This paper explores diverse pathways through early childhood in the context of Andhra Pradesh state, India. The particular focus is on experiences of pre-school and transitions to primary school. The paper is based on analysis of Young Lives survey data (n=1950) collected for a group of young children born at the beginning of the millennium, plus in-depth qualitative research with a small sub-sample (n=24). We start from the premise that children’s earliest educational experiences can have a crucial influence on their lifelong adjustments and achievements. Superficially, the evidence from Young Lives research is quite positive, suggesting equitable access to early childhood provision as well as high levels of primary school attendance. However, overall percentages are misleading and disguise major differences in early transition experiences. Many of these differences are shaped by the co-existence of a long established network of government anganwadis under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, alongside a rapidly growing (relatively unregulated) private sector at both pre-school and primary levels. Parental decision making around private versus government education has been fuelled by the possibility of improved life opportunities in a rapidly changing economy and the attractiveness of English medium teaching, even at the earliest stages (more commonly available in the private sector). The paper identifies four quite distinct trajectories related to availability and choice of pre-school and primary school. Parental aspirations for individual boys and girls combined with beliefs about relative quality of government and private schools seem to shape individual trajectories in ways that seem likely to reproduce or even reinforce inequities related to wealth, location, caste and gender. The consequence for children is in many cases having to cope with multiple transitions during their early years, which may entail changing schools in an effort to ‘up-grade’ in perceived quality (e.g. from a government to private school), or moving into distant hostels or with relatives in order to attend better schools or to access grades unavailable locally
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