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Understanding the Education System: An Eco-Behavioural Approach

The eco-behavioural approach to the study of education suggests that the achievements of students would depend on the expectations placed on them, and the support they receive from other participants in various behavioural settings. The approach is theoretically constructed and empirically verified in this paper. Using the methodology of such an approach, one can debate the reasoning behind the policy of reservation in higher education. Such an exercise is attempted in this essay.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 6, 2009 vol xliv no 2361Understanding the Education System: An Eco-Behavioural ApproachT Krishna KumarThe eco-behavioural approach to the study of education suggests that the achievements of students would depend on the expectations placed on them, and the support they receive from other participants in various behavioural settings. The approach is theoretically constructed and empirically verified in this paper. Using the methodology of such an approach, one can debate the reasoning behind the policy of reservation in higher education. Such an exercise is attempted in this essay.This paper was presented (in absentia) at V K R V Rao Centenary Commemoration Seminar on “Institutional Structure of Social Science Research in India” held during 7-8 July 2008 at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore.I am grateful to N R Madhav Menon, Jayarama Holla and Thomas Espenshade for their useful comments on an earlier draft.T Krishna Kumar ( retired as professor from the Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore and is now guest faculty at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. Education is the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indiffer-ent by the incompetent– John Maynard Keynes1 IntroductionThe reservation debate in 2007 suggests to me that those who participated in it, including those who are in posi-tions to adjudicate litigations on policies related to the issue,are possibly acting with insufficient understanding or knowledge of what education is and what factors affect educa-tional achievements of students of different socio-economic and caste background. This knowledge must be based on two complimentary pieces of information – a sound conceptual/theoretical basis and an empirical verification of that conceptual/theoretical basis. These two pieces of information must also be contextual to India. A mere compilation of statistical evidence and massive analysis of it is not very useful if it lacks a good conceptual description of the underlying process that generates that data. Mere conceptual de-scription, however sound it may be, sows the seeds of doubt if it is not supported by empirical evidence.1 These initial remarks place enormous limitations on what I am presenting in this article for providing definitive suggestions for educational policy in India. A famous saying in management science goes that there are three ways to resolve a conflict – through a fight when the mighti-est wins, or by playing a game and the one who is the smartest and who has the best winning strategy wins, or through debates and the one who has the right arguments wins by convincing the oppo-nents. The last option no doubt is the most civilised option to re-solve a dispute. It is my hope, therefore, that what I am presenting here might steer the debate on educational policy in the right direc-tion to provide greater credibility for the arguments in the debate. 2 Relevance of ‘Ecological Psychology’ As I have not been working in the field of economics of education during the past 40 years, I decided to think on the theme “educa-tion” and let my thoughts go free on that subject with my own background and experience to see what I could come up with as a conceptual basis. I used my own thought process as a skeleton todevelop this article and added some substance from the know-ledge gained from some additional reading. I made only a limited search of the literature to see if what I think as the conceptual basis has any theoretical and empirical support from the aca-demic literature in the fields of economics, sociology, social psychology, and education.

School age persons (165,772,900) pre primary school (80% enrolment rate) Elementary school

Middle school

High school 99,940,000 enter higher education

Dropout rate 60% college


Formal learning Whom to teach?
(screen ng)
class size and
Non-formal learning
What to teach?
(curriculum) Family, friends,
others and self help
How to teach?

