Table of Contents

Handbook of International Development and Education

Handbook of International Development and Education

Edited by Pauline Dixon, Steve Humble and Chris Counihan

This Handbook considers the myths and untruths that currently exist in international development and education. Using historic and contemporary evidence, this compendium redefines the international development narrative through a new understanding of 'what works', drawn from pragmatic ideas and approaches.

Chapter 25: Private school choice in developing countries: experimental results from Delhi, India

Patrick J. Wolf, Anna J. Egalite and Pauline Dixon

Subjects: development studies, development economics, development studies, economics and finance, development economics, politics and public policy, education policy, social policy and sociology, education policy


India has the largest concentration of poor people in the world. About 35 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty and over a third of the total population is illiterate, a figure that is closer to 49 percent for females (Central Intelligence Agency, 2006). While government schools for the poor struggle to improve educational outcomes such as basic literacy and numeracy skills, low-cost private alternatives can be found in both urban and rural areas. This private school choice study focuses on a 20 square kilometer, highly urbanized slum area known as Shahdara, situated in East Delhi on the banks of the Yamuna River. As is the case across much of the developing world (e.g. Dixon, 2013; Tooley, 2009), a low-cost private education market targeted towards economically disadvantaged families has emerged in Shahdara (Aggarwal, 2000; Alderman et al., 2001, 2003; Baurer et al., 2002; De et al., 2002; Drèze and Sen, 2002; Nambissan, 2003; Rose, 2002, 2003; Watkins, 2000). Only a little over one-fourth of all schools in Shahdara are government schools and the rest are private (Tooley and Dixon, 2007). It is popular to claim that such low-cost private schools must be inferior to the higher-cost government options (Watkins, 2000), yet little empirical evidence exists to confirm or deny this claim.

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