Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Poor Economics

I am reading the book Poor Economics: Rethinking Poverty and the Ways to End it by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. I haven't read a book that has impacted me more. Every page has made me pause and think. There is so much to quote from it and discuss, I will be violating the fair use policy on quotation. Do read this book. I strongly recommend it. Here are couple of paragraphs from the book that I read yesterday:
In a study [in India] designed to find out whether ... prejudice influenced teachers' behaviour with students, teachers were asked to grade a set of exams. The teachers did not know the students, but half of the teachers, randomly chosen, were told the child's full name (which includes the caste name). The rest were fully anonymous. They found that, on average, teachers gave significantly lower grades to lower-caste students when they could see their caste than when they could not. But interestingly, it was not the higher-caste teachers who were doing this. The lower-caste teachers were actually more likely to assign worse grades to lower-caste students. They must have been convinced these children could not do well.
And then, as a continuation,
Children themselves use this logic when assessing their own abilities. The social psychologist Claude Steele demonstrated the power of what he calls "stereotype threat" in the U.S. context: Women do better on math tests when they are explicitly told that the stereotype that women are worse in math does not apply to this particular test; African Americans do worse on tests if they have to start y indicating their race on the cover sheet. Following Steele's work, two researchers from the World Bank had lower-caste children in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh compete against high-caste children in solving mazes. They found that the low-caste children compete well against the high-caste children as long as caste is not salient, but once low-caste children are reminded that they are low-castes competing with high-caste children (by the simple contrivance of asking them their full names before the game starts), they do much worse.
How do we work towards helping every child achieve its fullest potential? How to we eradicate the ills of a caste system that has psychologically impacted Indians (both "high" & "low" castes) that one's intelligence and ability are linked to the castes in which they are born, even though it has been proven convincingly by scientists that such is not the case?

1 comment:

  1. If someone is a lower caste should they to better in studies if there was more competition?

    I have read that lower caste people are assumed to do bad in studies and are therefore given bad marks.