The limits to a social experiment?

A colleague sent around this article from the Wall Street Journal, which I found very interesting. What are the limits to a social experiment?

Indian Private School Education Experiment Tests Rich and Poor touches on an interesting integration mandate taking place in India, in real time: bringing rich and poor kids together in the top private schools here. As the article describes it:

The Right to Education Act, passed in 2009, mandates that private schools set aside 25% of admissions for low-income, underprivileged and disabled students. In Delhi, families earning less than 100,000 rupees (about $2,500 a year) qualify.

Shri Ram, a nontraditional school founded in 1988, would seem well-suited to the experiment. Rather than drill on rote learning, as many Indian schools do, Shri Ram encourages creativity by teaching through stories, songs and art. In a typical class, two teachers supervise 29 students; at public schools nearby, one teacher has more than 50. Three times a day, a gong sounds and teachers and students pause for a moment of contemplation. Above the entrance, a banner reads, “Peace.”

Yet the most notable results so far are frustration and disappointment as the separations that define Indian society—between rich and poor, employer and servant, English-speaker and Hindi-speaker—are upended. This has led even some supporters of the experiment to conclude that the chasm between the top and bottom of Indian society is too great to overcome.

The full article is worth reading; it’s behind a WSJ.com pay wall but I’m sure it’s findable with a little Internet research. It describes the children of drivers, cooks, maids and other low-income people learning in the same classes with the children of the top echelon of India’s rich class.

The article also cites inequality data that I hadn’t bothered to research before, and which makes the need for such social experiments a bit more clear. According to national survey statistics, the richest 10 percent of India’s population holds 31.1 percent of its wealth; the poorest 10 percent, meanwhile, hold just 3.6 percent. In a word: highly unequal.

(Not that the U.S. isn’t also a highly unequal society, as far as income inequality goes. Wikipedia has a thorough description of the statistics and trends.)

To me, a particular note stood out: the poor kids in these schools aren’t stupid – we all know that to be true. But they are at a disadvantage in part because their parents largely can’t help them at home. I’m going to see if I can do something to help out, in a small way, with after-school help for kids like the ones described in the article.

In sum: article’s worth reading, if you can find it.

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About Rob

Twitter @robertkatz
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