Saturday, August 05, 2006

looking at the numbers

In a continuing effort to clean up the cutting room floor over here, I'm giving you some of my notes below on (again) education quotas. I've drawn heavily from an article by Yogendra Yadav and Satish Deshpande, who is also quoted from a brief telephone interview, which appeared in Economic & Political Weekly.

Check out also today's Indian Express for the page 1 story confirming Deshpande's argument that "merit" has been fetishized beyond reason in India's hyper-competitive admissions process.

Here's my stuff:

...To be sure, there are some legitimate reasons for concern about a scheme that proposes such a dramatic expansion of the quota system. Business leaders have argued that a program they characterize as a wholesale abandonment of merit-based education will undermine India's present advantage in software and engineering, stifling its rise as a “knowledge-process outsourcing” hub--only to draw criticism from activists who charge that these statements themselves suggest their authors have not abandoned outdated opinions of the lower castes. Others have drawn attention to endemic problems in the primary and secondary education system, where vast disparities exist between top private schools and execrable government-run institutions where teacher absenteeism runs as high as 25% and only half the teachers are actively involved in teaching when they are at work, according to a World Bank study. With these conditions, and a dropout rate that is perhaps as high as 50% among the OBCs targeted by the program, say critics, where will the students for the reserved university seats come from? Still other critics say the program will benefit the so-called “creamy layer” of OBCs, who were not terribly burdened by the caste system and have already achieved better than average economic status, while doing nothing to help other underpriviledged groups, such as the Muslim minority and the rural poor.

“It [quotas] is ok for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes,” says Amulya Ganguli, a senior journalist who has written extensively on the debate. “Because they were historically discriminated against. Nobody ever complained about reservations for them, because it was widely recognized that they had suffered immensely. But the OBC thing showed the false lines of this system. Now they want reservations in [employment in] the private sector also, which would have ruined any economic progress India is making. Then the private sector would emulate the public sector [sinking into greater and greater losses due to inefficiency].”

In all the talk of merit and the almost-mythical “rich OBC,” however, one thing that has received little attention are the very real numbers that demonstrate the extent to which upper caste Hindus—which make up only a small fraction of the population—dominate higher education and professional fields. According to calculations based on the National Sample Survey Organization's 55th round survey of 1999-2000, SC/STs, OBCs and Muslims are far less likely to achieve college and graduate degrees than upper caste Hindus. Only a little more than 1% of rural SC/STs and Muslims and 2% of OBCs are college graduates, compared with 5% of upper caste Hindus. In urban India, only 11% of STs, 5% of SCs, 6% of Muslims and 9% of OBCs are college graduates, while more than 25% of upper caste Hindus have college degrees. To look at it another way, a comparison of each group's share of the nation's college graduates with its share of the over-20 population shows that upper caste Hindus' share of graduates is twice their share of the over-20 population in rural areas and one-and-a-half times their share of the over-20 population in urban areas. Meanwhile, urban SCs' share of graduates is only 30% of their share in the over-20 population, and urban Muslims' share of graduates is only 39% of their share in the over-20 population.

Though it would be wrong to say that the lower castes are poor and upper castes are rich, this disparity in education does result in notable differences in prosperity and power. People of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (the most disadvantaged group) are—as has long been accepted as fact—far more likely to live below the poverty line. Contrary to a similarly entrenched belief, however, the first attempt to measure poverty of the Other Backward Classes (the 55th sample survey mentioned above) suggests that the OBCs live in conditions more similar to the SC/STs than commonly believed. The 1999-2000 statistics show that In rural India, 34 per cent of the OBCs fall below the poverty line compared to 51 per cent of Scheduled Tribes and 43 per cent of Scheduled Castes but only 24 per cent of ``Others''. Similarly, only 6% of OBCs were among the top two categories in monthly per capita expenditures, a figure much closer to the 3 per cent for both the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes than to the 12 per cent for the ``Others''. In urban India, the resemblance of the OBCs to the STs and SCs is more pronounced, and it holds at both ends of the class spectrum. Roughly 43 per cent of both Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are below the urban poverty line compared to 36 per cent of the OBCs and only 21 per cent of the ``Others''. At the other end, 6 per cent of the Scheduled Tribes, 2 per cent of the Scheduled Castes, and less than 4 per cent of the OBCs are to be found in the top two urban expenditure classes compared to 12 per cent of the ``Others''. (Note: this survey foolishly lumped all minorities, including Muslims, which are also underpriviledged, under the rubric “Others”).

And I blab on...

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