6 – Literacy and Education – Social Development in Independent India


Literacy and Education

Rajiv Balakrishnan,
Muchkund Dubey and S. N. Jha




Education is not just an ‘absolute value’ it has enormous ‘functional value’ as well. It builds up, enriches and empowers the individual at the level of the self and as a member of the society and the democratic order. Education, particularly mass literacy, is a key factor in the development process.1

In India there has always been a keen appreciation for the importance of education; it was accorded a high priority by the leaders of the Freedom Movement as is evident in the Constitution. Article 45 of the Directive Principles of State Policy says: ‘The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years’. Further along the road, in a public interest litigation in 1993 (Unnikrishnan vs the State of Andhra Pradesh), the Supreme Court ruled that ‘the right to education was a derived fundamental right flowing from the citizen's fundamental right to live’.2 Following this, the Saikia Committee was constituted to consider whether education should explicitly feature as a fundamental right. The recommendations of the committee formed the basis of the Constitution (83rd Amendment) Bill of 1997, the purpose of which was to make education up to the age of 14 a right that is both fundamental and justiciable.3

Meanwhile, the 42nd Amendment had shifted education to the concurrent list, thus formalizing the increasing role of the Centre. The 73rd and the 74th Amendments, which created a framework for the states to endow panchayats ‘…with such powers and authorities as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government’,4 ushered in yet another change in the constitutional scheme of things. In the changed policy environment, ‘education including primary and secondary schools’ were cited in the Eleventh Schedule, in which are listed the areas in relation to which the states could devolve powers to the panchayats so as to enable them, in their functioning as local self-government bodies, to conceive and implement programmes for economic development and social justice.


As with all other obligations under the Directive Principles of State Policy, Article 45, which stipulates that ‘the State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years’, is also on a best-endeavour basis. In spite of the impressive progress made during the last decade or so, even now, this goal continues to elude the nation, notwithstanding judicial pronouncements in its favour. In Mohini Jain vs the State of Karnataka (1992) and in Unnikrishnan vs the State of Andhra Pradesh (1993), the Supreme Court's verdict was that the right to education was a derived fundamental right flowing from the citizens’ fundamental right to life; the Supreme Court has also given a number of other verdicts widening the scope of the right to life to include not just animal existence but also right to livelihood; and its interpretation of Article 19 asserts that the freedom of speech and expression is difficult to be exercised without education. These judicial interpretations have been in tune with the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. India is a party to both these instruments.

After the Supreme Court's verdict expanding Article 21 to include the right to education as a fundamental right, the central government took five years to introduce a bill in the Rajya Sabha for amending Article 21. This Bill (the 83rd Constitutional Amendment Bill) was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by the United Front government in 1997, but remained struck up there until, 4 years later, the National Democratic Alliance government decided to revive it as the 93rd Constitutional Amendment Bill. The Lok Sabha passed this Bill towards the end of 2001 and the Rajya Sabha in early May 2002.

Thus, right to education has now become a Fundamental Right. Now every citizen is vested with the right to approach the Apex Court to get compliance with this right enforced, in case the State fails to provide the necessary infrastructure, facilities and services. The main provision of this Amendment is to insert an Article 21-A in the Constitution of India which stipulates that ‘the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine’. Article 45 of the Constitution has been amended to read ‘the State shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years’. Finally, a clause has been added to Article 51-A of the Constitution on Fundamental Duties stating that it shall be the duty of ‘a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to the child or, as the case may be, the ward between the age of six and fourteen years’.

The version of the Bill introduced in 1997 had been criticized by experts, civil society organizations and NGOs on the following grounds:

  • It did not cover children up to the age of 6 in spite of the provision of Article 45 that free and compulsory education shall be provided to ‘all children until they complete the age of fourteen years’. The Bill as passed tries to take care of the criticism regarding the coverage of children in the age group of 0–6 by amending Article 45 of the Constitution. But this is not adequate because, not being a part of Fundamental Rights, it is not justicable. Thus, free and compulsory education for children in the age group of 0–6 will remain on a best endeavour basis. Until a sound foundation is laid by providing necessary facilities and services for the education of children between the age group of 0 and 6, the provision of free and compulsory education to children in the age group of 6–14 will suffer from fundamental weaknesses and limitations.
  • The term ‘free’ in the Amendment should be defined to include not only free tuition fee but also the provision, free of cost, of one meal, books, notebooks, slates, uniforms, and medical and transport services.
  • The addition to Article 51(K) relating to the parents’ or guardians’ duty is likely to be misused. Parents and guardians may be penalized for not sending their children to school, which may be due to factors beyond their control. This may relieve the State of its obligation to provide opportunities for education and put the onus on parents. The government has however clarified that even though the Constitutional Amendment makes it a Fundamental Duty of every parent/guardian to send his child/ward to school, there is no provision in it for punishment in case he or she is unable to do so. The Government has indicated that it will try to facilitate the enforcement of this provision not through punishment but by the creation of new school facilities, filling up gaps and improving the quality of education. Moreover, the community will be entrusted with the task of enforcing the right to education and parents and other members of the community will be mobilized for this purpose.
  • The Article should provide for not only free and compulsory education but also quality education.
  • The government should work out the financial implications of the Amendment and indicate how the additional resources are going to be mobilized.

Article 21-A makes it obligatory for the government to enact a Central legislation to give effect to the Constitutional Amendment. At the time the Amendment Bill was passed, the government promised that a Central legislation would be introduced spelling out the parameters of what is to be provided by the State for implementing the Amendment. The parameters will include teacher/pupil ratio, number of rooms, distance of travel from schools, quality of education, etc. Moreover, the legislation will also create a mechanism by which a citizen who is aggrieved that the right to education has not been fulfilled, should be able to get relief at district and sub-district levels rather than filing writ petitions in the High Courts and the Supreme Court. This Central legislation is expected to be introduced and adopted by the Parliament soon.

The government had earlier set up an expert committee to calculate the financial implications of the Amendment. According to its calculation, the financial implication is expected to be Rs. 9,800 crore by way of additional resources every year or 0.5 per cent of GDP for 10 years which is the time frame envisaged by the Government. The increase in the provision for elementary education in the last budget has not been commensurate at all with this requirement of additional resources.

The government has in the meantime launched a programme called Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) to ensure that every child is provided free elementary education. The abhiyan (campaign) aims at universal enrolment by the year 2003, universal 5 years of primary schooling by 2007, and 8 years of elementary schooling by 2010. The SSA is being implemented in a mission mode. The national mission is headed by the Prime Minister of India and includes representatives of political parties, NGOs, academicians, teachers, etc. Similarly, at the state level the state missions are being headed by the state chief ministers. The SSA specifically targets the provision of quality education for all. It also provides for intensive teachers training and academic resource support in the form of Bloc Resource Centres and Cluster Resource Centres, Teachers Grants and School Grants. The Government has calculated that under the SSA, the Government of India will spend about Rs. 63,000 crore over the next 10 years. Another Rs. 7,000 crore is expected to be spent through the streamlining of various programmes. The state governments will provide additional resources amounting to Rs 30,000 crore as their share of the SSA. An amount of Rs. 25,000 crore is expected to come from the private sector and Rs. 5000 crore from community sources.


As country after country emerged from colonial bondage, governments of the newly independent states began the process of nation building through ‘centrally managed guided democracies’. With growing democratization, the spotlight began to play on sustainable development, environmental concerns, and quality of life issues. Governments, for their part, began to realize that the skills and talents of their people were their greatest resource, and that the role of education needed to be thought through afresh. Development henceforth was to be ‘of’ the people, ‘by’ the people and ‘for’ the people. In such a scheme of things, education was to play a critical role. On this, there is a global consensus, demonstrated perhaps most strikingly by the assessment of the progress of nations in terms of the HDI or the Human Development Index, a measure based on the premise that development should give people a decent standard of living, allow them to lead long and healthy lives, and ensure that they are well educated. With the formal system catering only to the privileged few, ‘continuing education’ or ‘lifelong learning’ seeks to compensate by giving a second chance to those who have missed the bus.6 This, then, is the overarching backdrop to ‘Adult Education’.

