As a result of chronic poverty many people in South Asia experience poor quality schooling, interrupted schooling, or no schooling at all. People affected by poverty face multiple constraints on wellbeing, which typically include informal employment, low wages and poor health. In such contexts the benefits and, more specifically, the 'returns' to education are not easily observed. Standard measures of educational attainment (such as primary school completion, years of schooling, literacy rates) are ill-suited to capture and understand such benefits. Similarly, data on income from formal employment is likely to be unsuitable. The paper argues that concepts of educational benefit and mobility have to be re-thought in contexts of chronic poverty to capture the 'marginal returns' in situations of constraint and vulnerability. The paper illustrates this argument with ethnographic vignettes of uses of literacy by non-schooled adults in Bangladesh.
- chronic poverty