Debunking Bhagwati and Panagariya’s ‘Debunking Kerala’s myth’

I am not going into the claims of Gujarat’s accelerated progress during 2001–2011 which is proven misleading as shown by Maitreesh Ghatak of LSE here. This post is about education of Kerala vs. rest of India, especially Gujarat.
Arvind Panagariya and Jagdish Bhagwati (P&B from now on) have written extensively disputing post independence governments’ role in Kerala’s higher metrics on education and health; at the same time celebrating the success of Gujarat. It forms a chapter in their book ‘India’s Tryst with Destiny’. A gyst of arguments regarding education is summarized in Panagariya’s 2012 column titled ‘Cracking Kerala’s myth’ in TOI.
P&B dispute Kerala’s success on two fronts
  1. While Kerala may be better on absolute metrics, the ‘change in literacy’ since independence is not impressive compared to India and especially Gujarat.
  2. Success in Kerala is not a state led programme. It is due to initiatives led by private.
Prof. Ram Kumar of TISS has already written a response to P’s TOI column. I build on that adding more information.
Claim 1Kerala’s progress (change in % literacy) isn’t impressive compared to Gujarat and India’s.
P’s argument: “In 1951, it (Kerala) had a literacy rate of 47% compared with 18% for India as a whole and 28% for Maharashtra, the closest rival among the large states. By 2011, these rates had risen to 94, 74 and 83%, respectively. The gains made, thus, equal 47, 56 and 55 percentage points for Kerala, India and Maharashtra, respectively.
Debunking P:
The loop hole in in P’s argument is evident — comparing change from a lower base to that from higher base. As per P’s argument, Kerala should have achieved 102% and 103% literacy to be called it as successful as Maharastra and India respectively.
A point to note here — Kerala hit 90% literacy rate by 1991 — before the India’s proverbial growth era.
Claim 2Kerala’s success is not state led.
P’s argument:

1. As per ASER 2010, Kerala has 53% of enrollment in private schools. This demonstrates that the success is not state led.  

Based on the 53% figure, B & P write in their book
The conventional and dominant story of Kerala as a state led success doesn’t stand up to careful empirical investigation
2. Kerala’s success is attributable to historic factors and NOT to post independence efforts.
Debunking P’s argument

1. B & P probably missed out being ‘careful’ in their ‘careful empirical investigation’.
The 53% private enrollment in Kerala is misleading. The proportion of private schools in Kerala is just 7%!!
Why’s the difference? The word ‘private’ has two different meanings. One is that of a school entirely funded and run by the private individuals. This is the way private is usually understood. There’s other set of schools that are funded by government and whose teachers also come from government’s cadre (depending on rules of the state) but the day-to-day operations are managed by a trusts. These are called ‘aided schools’. Mistakenly, sometimes these aided schools are also mixed under conventional definition of ‘private’, which is what P&B do.
Since P&B quote 2010 data from ASER, we can consider 2010 school data to look at this. In 2010, Kerala had 36% government schools, 57% aided schools — schools funded by government but run by trusts and 7% schools run by private.

It implies that state had a huge role to play in Kerala and that 53% students are NOT out of state’s net, as misleadingly proclaimed by P&B.
2. Regarding Kerala’s post-independence role, as Prof. Ram Kumar points out, the case of Malabar is instructive of Kerala’s success. Malabar had 31% literacy in 1951 (Kerala — 47% in 1951) and has 91% in 2011.
The fact that even a backward region of the state, Malabar, has caught up to the levels of state aggregates, illustrate the post-independence efforts of governments in Kerala.
Malabar’s improvement is 60% which is more than India’s and Maharastra's, even going as per P’s earlier reasoning.
The actual outcomes
Literacy rate is an indicative measure but not a good measure of learning outcomes. It needs a separate post for that but as a simple illustration — Why do you think Pratham conducts ASER despite having literacy data from census?
P&B quote 53% private enrollment figure from ASER 2010 report but as per the same 2010 ASER report -
  1. % age of students of class 3–5 who can do subtraction or more46.6% in Gujarat and 79.2% in Kerala.
  2. % age of students of class 3–5 who can read class 1 level text63% in Gujarat and 87% in Kerala.
… and so on.
Kerala is way ahead of Gujarat in learning outcomes as per ASER.
Bottom line:
Kerala’s success in education had significant role of post-independence governments.
Kerala is way ahead of Gujarat in learning outcomes.
Growth and learning outcomes: Kerala hit 90% literacy by 1991 - before the proverbial growth era. Gujarat is far behind Kerala in learning outcomes despite higher growth rate.
It’s a mystery as to why the actual learning outcome data was not considered in P & B’s analysis. It can’t be because they didn’t know about ASER. They do use private enrollment data (which is hidden inside the report) from ASER 2010 but carefully miss the learning outcomes data (which is the headline of the report).

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