Antecedents and Roots

Adult education in India has ancient antecedents—the country's rich oral tradition for the transmission of scriptural knowledge dates back several millennia. With the advent of Buddhism, which did not recognize the caste divisions of Hindu society, education became less exclusive. Especially in the time of Emperor Asoka, the teachings of the Buddha, inscribed on rocks and pillars, were a medium of non-formal education for common people. In the medieval period, the tradition of oral transmission of knowledge, values and culture was sustained by royal patronage to scholars, saints, teachers, artists and artisans. In Akbar's time, handwritten books were read aloud and discussed in the court. Islam was egalitarian; it emphasized the acquisition of knowledge from the cradle to the grave. Aurangazeb believed in free and compulsory education, but could not enforce it throughout his kingdom.7

It was only later, in the 19th century that new winds blew in from the West. The East India Company's main objective was commerce, but its Charter Act of 1698 acknowledged the role of missionaries in spreading education, which they did, not only in an evangelical spirit, but also out of humanitarian considerations. The colonial policy was however not without ambivalence. There was substantial opposition from the British Parliament to the education of Indians; it was argued that the American colonies would not have risen in revolt if their leadership had not come from a determined educated class. A temporary ban on the activities of missionaries ensued. It was followed by the Charter Act of 1813, which gave them the freedom to set up educational institutions, but the promised financial support could not be implemented for want of funds. Lord Grey, the Prime Minister of Britain, saw education as the cornerstone of progress in the colonies; and colonial administrators like Lord Elphinstone, Governor of Bombay (1819–1927) took an interest in the promotion of mass education—though that goal, by and large, was thought impracticable. Another important development came in the form of official criticism of the ‘filtration theory’, which envisaged the spread of education as a process by which it was to filter down from the upper classes, who had the leisure and the means to invest in education. It was in this context that, in 1854, the Educational Dispatch suggested measures for promoting mass education. The emphasis was on primary education, and the challenge of adult education was taken up by ‘missionaries, enlightened Indians and socially committed British officials’. The leaders of the freedom movement, thinkers like Swami Vivekananda, and social reform societies (Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj, and the Indian Social Conference) were key actors, with universities like Madras and Mysore organizing extension lectures for the masses along the extra mural lines of British universities.8

In the policy sphere, recognition of the importance of adult education for socio-economic development came from the Royal Commission on Agriculture (1928) and the Auxiliary Committee of the Indian Statutory Commission (1929). Accordingly, ‘night schools’ modelled after the British Adult Schools were established by Christian missionaries. These key adult education institution in the 19th century had begun to receive grants in aid from 1921. The main objective was to promote basic literacy, but the course content varied. In Travancore, it covered history, health, hygiene, and first aid. By the 1920s, adult education had come to be canalized also through libraries, community development projects, and awareness programmes organized by social, cultural and political organizations. In addition to official initiatives, non-governmental organizations like the YMCA and the Servants of India Society played an important role, and professional bodies like the Rural Reconstruction Association of Benares and the Bombay Sanitary Association helped educate the masses on issues of health, society, economy and politics. In the 1930s, adult educators worked to develop primers in local languages. Dr Frank Laubach, American missionary and author of India Shall be Literate, provided professional leadership to Indian adult educators.9

By 1919, the nationalist movement and the prospects of Swaraj had drawn attention to the dangers of an ignorant electorate. Nationalist leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and B. G. Tilak organized night schools, as well as summer schools for literate adults. Political parties organized schools to train young adults for the freedom movement. Following the transfer of power to elected representatives by the 1935 Act, mass literacy programmes were organized in different parts of India—in Bihar, United Provinces, Bengal, Bombay, Madras, Punjab and Assam. Ironically, the colonial power provided support to adult education, even during the war; it was seen as a way to divert attention from the ongoing freedom struggle (whose leaders saw it as a means to mobilize and motivate the masses). With the resignation of Congress ministries, however, adult education lost steam and became an official activity of educational departments. In most of the princely states, especially Mewar, it was opposed for fear that it would stimulate subversive activities.

