Bengal, with the avowed objective of making education more accessible, abolished the teaching of English at the primary level from public schools. I argue that the abolition can be looked upon as a lowering of academic standards, and that the reform is essentially redistributive in nature. Using two large cross-sectional data sets from India I investigate how it affected educational outcomes in West Bengal. Somewhat surprisingly, I find no evidence of a positive effect of the reform, even on the poorest income quartiles. Moreover, private school attendance went up in the rural areas, and there was a large increase in expenditure on private coaching. Both of these indicate that those who can afford to do so were supplementing the education of their children by private purchases, since a knowledge of English has significant benefits later in life. Ironically, the program may have increased the gap between the poorer classes and the others, something it was designed to close.
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