Class Struggle: India's Experiment in Schooling Tests Rich and Poor
A fascinating cover story in Saturday's WSJ about the effect in India of a new law that "mandates that private schools set aside 25% of admissions for low-income, underprivileged and disabled students":
Instead of playing cricket with the kids in the alleyway outside, four-year-old Sumit Jha sweats in his family's one-room apartment. A power cut has stilled the overhead fan. In the stifling heat, he traces and retraces the image of a goat.
In April, he enrolled in the nursery class of Shri Ram School, the most coveted private educational institution in India's capital. Its students include the grandchildren of India's most powerful figures—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress party President Sonia Gandhi.
Sumit, on the other hand, lives in a slum.
His admission to Shri Ram is part of a grand Indian experiment to narrow the gulf between rich and poor that is widening as India's economy expands. The Right to Education Act, passed in 2009, mandates that private schools set aside 25% of admissions for low-income, underprivileged and disabled students. In Delhi, families earning less than 100,000 rupees (about $2,500 a year) qualify.
Shri Ram, a nontraditional school founded in 1988, would seem well-suited to the experiment. Rather than drill on rote learning, as many Indian schools do, Shri Ram encourages creativity by teaching through stories, songs and art. In a typical class, two teachers supervise 29 students; at public schools nearby, one teacher has more than 50. Three times a day, a gong sounds and teachers and students pause for a moment of contemplation. Above the entrance, a banner reads, "Peace."
Yet the most notable results so far are frustration and disappointment as the separations that define Indian society—between rich and poor, employer and servant, English-speaker and Hindi-speaker—are upended. This has led even some supporters of the experiment to conclude that the chasm between the top and bottom of Indian society is too great to overcome.
- JUNE 4, 2011