Teaching method Teaching aids Teacher quality

Student achievement


SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 6, 2009 vol xliv no 2365four out of five admissions vacated by abolishing the seats meant for preferential treatment. Desai (1991) examined a random sample of 200 primary school students in rural Andhra Pradesh who dropped out and adminis-tered a test as well as a questionnaire to determine the factors influencing the school dropout phenomenon. He found that the type of residential dwelling and its amenities, the occupational status of the parents and their income had significant effect on the drop-out rate.Goyal (2007) analysed the verbal and mathematical scores in different behaviour settings of primary schools in Orissa in 2006 and observed that the scores in unaided private schools for the 5th grade students were better than those of public schools, the scores with higher pupil teacher ratio were lower than with lower pupil teacher ratio, the scores were higher in schools with greater percentage of teachers who are graduates, the scores of general category students were higher than those of scheduled caste (SC), scheduled tribe (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC) categories. Goyal’s study provided very useful empirical insights into various questions on the working of the school edu-cation system, with variations in the school inputs and their dif-ferential impacts on verbal and mathematical achievements. These observations of Goyal suggest that one must identify the most efficient schools and their methods and try to replicate them in others. Similarly, if the socio-economic background at home is different forSC andST students, virtual home environ-mentssimilar to those of the general category students must be designed for SC andST students. A part of the curriculum for such students may involve creating such virtual environments in the classrooms with the help of voluntary participation by parents of the general category. Information technology can be exploited to create or simulate expert teaching systems and virtual ideal home environments. Using the data collected under the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) of government schools and Delhi schools Aggarwal (2000) showed that the achievement levels of students dropped as the students move up to higher grades within the government primary schools. This is much more significant in case of students’ scores in mathematics. The most disturbing finding from theDPEP programme data by Aggarwal was that even the teachers found it difficult to handle mathematics ques-tions,(such as requiring an understanding of “lowest common multipliers”).He also observed from the Delhi school sample thattheachievement scores were higher for unaided private schools than aided private schools and public (government) schools.Asgovernment schools form about 75% of all primary schools this observation has a far reaching implication for our educational policy. By not focusing on the quality of primary education over the past six decades after independence, the country allowed the disparities in school education between the students from poor and rich families to widen. While it is not clear what the evidence on this is for private schools, a possible policy implication of this is very important to note. Unless one improvesthequality of education through better teaching methods and infusing more resources into primary education the entire education superstructure will crumble. The effectiveness in teaching mathematics in elementary schools requires maximum possible attention, as it is that skill or competence that determines the nation’s strength in the knowledge industry of the future. Impact of Affirmative ActionDesai and Kulkarni (2008) provided empirical evidence on the impact of affirmative action in India using the National Sample Survey data for four rounds ofNSS surveys-38th (1983-84), 43rd Round (1987-88), 50th Round (1993-94) and 55th round (1999-2000). They provided a brief description of social stratification in India and argued that the reasons for differences in educa-tional achievements among different classes were due to dis-crimination in housing, occupation, etc, corroborating the ob-servation already made by Desai (1991) earlier in the context of school education. Using the 55th round data they show that 67% of the SC population was still engaged as farm labourers or manual labourers in 1999-2000, more than 50 years after independence. They also showed that about 40% of male SC andST people in the age group of 24-29 were never enrolled in any school in 1999-2000, while for females that percentage was 70%. These percentages for Muslims were about 32% and 55%, re-spectively. They also note that only 4% of SC males aged 24-29 completed college, while only 2% of SC women aged 24-29 completed any college. These figures do show that keeping 15% reservation for SCs at postgraduate admissions may result in giving them four times the preference implied by proportional or equal representation. They examined the probability of completing one level of education given that the previous level was successfully com-pleted. This is equivalent to their successfully completing the previous level, choosing to continue education, and successfully completing the next level. They used individual data with several socio-economic variables and dummy variables for the four rounds and regions, and estimated the effects of each one of those variables on the probability of completion. They specify a Logit model. The model they estimated is related to equations 1 and 2 above, except that they exclude the supply side variables such as the number of schools, type of schools, and quality of the schools, etc. To this extent some of the variation explained by the student characteristics may be capturing the effects of the school system. For example, greater completion rates by upper caste Hindus may also be reflecting the fact that they go to private schools. They found that there was a significant improvement over 1983-2000 in narrowing the differences in these probabilities of completion between different socio-economic groups. They however ob-served that the completion probabilities were similar and close to each other for various caste groups at the college level. They also observed that income is a highly significant explanatory variablefor the two extremes of completion of primary educa-tion and collegiate education. Since completion of primary edu-cation is a prerequisite for higher levels of education, the income cut-off for the sample could be higher for other levels suggesting that income elasticity of education isU-shaped beyond a certain income level.
