ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Overcast Minds

Caste Consciousness and Academic Performance

Overcast Minds

Children from historically disadvantaged castes face systemic hurdles in education in India—ill-equipped schools, poorly trained teachers, discrimination—leading to high failure and dropout rates. Children from disadvantaged castes also face subtler psychological impediments. One such impediment is consciousness of negative stereotypes. Via an experiment, this study illustrates how caste consciousness could affect academic performance, and finds that children from disadvantaged castes perform poorly in tests when made aware of their caste and reservation status than otherwise. The study underlines the need for reform in how India implements its reservation policy to narrow some of the inter-caste differences in educational attainment.

Inherited caste identity is known to block the progress of many Indians from historically disadvantaged castes (Thorat and Newman 2009). In the sphere of education—which is critically linked to other life outcomes, such as employment, income, health, and standard of living, disadvantaged castes continue to face hurdles in access to schooling and skill attainment despite remedial affirmative action programmes by the national and state governments.1 Case studies document that schools serving disadvantaged caste communities are poorly staffed, with teachers having inadequate subject knowledge and training (Subramanian 2017). Studies also detail the discrimination children from underprivileged caste groups experience at school, including being segregated during school lunches, denied access to drinking water, subjected to casteist slurs, and asked to do menial tasks seldom asked of pupils from traditionally privileged castes (Balagopalan and Subrahmanian 2003; Nambissan 2009; Subramanian 2017). Children from disadvantaged castes are also known to suffer prejudice within classrooms—with teachers silencing them, and seating them in the back while reserving front seats for students from traditionally privileged castes (Nambissan 2009).

Data from across India reveals the systematic nature of the hurdles that children from disadvantaged castes face in education: far fewer children from historically disadvantaged castes are likely to enroll in schools than children from traditionally privileged castes, and are more likely to fail in class and drop out of education before school completion (Desai et al 2010). Empirical analysis of the India Human Development Survey data indicates that people from historically disadvantaged castes have fewer years of education than people from privileged castes, and children from disadvantaged caste groups have a significantly lower ability to read even simple sentences or perform basic arithmetic calculations than their counterparts from privileged caste groups (Borooah 2012; Desai and Dubey 2012).

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Updated On : 8th May, 2021

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