M-RCBG Associate Working Paper No. 76

"Harbinger of a New Era"? Evaluating the Effect of India's Right to Education Act on Learning Outcomes

Dhruva Bhat



India enacted the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) into law in 2010. RTE created a constitutional right to education and included regulations for pupil-teacher ratios, public school infrastructure, education spending, and private school enrollment. I contribute to the literature by estimating the causal effect of RTE on measures of literacy, numeracy and school quality using data from an annual, nationally representative survey of over 600,000 children. I utilize a difference-in-differences approach, controlling for differing pre-trends, student-level characteristics and GDP, as well as grade, state and year fixed effects. I find that while RTE had a positive effect on public school infrastructure and teacher absence rates, it had a negative impact on most measures of literacy and numeracy skills for public school students. I explore possible channels through which RTE could have had this adverse effect and provide suggestive evidence that the fall in learning outcomes was not the result of changes in enrollment, the rise of private schools or changes in school infrastructure. Further investigation into unmeasured variables such as the quality of teachers, curricula and pedagogy is crucial in order to ensure that India can successfully educate its over 400 million children.

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