More resources Less resources Quantity GB @CA* A Quanlity I IIIII
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 6, 2009 vol xliv no 2367one can have more of both quantity and quality. This is illustrated in Figure 3 by a movement from A to C. Equality of Opportunities, and Affirmative ActionOne must distinguish between four types of educational oppor-tunities. First, we must know whether there are sufficient oppor-tunities so that (potential) students have opportunities to pursue education and have sufficient number of alternatives to choose from at collegiate level and above. Second, we must consider giving equal opportunities to all. Third, we must recognise the denial of equal opportunity or discrimination. Outright discrimi-nation on the basis of caste, race, sex, religion, region, etc, can be condemned and punished if sufficient evidence is found for the same as it is unconstitutional. Fourth, we must consider the concept of affirmative action that gives preferential opportuni-ties to some group of students who are at a disadvantage for no fault of theirs.9 The concepts of discrimination and affirmative action in general refer to discriminating against or giving preference to a particular class or group of persons when the society is stratified by some criteria such as race, religion, region, sex, ethnicity, etc. Discrimination and affirmative action are equivalent todenying equal opportunity. While discrimination is condemned affirmative action is not only tolerated but even justified. Observed differ-ences in achievement diminish as the level of education improves, and the correlation between achievement levels and these group characteristics diminish with level of education. There is an in-creasing concern that affirmative action should be based on an individually determined deprivation index that includes educa-tion itself as an argument (Nathan, Mishra and Reddy 2008) for measuring deprivation using deprivation indices).10 The concept of equality of educational opportunities is difficult to interpret, measure, and monitor. For instance, even if schools provide admission to students without any discrimination and charge the same fee for all, the out-of-school expenses such as the transportation cost and opportunity cost of taking the stu-dents out of the child-labour market may prevent some students of lower socio-economic backgrounds from receiving education.11 One in general attributes all of the low achievement levels to the socio-economic background of the backward class to which that student belongs. It is observed that as one moves up the ladder of education the achievement level depends more on individual motivation and hard work. Hence giving priority in admission to students with low achievement scores must be regressive as we move up the level of education. This justifies the notion that back-ward class people with graduate degrees belong to the creamy layer. In fact equality of educational opportunities must be viewed as equality under similar situations. Preference to lower achievement score is justified only if one can justify that the lower score is due to a social circumstance beyond the individual’s con-trol due to backwardness of the class to which he or she belongs. Equality of educational opportunities could be pursued in phases, as education is a sequential process. The following scheme seems to be needed:– The state should provide necessary enabling environment so that all people have equal opportunities to pursue basic education of a uniform quality at the primary and secondary school level (universal school education);– the state should enable the education system to provide suffi-cient opportunities for all students who wish to pursue education beyond the school level by enabling creation and maintenance of sufficient number of educational institutions at the collegiate level and above;12– if the students belonging to lower socio-economic status con-tinue to lag behind others in their achievement levels after com-pleting school, the state should provide them supplemental sup-port to receive compensatory education; – the state should provide additional financial assistance to stu-dents from lower income households to pursue school, collegiate and postgraduate education;13– The educational institutions may be allowed autonomy and be encouraged to follow an affirmative action programme consistent with their own goals and objectives, if necessary by giving state incentives for following affirmative action.The issue of equality of educational opportunities is looked upon as having the same proportional representation in educational institutions as in the population. The choice of 15% reservation quota for SCs, 7.5% forSTs was supposed to have been based on such a consideration. Even the recent reserva-tion for the other backward castes (OBCs) also seemed to have been based on such a consideration. While the Mandal Com-mission stated that OBCs constitute 52% of the population the NSSO estimated it to be 36%. As the Supreme Court ruled that the total quota of reservations should not exceed 50%, the smaller of the two percentages (50-22.5=27.5% and 