The adult education of the 1920s, an activity in which non-officials were the moving force, was to become an official programme in the 1940s. The success of provincial mass literacy programmes, initiatives of non-officials and social reformers, and the freedom struggle were key factors.10 By 1944, the Sergeant Committee, in its report of Post-War Educational Development in India, advocated a 25-year plan to eradicate illiteracy and make arrangements for adult education.11

Vocational and Social Education

In 1939, the Adult Education Committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education had conceived adult education not just as a process whereby literacy is imparted to adults; it emphasized the need to awaken the interest of the learner, and felt this could be best achieved through vocationalization. It however saw adult education only as an aspect of social reconstruction. It was much after Independence, in 1963, that another committee on adult education stressed the need for a ‘social education’ which not only covered basic education, numeracy, and opportunities for further learning through libraries, clubs and the like, but was also linked to such concerns as citizenship, democracy, cultural heritage, health, cooperation, and moral values. In 1952, social education was integrated with the Community Development Programme. Most of the states, however, failed to fully utilize the sanctioned outlay, mainly due to deficiencies in planning and financial administration.12

Functional Literacy

In the 1950s, the adult education programme received financial support from UNESCO and the Ford Foundation, as also training for Indian adult educators by Dr Frank C. Laubach and Dr Wealthy Fisher. Dr Laubach's proposal to the Government of India for an All India adult literacy campaign in the 1950s was however shelved due to a paucity of funds. The policy of universalization of elementary education by 1960 was thought to be a more effective way to tackle the problem of illiteracy. That goal was not achieved. This, together with the limitations of the social education programme, was among the factors that paved the way for a policy shift in favour of ‘functional literacy’. The functional approach was given a stamp of legitimacy in the Report of the Education Commission and in the fourth Five-Year Plan. In 1968–1978, the Farmers Training and Functional Literacy Project (FTFLP) was in place to educate farmers to participate in the ‘green revolution’—but the beneficiaries were mostly well-off farmers. The Functional Literacy for Adult Women programme, introduced in 1975–1976 and meant to facilitate women's participation in development, covered 23 states and union territories by 1977.

In the functional phase of adult education in India, two key adult education institutions were established—the National Board of Adult Education in 1969 and the Directorate of Adult Education in 1971. In 1974, the Central Advisory Board of Education advocated that functional literacy programmes be planned in relation to development schemes. Efforts were made to implement this in the fifth and sixth plans. Krishi Vigyan Kendras aimed at providing technical literacy in agriculture and allied fields, while the Shramik Vidyapeeth sought to improve the professional competence and enrich the lives of urban workers. Other programmes in place included the Nehru Yuvak Kendras, Rural Welfare Extension, and the Family and Child Welfare Programme.13

National Adult Education Programme

By the 1970s, Paulo Friere's writings became influential and education came to be seen more as a process of human liberation. The National Adult Education Programme (NAEP) was, in this context, conceived with equal emphasis on literacy, functionality and social awareness—but the functionality and awareness components got neglected. Still, a high participation of SCs, STs and women was a significant achievement of the NAEP. The NAEP had specified a time frame for the literacy component—300–500 hours over a 10-month period. Subsequently, in 1980, a review committee recommended a 3-year programme of 300–350 hours of basic literacy in the first phase, followed by 2 reinforcement and vocationalization phases of 150 and 100 hours.14 The NAEP Review Committee's proposed 3-year scheme was however shelved, and in 1980, the NAEP itself was replaced by the newly constituted National Programme of Adult Education (NPAE).

In 1982–1983, the government began to fund programmes to supplement the basic literacy component—post-literacy (PL; four months) and follow-up (one year). This eventually led to the Jan Shikshan Nilayams (JSN), established all over the country and conceived of as a permanent institution in rural areas to institutionalize PL and continuing education.15

National Literacy Mission

While the problem of adult illiteracy had been long recognized in official circles, it was formal schooling and its rapid expansion that was emphasized in the country's Five-Year Plans, with such adult literacy initiatives as were undertaken ad hoc and limited in reach and scope. This was to change after 1988, with the establishment of the NLM—the National Literacy Mission.16 Though set up to provide technological and material inputs, the NLM was to soon acquire the colouring of a ‘societal mission’ in a ‘campaign mode’ designed to mobilize large numbers of participants.17 This followed a campaign for total literacy set in motion in the Ernakulam district of Kerala, one that was marked by a spirit of voluntarism, mobilization of people from all walks of life, an alliance between the bureaucracy, social activists and voluntary groups, and support of the government at the central, state, district and local levels. Spearheaded by the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad, an NGO working to popularize science, the movement set the stage for the concept of the total literacy campaign (TLC), which was then taken up for replication in other parts of the country.18

