Educational expectations, aspirations and structural constraints

Examining parents’ expectations from education for their children during and after school. 

Field studies in education

In the last two decades in India, there has been an increase in demand for education and rising enrolments across social groups for all genders. This rise is interpreted as a result of an expectation by poorer parents and their aspirations for livelihoods and jobs. This idea has pervaded current policy discourse around school education. 

We examined parental expectations from education, as well as parents’ expectations for the post schooling career options of their children. The study was drawn from a larger research study on school choice in rural India that covered 121 public and low-fee private schools and 1210 families, in 10 districts across 4 states.

Overall, slightly more than half (51 per cent) of the children in the sample went to public schools and the others went to private schools. There was significant difference in the household wealth status of the children going to each type of school — 71 per cent of children belonging to the bottom asset quintile in the sample went to public schools, while only 17 per cent of children belonging to the top asset quintile went to public schools.

Why do parents find education useful?

The study asked parents their opinions on education and its use for girls and boys. Parents were asked to state the reasons for their opinions. 

The idea that education was important important for all was near universal. Parents cared about employability even as they said that education had broader social objectives and not just mere employment. 

We have classified and grouped these reasons as social purpose”:

  1. Education as important for self-worth
  2. Education enhanced respect in society
  3. Education enabled empowerment and capabilities to lead an independent life.

Parents' opinions on education

  • 96% say education is important for boys and girls
  • 30% say Education is important for employability
  • 25% say Education has a social objective

What do parents want their child to become?

Parents were asked about their aspirations for the careers of their children. There was a difference between parents of public school-going children and private-school going children. Aspirations for government jobs was high, and aspirations for careers such as medicine and engineering was higher in parents with private-school going children. 

Aspirations of parents for their children’s career options

  • 44-46% parents of children in public schools wanted government jobs
  • 16% parents of children in private schools aspired for professional careers
  • Only 10% parents of children in public schools aspired for professional careers


The study underlines two important issues. 

First, parents value the social purpose of education and do not regard education only as a means of employment. They said that self-worth, respect in society and empowerment were important. These ideas align to a substantive idea of a democratic society and are key aims of education at a policy level. 

Second, higher aspirations for professional careers corresponded with higher economic and higher educational status of parents. These findings suggest it is likely that social and economic conditions play an important role in providing different aspirational horizons for parents from different backgrounds. Structural constraints probably limit these horizons for the poorer parents sending their children to public schools as compared to their private school counterparts.