Matching services with local preferences: managing primary education services in a rural district of India

In India, the pressing concern in education is with bringing in at least 32 million children estimated to be out of school, to meet the goal of Universal Elementary Education. Support for decentralisation of public services is widespread because of the equity and efficiency benefits associated with it. In particular, decentralisation is seen to facilitate the matching of services with local preferences, thus increasing the chances for policy goals to be met. This proposition is examined in the context of research carried out in a village of Raichur district in India, where poor households `preferences' with reference to school timings are analysed with a view to reflecting on their implications for education policy and management. The paper attempts to address the following concerns: how homogeneous are local preferences? What if these run counter to policy interests? Can aspects of services be selectively decentralised, or does the `production' of the sector as a whole require to be re-thought? The paper concludes with some thoughts on the importance of processes of `preference' articulation, and the need to recognise preferences implicit within policy intentions.