Rural vs. Urban: Measuring the inequality of opportunity

Just building infrastructure to bridge inequality in basic services like education is not the answer

By Minaj Ranjita Singh
Last Updated: Tuesday 22 May 2018

Schoolgirls in Hnahthial, Mizoram       Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It is an obvious answer but nevertheless the question is worth asking. Which of these two children have a better chance at becoming a doctor or a lawyer? Sunila Tekam, a Scheduled Tribe girl from Mavala village, Madhya Pradesh, the eldest of 5 siblings born to agricultural labourers or Navin Sharma, a young Delhi boy whose Brahmin parents have jobs with stipulated monthly salaries. There are many children in India like Sunila whose life is shaped by the circumstances they are born in.

Measuring inequality has always been a debatable topic.  Is it enough to compare the income and/consumption indicators?

The past two decades have been dominated by discussions (Roemer 1998) related to the equality of opportunity in education, health, livelihood, etc. It is seen as unfair when the potential of achieving outcomes is determined simply by the lottery of birth. The World Bank even came up with a Human Opportunity Index (HOI) in 2008 to measure inequality of opportunity among children.

Children’s access to basic services is critical for their full development and they cannot be held responsible for their family’s circumstances. We tried to explore the inequality of opportunities for education among children belonging to the rural vs urban parts of tribal-dominated Mandla district in Madhya Pradesh with a population of around 10.5 lakh. In-depth interviews of 57 young individuals led to varied results, especially for the most important question of the study, “Why did you not pursue higher education”

In the rural parts of Mandla, infrastructure for education after secondary level was not feasible either due to the absence of colleges or inadequate modes of transportation to the nearby colleges. But this was not a major reason for many to not pursue higher education. Out of those who said they couldn’t pass Class 10th matriculation, 46 per cent blamed their family’s personal problems like financial constraints or absence of parents to provide for the household.  For instance, being the eldest child, Kuvriya from Manikpur village had to quit school so that she could take care of her siblings and help out her mother with household chores. Similarly, another young gentleman said, “I had leave school because my father died and there was no one to provide for the family…Now that I have been left behind, I feel its importance.”

Parents’ presence and their background highly influenced whether the child wanted to continue studying. It was not surprising that majority of them who were graduates had literate parents. While the others had parents who albeit being illiterate still encouraged their children to study and prosper. It was interesting to note that several of them (around 44 per cent) who didn’t pursue beyond Class 7th or 8th did so due to their shortage of exposure. Once they failed or missed an examination, they had no motivation to re-apply. Shubhlal Markam from Umarvada said, “I was eleven when I migrated and started working. My friends who passed 10th are still at home without jobs… I think I am doing fine.” This highlights the importance of the environment in which they are raised.

As expected, a higher number of the urban participants had pursued education after secondary in the urban areas of Mandla which indicates that geographic location (rural or urban) does play a role in access to opportunities. For those who didn’t pursue higher education, most of them mentioned the same reasons that were stated by their rural counterparts. Even though they had access to infrastructure, their social and economic background held them back. For instance, Pappu Chowdhary from Bicchiya town had to leave school to do odd jobs to sustain his family and Anju Yadav had to quit after 7th because she had to take care of four siblings at home and her mother couldn’t manage alone. There were few exceptions who were motivated, but that could be attributed to their parents who were exposed to the happenings in and around the world. I believe all the motivation and exposure boils down to the circumstances which are beyond a child’s control.

The Preamble to the Constitution of India assures equality of status and opportunity. If the opportunities available to everyone are equal and all have the same platform, then the circumstances such as gender, caste, geographic location, parental background should not affect their future.

Now, can we say that equality in access to opportunities can be achieved by just building infrastructure? We need to level the playing field so that unequal outcomes cannot be attributed to the circumstances in which the child is brought up. 

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  • Govt school can also give better education like private skool.No doubt it's a debatable topic!

    Posted by: Bibhuti Bhusan Biswal | 2 years ago | Reply
  • It is evident from the above article the advantage of rural born and urban raised children. But what is surprising is the fact that in Kerala, whether it is rural or urban, they have been able to achieve 100 per cent literacy rate. Moreover, the children from urban areas are equally capable of competing in all UPSC exams and other exams conducted for Banks, Insurance and other areas. You will find a Keralite even in the remotest part of India. It will be very interesting to conduct a similar study in the state of Kerala so that the same programme may be emulated in remote areas of India whether it is North, North East, West or other areas. It is particularly interesting to note that most of the hospitals in all over the world have one or two Malayalee Nurses and hence, even in the North Eastern areas, colleges for Nurses and paramedics to be opened with the help of any NGO or local/centre Government help. You may please write to me in case you have any counter views on the subject.

