Determination of marginalized youth to overcome and achieve in mathematics: A case study from India.


  • Deepa Srikantaiah USAID's Global Reading Network
  • Mindy Eichhorn Gordon College
  • Masarrat Khan Maharashtra Dyslexia Association


Mathematics Education, India, Resilience, Marginalized Adolescents


According to the United Nations Human Development Report (2016), poor, marginalized, and vulnerable groups still face substantial barriers to access post-secondary education and employment. These marginalized and vulnerable groups include women, girls, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants and refugees, the LGBTI community, and those discriminated because of their socio-economic status (UN Human Development Report (2016).

Increasingly, proficiency in mathematics is required for careers and for solving daily problems in life (Starkey & Kline, 2008; Ramaa, 2015). Basic numerical, mathematical, and scientific skills are an important mechanism to further education and to enable individuals to improve their job market potential. The risk of underachievement in mathematics around the world is greatest for students from low-income backgrounds, as well as linguistic and ethnic minorities (Ramaa, 2015; National Research Council, 1989). In India, these factors are compounded by lack of early exposure to math, poor teacher quality, and large class sizes (ASER, 2014). Although some research has explored difficulties in arithmetic for economically disadvantaged elementary students in India (see Ramaa, 2015), the challenges that marginalized adolescents encounter in completing secondary mathematics courses has been largely unexamined.

In this qualitative exploratory study, conducted from October 2015 to February 2016, we sought to understand the characteristics of adolescents from socio-economically marginalized communities in Mumbai and Bangalore, India, and their determination and perseverance to overcome challenges in mathematics and complete their secondary education. In particular, the study followed students who had dropped out of mainstream school and enrolled in India’s National Institute of Open Schooling Program to complete their high school education and attempt the 10th standard board exams.

Results from data collected in the academic year showed that there were multiple factors, including lack of learning foundational skills at the primary school level and the type of intervention provided to complete high school, which influenced the students’ achievement in mathematics. Findings from the study inform policy and programmatic decisions for students enrolled in India’s National Institute of Open Schooling Program.

Author Biographies

Deepa Srikantaiah, USAID's Global Reading Network

Dr. Deepa Srikantaiah is a Senior Researcher with the USAID funded Reading within Reach Project hosted by the University Research Co., LLC (URC). Broadly Deepa’s research interests are in mathematics, science, and art education. She has extensive experience conducting qualitative research. Deepa has worked at the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education, with USAID contractors, nonprofits, Universities, and was awarded a Fulbright to India (2015-2016). Deepa has experience working on global mathematics, reading, and STEM education programs; leading professional development programs for teachers and working professionals; building partnerships; and in research and evaluation. In 2017, Deepa founded Artlight Global, Inc. a philanthropic organization providing project-based learning in STEM and art. Deepa’s regional focus is South
Asia and the US, but she has also worked in East Asia and in Eastern and Southern Africa. Deepa has a Ph.D. in International Education Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park. For more information about Deepa visit:

Mindy Eichhorn, Gordon College

Dr. Mindy Eichhorn is an assistant professor of Education at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. Mindy currently teaches courses on special education assessment, the IEP process, and inclusion, while supervising undergraduate teacher candidates. Her research interests are centered on math learning disabilities and how number sense difficulties impact student learning throughout K-12 math education. She is also a mathematics specialist at the Boston Children’s Hospital Learning Disabilities Program. Mindy spent more than six years in India as a special education consultant and inclusion specialist. Prior to working in India, Mindy was a special education teacher in the Hartford (CT) Public Schools.

Masarrat Khan, Maharashtra Dyslexia Association

Masarrat Khan, M.A., CDT, CALT, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maharashtra Dyslexia Association. She holds Master’s degrees in Clinical Psychology and English Literature from Mumbai University, and is a Certified Dyslexia Therapist and a Certified Academic Language Therapist. She is a member of the Academic Language Therapy Association, USA, and is registered with the Rehabilitation Council of India, New Delhi, where she has served on the Expert Panel for Learning Disability.