Can cash replace textbooks? Lessons from Bihar


In 2017, the Bihar government launched a direct benefit transfer scheme for uniforms and textbooks in the state. That is, where government schools once provided these items to students, now the government transferred money directly to their accounts or their parents’ accounts so that they could purchase them.

Some experts argued that among other advantages, the scheme could reduce inefficiencies in the system, and allow students to buy better quality products. Others, however, argued that there were several problems with it – many parents, for instance, did not even have accounts where they could receive transfers.

Five years after introducing the scheme, in October 2022, the government withdrew it, even as the Central government urged other states to introduce it.

Johanna Deeksha travelled to Bihar to speak to students, parents and educators and found that they were largely relieved that the scheme had been withdrawn. “I met parents who are largely illiterate, and are desperate for their children to have a good education,” Deeksha said. “However, they are troubled by the lack of facilities provided to them – things as basic as textbooks and uniforms.”

She added, “Even though the scheme was expected to provide them with a solution to these problems, I found that its failure had made parents more wary of the government’s efforts to ensure their children’s right to education.”

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Ajay Krishnan
Senior Editor

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