    Posted by: T.N.Kumar | 2 years ago | Reply
    • First of all, I would like to thank you for pointing out this critical aspect seen in one of the states of India. We all know Kerala is above many states if we compare the development indicators. But replicating the same programmes is difficult due to the variability among our diverse states. Though I agree with your idea, it is a broad topic, and the policymakers of our country are aware of it.
      Even in some of the North-eastern states, we find that almost everybody in the village is a literate and/or matriculate. But what lacks is the opportunity for livelihood options because of the terrain/absence of markets, etc. I had recently been to Baksa district(Assam) where I witnessed the same.
      Lastly, the whole point of the article was to highlight the fact that awareness and motivation to study are equally important rather than the access to facilities.

      I hope that my response is satisfactory! Kindly mail me for further questions.

      Posted by: Minaj Ranjita Singh | 2 years ago | Reply
  • The short answer will be "No! Infrastructure is only the bare minimum"
    Then what is the crux of this issue?

    On Inequality
    This quest for inequality is a long going process of debate. Before we enter the realm of determining the criterion for the so called inequality, i would like to question the underpinnings that the people look for when they try to measure inequality. The right to education is a valid and understandable but the circumstances governing an individual being educated can never be defined in a specific way as there are always indefinite possibilities of which we simply pick and choose the bare minimum based on what appears to be worse to the on setters of a trend.
    What I mean to say here is the reality of the matter might be completely different. Assuming the "urban child and the rural child with four siblings" as the cliche scenario, I would like people to stop and see what persona they build up in their mind. We visually assess an urban family in good condition and vice versa for the rural child. But do we or even the Educational standpoint govern the emotional influences that the children experience. Continuing with our example, On further observation we see that what seems to be a "well to do urban family" is actually a facade where the child is barely 18 and the parents are already senior citizens with or without pension. How does a child deal with such a situation? On the contrary the rural child might as well be poor but the parents are young and strong enough to support her.
    Who among the two in the above scenario will have a clear thought process for studying further rather than study to fend for the family?

    On Pursuing Higher studies, Dogma, Paternal Education

    Higher studies, a show biz. in one word.
    What accounts to higher studies in India, is directly proportional to the trend in the incoming salary. The thought process is investment to reap benefit, not education. Sheep culture is highly prevalent in our Country which can easily be seen by observing the ration of students appearing for an exam to the ratio of students qualifying
    To be honest a majority of the children don't understand what occupation really are and how their studies will influence them, they just know the terminology per say but not about the profile. All their efforts go into keeping their parents happy for the time being and that is where the cause of unemployment originates. Yes, I said unemployment!

    Parents are one generation behind their children, the work culture leaps a para-dime in that generation gap. Generally, the assumption is good marks, good college implies a good job, which now is for a fact not so true.Here I appreciate the concept of entrepreneurship which build a person bottom up. This thoughts should be inculcated in children to feel self sufficient rather than rely on emotions. I know this sounds difficult but it actually is as simple as giving the child a responsibility so as to make him/her feel important. "Who did not want to be an adult as a child?"
    The concept of entrepreneurship here breaks the pattern of good marks, good college and actually make people think of ways to progress in life and its sets of ups and downs.

    Another possible solution for a proper child education is to actually invest time in educating parents regarding their responsibilities. Be parents educated or uneducated, they need to know what possibilities will their child have in future as jobs. What is trending in jobs or what value which subject will impart on a child future, be it Computer science, Music, Philosophy, economics whatever.

    Education system or NGO should bring in the labour or actual workers (lower grade employee) to discuss their daily lives of ups and downs rather that CEO of the same company to share their success story. The more recent a person is employed, the better the people can relate to. Instead of shouting slogans of success mantra, people should discuss "How do you survive with what you study or how do you benefit from them?"
    Small sample space projects can be planned and incorporated as part of a curriculum involving children and parents to understand "On going jobs"
    But I do realize that such a solution sounds unrealistic when the proposed solution is "Infrastructure"
    Until we enable free thought, there will always be educated as well as uneducated unemployed crowd which will struggle throughout and continue this vicious cycle adding more children to the system with no scope in the future.

    Parents need to be included. That is the crux of this issue is what I feel. Any parent be it urban or rural, has experienced hardship in life which has moulded him/her accordingly and hence they are really difficult to handle.
    Try explaining a daily wage worker about humanitarianism, all his focus will be on the thought of loosing the bread for the day. Similar, an urban parent builds a reputation and their "ego" prevents them from looking for solution rather than sticking to social standards.

    Children are always curious, it is us who pull them away from life and introduce them to living a life, in a very very harsh way, without giving them time to nurture their creativity and apply them as productivity.

    So I guess we know where to hit the arrow then?

    Posted by: Tarun Krishnaswamy | 2 years ago | Reply
  • It is a fact that children from urban areas have advantages over rural children in many aspects. 100% or nearly 100% literacy can be achieved even with these differences, but at a high level competitions the children brought up in the rural areas are generally disadvantaged. Besides rural vs urban comparision, much can be said about children from poor vs rich family background.

    Posted by: Byron Khiangte | one year ago | Reply