The business of schooling : the school choice processes, markets, and institutions governing low fee private schooling for disadvantaged groups in India
This study is a multi-level analysis of the pervasive phenomenon of what is termed here as low-fee private (LFP) schooling in India focusing on Lucknow District, Uttar Pradesh. The significance of the study is its focus on a private sector uniquely characterised as one targeted to a clientele traditionally excluded from private education. The study follows a single-case embedded case study research design of the type explained by Yin (1994). Its guiding framework comprises theoretical levels of analysis which are the individual, organisational, and institutional, corresponding to the case sub-units of household, school, and state respectively. The research design is structured through a new institutional paradigm which is also used to analyse results at the institutional level. Data were collected through interviews, observations, documents, and field notes. Direct household data sources were 60 parents/close family members at two focus schools (one urban and one rural); school sources were owners/principals of 10 case study schools (five urban and five rural); and state sources were 10 government officials. Analysis of the 100 formal interviews, informal interviews, observation events, and field notes followed a qualitative approach through an inductively derived analytic framework. Structured portions of household and school interviews were analysed through descriptive statistics providing data on household and school background characteristics. Documents were analysed using a modified content analysis approach. Implications of individual-level results lie in highlighting the schooling choices and patterns of a group that is otherwise regarded as homogenous, i.e. children are not sent to school because parents are uninterested in schooling and fail to see its relevance. In fact, results indicate that disadvantaged groups accessing the LFP sector in the study are active choosers who made deeply considered and systematic choices about their children's education. A model to explain their school choice processes is empirically derived. Data suggest that households employed the strategies of staying, fee-bargaining, exit, and fee-jumping to engage with LFP case study schools. Organisational-level results focus on case study school profiles, their organisational structures, and the strategies they employed to operate in the new schooling market. Results also focus on a qualitative understanding of the challenges case study schools faced as LFP schools, both by the institutional context and household demands. Finally, data point to the mechanisms instituted within the schools to deal with household needs and demands and the changing household-school relationship. The implications of institutional-level analysis He in exposing inconsistencies in the application of the formal institutional framework (FIF) for schooling to case study and other LFP schools by institutional actors. Differences in the FIF in principle and in practice are linked to perverse incentives embedded within it. The results strongly indicate the existence of what is termed here as, the shadow institutional framework (SIF), employed by case study schools to mediate the FIF to their institutional advantage. The SIF comprises internal institutions common across the set of case study schools, allowing them to form linkages with other LFP schools and exchange institutional information; and external institutions or higher order institutions governing how case study schools interacted with the FIF for basic and/or secondary education and private schooling. The SIF tied together an otherwise independent set of LFP schools as a de-facto sub-sector of the greater private sector. The study's main contributions are its analysis of an emerging local model of formal private schooling for disadvantaged groups; extending new institutional theory's application to education; and the methodological contribution of mediating the researcher's positionality through currencies.