Social Justice in Education: Are School Uniform and Scholarship Schemes Marred with Discrimination in Bihar?

Low school attendance has been a perennial problem for many states in India, including Bihar. With the aim of boosting attendance in school, in 2012/13 the Government of Bihar decided that school entitlements (such as money for uniforms, caste-based scholarships etc.) would be provided only to those students who maintain an average attendance of 75% between the months of April to September in any given academic year.

The Chief Minister of Bihar, Shri Jitan Ram Manjhi, has expressed concerns regarding the mode of operation of this conditionality. Based on what he heard during a recent campaign trail, he hypothesized that students from backward social classes are being systematically discriminated against by means of this attendance conditionality. In light of this, he requested the IGC Bihar team to conduct a process evaluation of the conditionality, and assess its benefits and pitfalls.

The IGC Bihar team outlined the following research questions to be answered during this process evaluation:

  1. How well is the attendance conditionality being implemented on the ground? Do teachers in schools actually take attendance every day, and are records properly maintained?
  2. What are the awareness levels of students and their parents regarding the attendance conditionality?
  3. What has been the trend in disbursal of school incentives since the introduction of the attendance conditionality? Has the number of students eligible declined significantly since the introduction of the conditionality? Is there any evidence of caste-based discrimination in disbursal of incentives since the introduction of the conditionality?

To answer these questions, the team plans to use both secondary and primary data; as delineated in the initial proposal, the datasets are to be gathered and used as follows:

  1. Secondary Data: We planned to collect block-wise data since 2009-10 on yearly enrolment rates, attendance rates, and disbursal of scholarships to understand the trend in disbursal of scholarships. Using this, we will identify whether or not there has been a change in trend in the above mentioned variables since 2012/13.
  2. Primary Data: We planned to conduct school and household level interviews in 80 schools/ 1600 households across 4 districts in Bihar. The aim of the surveys was to understand how the attendance conditionality is implemented at the school level, whether records are properly maintained, and to assess the level of awareness of both students and their parents about the attendance conditionality and scholarships.