How is India different than the US- Parenting and Education

This is part two of a four part series on education and parenting in US, China, Japan and India, part one is here:

India Education – Rapid Change

To date, India was not part of the PISA testing and thus a traditional comparison of student achievement based on cognitive assessments is more difficult.  Although the literature about India’s school structure is scarce, enough data exists to describe an overall picture of how India is changing and where the country’s educational future lies.

In 2010, approximately 3.2 million Indian students held tertiary degrees in the 30-34 age group, a number significantly lower than those in the US, China and Japan, yet three times the number from just a decade ago (Roth and Thum, 2010).  In addition, India produced 60,000 graduates with degrees in computer science or engineering.  Indian graduates are often recruited to work in the US for knowledge intensive companies that require the engineering talent that the US fails to produce.  In addition, many of the world’s biggest multinationals are building companies in India to conduct their research and development because they perceive that India will have the workforce to perform (Economist, 2010). These figures all indicate that India’s focus on education seems to be increasing and that the country holds much potential to educate a world-class future workforce.

Susan Seymour, an anthropologist who spent over thirty years studying women and families in India, found enormous societal changes for women over this time period.  In the sixties, women were rarely seen outside of the home, but by the late eighties, she often observed women outside in public shopping and dining with their families.  She believes that education, in particular for girls from middle and upper status families, explains the transformation in the public life of women she witnessed.  The families in her study expressed pride in their daughter’s education and their resulting economic independence.   Every daughter in her study had completed college and many had Masters degrees, while only one woman of the previous generation had finished university (Seymour, 1999).  Other research supports her ethnographic work, during this time period, the average amount of time women in urban centers spent in school grew by 1.3 years per decade while for men the rate was only .5 years per decade (Jalan & Murgai, 2009).

Although Seymour’s study looked primarily at women, she credited this shift to “educated men wanting educated wives” (Seymour, 1999).  Other studies found that education mobility across generations have increased significantly and consistently for both men and women.  This kind of change resulted from a dedicated policy on the part of the government, an “Education for All” mantra that introduced a series of educational interventions focused on getting children into school such as midday meals, free textbooks, free uniforms etc. (Jalan & Murgai, 2009).

While education for all is the dream, the reality is a large proportion of India’s population still remains illiterate.  The average years of schooling are lower in rural areas and lowest for rural girls, 30% of whom have received no schooling.  By comparison, the vast majority of boys and girls in urban areas have completed more than primary schooling (Jalan & Murgai, 2009).  In addition, while India holds a few world class universities, the majority are low quality (Roth & Thum, 2010).

India Parenting: A Tradition of Jugaad

Seymour’s work offers a portrait of families in transition who are at same time dedicated to many traditional values.  Communities of women are still the primary caregivers, with intergenerational groups of women emphasizing interdependence.  Tradition and family authority are also highly valued, with arranged marriages still the norm, particularly in middle to upper class families (Seymour, 1999).  Indian society, like many others, places a strong belief in the value of hard work and on children who listen and give priority to other’s needs.  The national tradition of jugaad, roughly meaning to kindly adjust, underscores the typical Indian’s persistence and acceptance of life circumstances (Economist, 2010).  For example, despite continued poverty throughout the nation, a recent poll by Pew of Global Attitudes found that 94% of Indians feel satisfied with their life (Economist, 2010).

Although children grow up in closely quartered households living with many adult relatives from several generations, they nevertheless learn to be responsible at an early age.  For example, Seymour observed a six-year-old cutting vegetables with a knife with a two year old watching and no adult supervising (Seymour, 2011).

Education is highly valued in this culture.  A student’s school performance is assumed to reflect on the family with parents showing equal pride in both daughter and son’s academic accomplishments.




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