School “Choice”, English, and Enduring Inequalities in Liberalizing Kerala (India)
Leya Mathew

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

New markets and commodities are flooding a previously austere, socialist, Indian economy, and private English schooling is yet another relatively low-cost commodity sweeping through present day India. In Kerala, parent patronage of low-fee English schools is engendering the proliferation of “uneconomic” state-funded primary schools. In this context, I explore the aspirations and desires that situate school “choice”, the labors involved in aspiring, as well as the language learning practices that transpire at a low-fee English-medium school and a neighboring uneconomic state-funded school in a village in Kerala, in the district with the highest percentage of uneconomic schools. Further, disaggregating the state at the federal and local levels, I trace state attempts to retain legitimacy in a context where marginalized citizens are asserting their rights. Preliminary analysis suggests that a radically restructured cash economy is catalyzing parental aspirations, which are articulated as a political response to deeply entrenched inequalities institutionalized by state language in education policies. On the other hand, state educators reconcile the grueling challenge of upholding the legitimacy of an education system without students through practices of “aspiration shaming”. Language teaching and learning practices were therefore situated between aspirational and vilifying regimes, which had significant implications for how primary school teachers and young children worked towards, resisted, and performed English literacies.
About Leya Mathew
Leya Mathew is a Ph.D. candidate in the Education, Culture, and Society program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Of the generation that came of age during the early years of liberalization in India, or those whom Lukose (2009) calls “liberalization’s children”, she is interested in tracing the radical restructuring of everyday life and subjectivity in contemporary India. Her dissertation explores the changing political subjectivities of marginalized mothers in the southern state of Kerala through an ethnographic inquiry of their educational aspirations and practices. Her fieldwork was supported by an American Institute of Indian Studies award.

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