52%) was chosen forOBC quota. Thus, this number chosen forOBC quota is a clear case of arbitrariness not based on any convincing sta-tistical evidence. At different levels of education the proportion of the educa-tionally eligible persons from a given caste or race or sexcould be much different from the population proportion of that caste or race or sex.14 Hence we cannot have the same proportion as a norm to measure and monitor equal opportunities at all levels of education. In particular if the dropout rates are higher for re-served categories or for a particular race at lower levels of educa-tion, as is normally the case, keeping the same quotas at higher levels of education, as at lower levels, would distort the notion of equal opportunity and would instead give them more than an equal chance to get selected. When that is so it becomes very im-portant to know what the extent of preferential benefit given to that class is compared to the equal opportunity. The state should examine the factors that contribute to differences in dropout rates and achievement scores between groups and rectify those differences at lower levels of education itself.One of the solutions to this problem of providing equal opportunities lies in increasing the enrolment levels so that all those who pass the qualifying examination and wish to pursue higherstudies have an opportunity to do so, and to provide them financial assistance. Another approach suggested for providing equality of educa-tional opportunities is that of affirmative action. Under affirmative action the criteria for rationing the limited number of admissions
SPECIAL ARTICLEjune 6, 2009 vol xliv no 23 EPW Economic & Political Weekly68need not be based only on merit and financial affordability but it could be based on a social obligation or of giving preference to members of a group or groups that had a history of discrimina-tion or diversity considerations. Since any preference for one group means a discrimination against the other group it is neces-sary to make sure that the preference is given only to the extent of correcting for the lower achievement associated with socio-economic conditions which are not in the control of the student. Comments on Some Education Policy IssuesOne of the issues under debate is, after six decades of caste-based reservation for SC andSTs, should that reservation policy be re-viewed for continuation? The reason for this question is the as-sertion that theSCs and STs have improved their socio-economic status and do not need such protection any more. One must dis-tinguish between those SCs and STs whose socio-economic status has improved and those whose status has not improved. There are reasons to believe that there is still a large fraction of SC and ST population with low socio-economic status. There are back-ward caste commission reports that had periodically evaluated the socio-economic status of SCs,STs, and other backward castes. One must look at that evidence. It is reasonable to assume that the strong correlation between caste and socio-economic status that was present at the time of independence may have weak-ened somewhat over the past six decades. We do observe that economic backwardness continues to a certain degree as a result of inequality in wealth distribution. It can be said that backward-ness is a multi-faceted phenomenon arising from inequalities in wealth, occupational access, discrimination in housing, employ-ment, etc. Once those inequalities by caste are reduced one may expect that there will be no correlation between backwardness and caste. One may see the essay “Segregationist” (Asimov 1982). The story is about a world consisting of robots, biological people, and people with artificial organs. When more and more people go for organ replacements the distinctions between the classes disappear. If that were the case there must either be a rider that the creamy layer of SCs and STs must be excluded from the reser-vation policy or the caste-based reservation must be replaced by reservation based on socio-economic status.15The next issue is whether the reservation policy should be extended to the OBCs? The answer to this question depends on several things. First what are the other backward castes? Why are they called backward? Is it because they are educa-tionally backward, or socially and economically backward like SCs and STs? If they are educationally backward but are not backward economically and socially, is their educational back-wardness due to their own choice of preferring agriculture or business over education in the past, or was it because they were discriminated? The most important issue regarding more reservations is that it may create a reverse discrimination, thereby denying the right of equality of educational opportunities for those not covered by the reservation policy. As long as the total reservation is less than 50% the question of reverse discrimination does not arise. There are some southern states in India where the total reservation goes beyond 50%. In this case the answer to this question rests on the supply considerations. If all those whose scores are