The 2009 Right to Education Act (RTE) mandated public and private aided schools to constitute School Management Committees (SMCs) to improve accountability in schools through community participation. Using 2012-2018 Indian administrative data on schools and ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) data, this article shows that higher female representation in SMCs is associated with higher school quality, measured in terms of number of teachers hired, qualification of teachers, academic resources, student enrolment, and learning outcomes.
The Indian government introduced the Right to Education Act (RTE) in 2009 to ensure universal access to elementary education for children in the age group of 6-14 years. The Act mandated public and private aided schools to constitute School Management Committees (SMCs) to improve accountability in schools through community participation. An SMC is an association of elected representatives from parents, local authorities, and teachers. The main role of these SMCs is to monitor school activities, encourage out of school children between the age of 6 and 14 to enrol themselves, communicate infrastructure and teacher requirements of schools to local authorities, and utilise the grants received by schools in an efficient manner. The RTE also mandated that three-fourth of the members in these committees be parents. In addition, the Act also required schools to reserve 50% of the SMC positions for women.
There is emerging evidence that women have different policy preferences as compared to men (Miller 2008, Edlund and Pande 2002). In particular, it has been observed that women have a higher preference for both public and private investment in education and health of children than men (Bhalotra and Clots-Figueras 2014, Thomas 1990). However, women are underrepresented in school management and leadership positions, and this can have serious implications for school quality (Martínez et al. 2021, Mythili 2017). This is particularly worrying for a country like India which is struggling to find ways to improve school quality where public schools see a dismal state of infrastructure, teacher absenteeism, and low student learning outcomes. In this context, the introduction of a mandate to involve women in school management decisions is timely and has the potential to be beneficial.
In a recent study (Jain and Nandwani 2021), we study the implications of an increase in female representation in SMCs for school quality. Even though schools are mandated to reserve 50% of SMC positions for women, the legislation is vague about the cost of non-compliance with this guideline. Hence, we observe variation in female representation in SMCs within schools over time, and across schools. We exploit this variation to study the association between school quality and female representation in schools. We measure school quality using school ‘inputs’ (number of teachers, qualification of teachers, and availability of infrastructure facilities) and school ‘outcomes’ (enrolment and student performance in assessment tests).
We use the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) data, which is an annual census of all registered schools in the country. Established in 2012-13, U-DISE is the largest and most comprehensive data on Indian school facilities, including SMCs. Each round of U-DISE has information on close to a million schools. Using data from 2012-13 to 2017-18, we construct a panel1 dataset of public and private aided schools which have primary and upper primary classes (grades 1-8), thus giving us close to 6.5 million observations2. U-DISE, however, does not have information on student learning outcomes, and therefore for the purpose of this analysis, we use 2012-2016 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) data, a household-level survey which collects information on children’s basic learning outcomes.
School quality and female representation in school management
We estimate the relationship between the gender composition of SMCs and school quality3 and find that an increase in female representation in SMCs, while keeping the size of the SMC fixed (that is replacing male members by female members), is associated with a higher number of teachers, particularly female teachers and a lower number of male teachers in the following academic year. We thus find gender preference in teacher hiring, with more female teachers being hired when female representation in SMCs increases. In addition, we also find that increased female representation in SMCs is correlated with schools having better qualified teachers. In particular, replacing 10 male SMC members by female members results in an increase in graduate and professionally qualified teachers in a school by 16.8% and 9% points. Therefore, even though there is increased preference for hiring more female teachers, this hiring does not seem inefficient in terms of lower qualified teachers. Given that, on average, we see schools having a smaller number of female teachers, this finding is critical for improving the gender ratio of teachers in elementary schools.
On the other hand, there is weak or no association between female representation in SMCs and availability of infrastructure facilities in the school – except for availability of electricity and availability of books in the library. This possibly reflects that women consider teachers as more important school inputs than infrastructure for improving school quality. The result should be interpreted in the context that an average school in our sample – for a given enrolment size – has a much lower number of teachers than classrooms and other infrastructure facilities.
