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The Preschool Promise

Posted By Carly Giddings, Aspen Institute, Thursday, December 14, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Preschool Holds the Promise to Transform Learning Outcomes for India's Working Poor

As the foundation for learning, preschool has the ability to set children on a path of educational success. In India, 86 percent of working poor (low-income) parents (who make up 70 percent of the urban population) invest in private preschooling for their children, which they believe can help improve their child’s academic prospects. Unfortunately, the current quality of preschooling is extremely poor, leading to poor learning outcomes through high school.  

By shifting parents' expectations toward high-quality preschooling, the quality of education being delivered by affordable private schools could be transformed. We surveyed over 4,000 of these parents to understand their beliefs and behaviors that are driving outcomes todayranging from how they choose schools to how they gauge academic progressin order to identify how change can be achieved.  

Our research uncovers several opportunities to leverage existing beliefs and motivations among low-income parentsparticularly the demand for English and mathematics skillsin order to spread high-quality preschooling in a sustainable manner at scale.

Key Takeaways:

  • Low-income parents care deeply about their child’s education and, despite the availability of free public options, are investing about 6 percent of household income per child on core preschooling-related expenses in private schools. A quarter of parents are also investing in tuition classes to further support their child’s academic progress, spending an additional 2 percent of household income. 
  • Of the parents who had chosen private providers, 78 percent had opted for an "English-medium" provider and were paying a 28 percent premium on core preschool expenses. This reflects their views about which skills are needed for success in grade school and to secure a white-collar office job—an aspiration for many working poor.  
  • Parents have 4 primary criteria when choosing a preschool provider: (1) English-medium (i.e. English is the main language of instruction), (2) Attached (i.e. provides classes beyond preprimary), (3) Close to home (i.e. is within 10 minutes of travel time from home) and (4) quality (using word-of-mouth recommendations and the school’s reputation).  
  • Parents want to know their child is learning, but there is a crucial gap between what parents expect their children to learn and the markers they are using to test learning. Currently, parents are gauging their child's learning by using "wrong" markers (e.g., can my child recite numbers up to 20). By shifting parents' expectations toward looking for "right" markers of learning (e.g., can my child pick out 12 sticks from a stack of 20), schools will need to respond by shifting their practices to the activity-based approaches that support conceptual learning or risk losing those parents’ fees.

To read the report, click here

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