Can academic integration reduce the economic divide: An Analysis of the RTE Act in India
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The Right to Education (RtE) Act enforced in 2009 requires all private schools in India to admit 25% children from economically weaker sections. If successful, the act may play a key role in reducing the widening social disparity, while providing better education to children from poorer families. However, enforcement of the act has opened up a myriad of logistical issues and concerns, leading to intense debate amongst policymakers of the benefits of such forced integration in schools. Even though it has been ten years since this act was first announced, there are very few studies that have studied its impact on children. To understand the effect of the RtE on i) social integration amongst children and ii) academic outcomes, I asked 1500 children (grades 1 to 3) from four schools to fill in friendship surveys and short tests in Maths and English. Results from the network analysis show that in three of the schools, children admitted under the RtE Act are cited as friends significantly fewer number of times as compared to their fee-paying peers. Further, the segregation between the two groups of children gets more pronounced as they get older. However, all children studying in the central government run school (Kendriya Vidyalaya) are well integrated within the network. In terms of learning outcomes, I find that in addition to class size and being an RTE child, peer test scores have a positive and significant impact on individual scores, suggesting that the act may be beneficial in improving learning outcomes for RtE children. Additionally, even though RtE children score significantly lower in all grades, learning outcomes are highest in a private school that goes the extra mile to help children integrate. My results suggest that while the impact of the RtE Act may vary considerable across schools, certain precautions in its implementation would go a long way in ensuring better outcomes for children from all sections of society.
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