With respect to school outcomes, we find that an increase in the female members in SMCs, without increasing its size, results in increase in student enrolment. However, this is driven by an increase in the enrolment for boys without any change in the enrolment for girls, suggesting that increasing enrolment for girls maybe much more challenging. Our results also suggest a positive correlation between average female SMC members in a district and the likelihood of children completing4 grade two equivalent reading, math, and English learning assessments. Additionally, studying the differential impact5 of female SMC members on learning outcomes by gender, we find that improvement in learning scores for girls is higher than for boys.
As the proportion of women in SMCs increases, the documented positive association with student enrolment and learning outcomes could be a result of higher number of female and qualified teachers as well as more books in the library and availability of electricity in the school. Existing work has documented that an increase in female teachers in a school is particularly beneficial for female students in terms of improved enrolment and learning outcomes (Muralidharan and Sheth 2016, Adukia 2017, Lim and Meer 2017, Clotfelter et al. 2010). The observed positive association between participation of women in SMCs and learning outcomes for girls is particularly important given that girls have been documented to exhibit poorer learning outcomes as compared to boys (Jain 2019, Muralidharan and Sheth 2016).
We also examine the potential channel driving the reported positive association between female representation in SMCs and teacher quality, enrolment, and learning outcomes. We show that higher female representation in SMCs increases the number of SMC meetings conducted in an academic year as well as the likelihood of formulation of a school development plan. SMC meetings represent the first step of the process by which SMC members discuss school requirements and take decisions regarding the functioning and management of the school. School development plan, on the other hand, is prepared by SMC members which provides estimates of requirements of the school in the coming academic year, and thus forms the basis of the grants that the school receives from the government. These two outcomes are thus important indicators of how active an SMC is in monitoring school activities and communicating school requirements to local authorities, a possible driver of the observed positive association.
Our findings show that decentralised school management, particularly with involvement of women, has considerable potential to improve school quality on various dimensions including school inputs as well as enrolment and learning outcomes. This, when compared with existing interventions to improve school quality like the construction of toilets, cash transfers, and nutrition programmes, which improve student enrolment but do not necessarily benefit student learning outcomes (Adukia 2017, Miguel and Kremer 2004, Vermeersch and Kremer 2005), is an important policy input. Additionally, these policy interventions are very expensive, needing millions of dollars, whereas our study shows that community participation, particularly through the increased involvement of women, is a relatively inexpensive and cost-effective way of improving public school quality.
The RTE legislation however does not extend the guideline regarding the constitution of SMCs (and thus participation of women in SMC) to private unaided schools. This is a large exclusion as per U-DISE data, 35% of students now study in private schools which are run and managed by charitable trusts or societies. Given the documented positive association between female SMC members and school quality, extending this guideline to private schools could be an important step towards improving the learning environment in schools for all elementary students in the country.
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- Panel data documents the same unit of observations (schools in this case) repeatedly across time.
- RTE act did not cover private unaided and secondary and senior secondary public schools.
- In our analysis, we controlfor the size of the SMC and, also account for potentially confounding school-specific time-invariant factors, initial school characteristics, state-year, and year shocks.
- “Completing” here indicates attaining a score higher than a designated threshold on these assessments.
- Differential or heterogeneous effects refer to treatment effects that affect different individuals within the study sample differently.
- Adukia, Anjali (2017), "Sanitation and education", American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 9(2): 23-59.
- Bhalotra, Sonia and Irma Clots-Figueras (2014), "Health and the political agency of women", American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 6(2): 164-197.
- Clotfelter, Charles T, Helen F Ladd and Jacob L Vigdor (2010), "Teacher credentials and student achievement in high school a cross-subject analysis with student fixed effects", Journal of Human Resources, 45(3): 655-681.
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