more than the cut-off for reserved categories can get admission in private educational institutions without having to pay more, then there will be no reverse discrimination at the system level, although SAMEEKSHA TRUST BOOKS1857Essays from Economic and Political WeeklyA compilation of essays that were first published in the EPW in a special issue in May 2007. Held together with an introduction by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, the essays – that range in theme and subject from historiography and military engagements, to the dalit viranganas idealised in traditional songs and the “unconventional protagonists” in mutiny novels – converge on one common goal: to enrich the existing national debates on the 1857 Uprising.The volume has 18 essays by well known historians who include Biswamoy Pati, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Peter Robb and Michael Fisher.The articles are grouped under five sections:‘Then and Now’,‘Sepoys and Soldiers’,‘The Margins’,‘Fictional Representations’ and ‘The Arts and 1857’.Pp viii + 364 2008 Rs 295Available fromOrient Blackswan Pvt LtdMumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur LucknowPatna Chandigarh Hyderabad Contact:
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 6, 2009 vol xliv no 2369one may perceive such a reverse discrimination at an institutional level. If the supply situation is such that there are some meritori-ous students who are denied admission both in private and public institutions there will be a clear perception of reverse discrimina-tion. Such perception of reverse discrimination is more if those who get preferential admissions are from higher levels of socio-economic background. However, this perception of reverse dis-crimination may be reduced gradually when the private sector responds to the situation and comes up with more institutions of higher quality, and when the meritorious students with inade-quate financial means get financial assistance. There is a great deal of concern on the quality of education, in higher and professional education in particular, as a result of the reservation policy. Let us examine what the eco-behavioural ap-proach has to suggest on this issue. As the eco-behavioural approach indicated, it is quite possible that the teachers would pitch their instruction to an average student in the class, and each student may target his or her performance relative to that average. When there is reservation with lower cut-offs for admis-sion of the reserved category students, these average norms could be lower. The higher the percentage of reservations the lower will be the targeted class average. If one wants to maintain the quality, some special efforts have to be made to see that the abso-lute passing standards are not aligned to expected class average performance, but rather to an absolute passing average. This re-quires that the reserved category students of lower achievement levels are given special instruction to catch up with the rest. This must be done at all lower levels so that the quality at higher levels is maintained. The cut-offs used for admission and passing are not very sacro-sanct. With any cut-off there is possibility of some errors of type I and typeII, that of rejecting a good student and not rejecting a bad student. But when the cut-off is lowered for some and not for others the impact of typeI and typeII errors on the two groups is a bit more difficult to assess but it must be done to examine the impact of a reservation policy on quality.Notes 1 I would like recall here, however, a remark made by Keynes when Tinbergen told him that his econometric model had evidence in support of Keynes’ suggestion that the minimum frictional value of interest rate was 2. Keynes remark was that he was glad that Tinbergen’s econometric model could possibly be right with some positive probability as he got the right answer. 2 Karl A Fox introduced me to this topic through some of his own work done in mid-1980s (Fox 1990 and Schogen 1989). 3 It is a pity that the excellent faculty resources of a university are not being utilised to motivate the young minds in such formative years. In most uni-versities in the US and the UK, university faculty teach undergraduate or degree classes. 4 The relative weights for different dimensions of educational outcomes could be different for dif-ferent types of education. For instance, for science education academic achievement in quantitative skills may be much more important than verbal skills and the diversity of the students and teach-ers, while for a course on public policy the oppo-site might be the case. 5 It is unfortunate that most of the statistical speci-fications are usually based on the readily availa-ble data and ad hoc theorising. Very rarely does one consider detailed description of the underly-ingdata-generating process, through a detailed process analytic approach such as the one implied by Barker’s behaviour settings, and gets all the required data. 6 An interesting question we may pose is: which is a better concept of affirmative action? (i) providing even slightly better opportunities than at present for a very large number of backward caste people excluding the creamy layer through better schools, or (ii) providing large benefits through large quo-tas for a small number of backward caste people including the creamy layer at the collegiate level. 