What role have civil society organisations (CSOs) played in improving the access and quality of education for low-income groups in the Indian education system? Questioning the nature of the role played by CSOs – non-governmental organisations (NGOs), grassroots organisations, activist groups of academics and parents – is compelling for two reasons.
On the one hand, there is growing evidence that the government has failed to deliver education services; and for-profit private providers and CSOs are filling the gap. This is highlighted by the fact that many poor people send their children to expensive private schools or CSOrun schools, despite the presence of government schools in their neighbourhoods (Kantha and Narain 2005: 61).
On the other hand, there appears to be a growing confidence in the ability of civil society to hold the state accountable for the delivery of services. For example, the recent mandatory implementation of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in India was the result of a prolonged effort on the part of the CSO network – the Right to Food Campaign – to hold the state accountable (Right to Food Campaign 2006). As the influence of CSOs in policy and implementation has grown, it raises the question: does CSO involvement improve quality and access in education?