7 This has emerged as a new policy objective in re-cent years under globalisation as one can see from several policy papers coming from European Union, OECD, US, China, and India. 8 One may see Selected Educational Statistics 2004-2005 prepared by the Union Ministry of Hu-man Resource Development for statistical evi-dence in support of this observation. 9 One way to combine the concepts of affirmative action in the US and reservations in India is to regard Indian reservations as mandatory affirma-tive action through specific quotas.10 This is reflected in the recommendations of an Expert Group on Structure, Scope, and Functions of an Equal Opportunities Commission submitted to the Government of India in February 2008. 11 Tilak (2002: 55-56).12 Without this kind of state policy if the state is en-gaged in introducing reservation quota and forces it on educational institutions eroding their auto-nomy, it is equivalent to the state abrogating its responsibility and shifting the problem to the ex-isting poorly funded educational system. 13 This should include compensation for taking the children away from income-earning occupations or expenditure substituting domestic activities. The legislation against child labour is meaning-less without understanding the economic circum-stances which force the low income poor families to keep their children away from school. 14 Here by the term eligible must be interpreted to mean passing the qualifying examination and not necessarily meeting a higher cut-off admission standard.15 One of the reasons to choose caste as the basis for reservation policy at the time of independence is that caste of a student was an easy and unambiguous measure than the socio-economic status. On the creamy layer issue and some empirical evidence one may see Chaudhury (2004).ReferencesAggarwal, Yash (2000): “Quality Concerns in Primary Education in India: Where Is the Problem?” NIEPA, Isaac (1982): The Complete Robot, Harper Collins.Barker, Roger (1968): Ecological Psychology (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press).Barker, Roger and Paul V Gump (1964): Big School, Small School: High School Size and Student Behaviour (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press).Chaudhury, Pradipta (2004): “The ‘Creamy Layer’: Political Economy of Reservations”,Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 39, No 20, 15 May, pp 1989-91.Coleman, James S, Ernest Q, Campbell, Carol J Hob-son, James McParland, Alexander M Mood, Fred-eric D Weinfeld and Robert L York (1966): Equa-lity of Educational Opportunity(Washington DC: Government Printing Office). Coleman, J S, T Hoffer and S B Kilgore (1982): High School Achievement: Public, Catholic, and Other Private Schools Compared (New York: Basic Books).Coleman, J S and T Hoffer (1987): Public and Private High Schools: The Impact of Communities (New York: Basic Books).Desai, Sonalde and Sangeeta Kulkarni (2008): “Changing Educational Inequalities in India in the Context of Affirmative Action”,Demography, Vol 45, No 2, pp 245-70.Desai, Uday (1991): “Determinants of Educational Per-formance in India: Role of Home and Family”,In-ternational Review of Education, Vol 37, No 2, pp 245-65.Espenshade, Thomas J and Chang Y Chung (2005): “The Opportunity Cost of Admission Preferences at Elite US Universities”,Social Science Quarterly, Vol 86, No 2, pp 293-305.Fox, Karl A (1990): The Eco-Behavioural Approach to Survey and Social Accounts for Rural Communities: Exploratory Analysis and Interpretations of Roger Barker’s Micro Data from the Behaviour SettingsSurvey of Midwest Kansas in 1963-64, NorthCentral Regional Centre for Rural Develop-ment (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University of Science and Technology). Gamoran A and Daniel A Long (2006): “Equality of Educational Opportunity: A 40-Year Retrospec-tive”, of India (2008):Report of the Expert Group on the Structure, Scope, and Functions of an Equal Opportunities Commission, February.Goyal, Sangeeta (2007):Learning Achievements in India: A Study of Primary Education in Orissa, South Asia Human Development Unit, World Bank.Nathan, Hippu Salk Kristle, Srijit Mishra and B Sud-hakara Reddy (2008): An Alternative Approach to Measure HDI, WP-2008-001 (Mumbai: Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research), Sanguinetty, Jorge A (1983): “Academic Achievement, School Quality and Family Background: Study in Seven Latin American Countries”, paper present-ed at the Annual Meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society (27th, Atlanta, GA, 16-19 March).Schogen, P (1989): Behaviour Settings(Stanford, California, US: Stanford University Press).Tilak, J B G (2002): “Determinants of Household Expenditure on Education in Rural Inida: A Study Based on NCAER Survey on Human Development in India”, NCAER Working Paper No 88.

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