Post-Literacy and Continuing Education   As many learners in the TLCs either did not acquire the recognized levels of proficiency, or, having done so, lapsed into illiteracy, PL programmes, as was envisaged by the NLM, would cater to those who had slipped through the net.19 PL was however seen to also have a broader agenda; according to a 1998 NLM document, it was expected to fulfil the goals of ‘remediation (those not covered by the TLC to be made literate, those below the minimum level of learning to be enabled to achieve it); continuation (stabilization, reinforcement and upgradation of learning); application (to living and working conditions); communications (group action for participation in the development process), and skill training (life skills, communication skills, vocational skills)’.20 A 1999 policy document envisaged TLC and PL as ‘two operational stages in the learning continuum…now under the same scheme’.21 Meanwhile, in 1995, the JSNs were replaced by CECs (continuing education centres), meant to cater to neo-literates. Their objectives extended to the provision of facilities for retention and reinforcement of literacy skills; application of functional literacy for quality of life improvement; dissemination of information on development programmes for participation; creation of awareness on national concerns; training in vocational skills; provision of a library; and organization of cultural and recreational activities.22

In the PL and CEC stages, the emphasis is more on skill development and new learning. The principles that underlie it include lifelong learning to cater to the needs of all sections of society, and learning to be seen as capacity building in the broad sense.23 The ZSS (Zilla Saksharata Samiti), headed by the District Collector with assistance from voluntary agencies, mahila mandals, and Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), Nehru Yuvak Kendras, etc., is responsible for implementing the CEC programme and has the freedom to create new grass-roots structures to facilitate effective implementation.24 It is guided by four broad programme areas of APPEAL (Asia Pacific Programme on Education for All): ‘Equivalency Programmes (EPs)—designed as alternative education programmes equivalent to existing formal, general or vocational education; Income Generating Programmes (IGPs)—designed for acquisition or upgradation of vocational skills for income generating activities; Quality of Life Improvement Programmes—designed to equip the learners with essential knowledge, attitudes, values and skills, both as individuals and members of the community; and Individual Interest Promotion Programmes (IIPP)—designed to provide opportunities for individuals to participate in and learn about their own chosen social, cultural, spiritual, health, physical and artistic interests’.25

Changing the World   The NLM's ideological colouring, according to one of its official publications, draws upon Satyen Maitra's poem, Why Should We Become Literate? whose words ‘guide and direct all our endeavours at making our country fully literate’. The poem stresses the need to be literate so as to read simple books, keep accounts, write letters and read newspapers, and asks whether literacy can help one live better, starve less, have a newly thatched roof above one's head, take care of one's health, and be aware of the laws designed to protect and confer benefits.26

The transformational colouring of the NLM is evident also in its track record. In Pudukkottai, one report has it, literacy was linked up to issue of livelihoods, thus fuelling the motivation of learners, and bringing together activists and administrators. It helped women quarry workers petition the Assistant Director (Mines) for permits to sell stones from the quarries in defiance of the contractors. The women learnt to write bills and receipts and manage accounts as well. The adult literacy programme also helped Pudukkottai women enter the gem-cutting industry, for which numeracy skills were needed to handle precise machine calibrations.27 In Nellore, even in the pre-TLC phase itself, the adult literacy programme was embedded in a context of social mobilization strategies that stressed issues of low wages, untouchability, powerlessness, and social evils like dowry, drinking and wife-beating, with literacy seen as a key to understanding exploitation.28

The TLCs were in fact a landmark in a new perception of literacy, as not just about ‘reading the world’ but about transforming it. Mobilization strategies drew upon the song, dance, and street plays (kalajathas) to stress issues of poverty, oppression, caste discrimination, gender inequity and the absence of employment opportunities.29 In the PL phase, Jana Chetna Kendras (Centres for People's Awareness), were established. These ‘village parliaments’ were not only venues to discuss the general problems of the village, they were also a place where women could get together and play a key activist role, as the experience of Nellore district has shown.30

The PL primers contained lessons dealing with day-to-day problems of the people. One of them, Seetha Katha, which tells the tragic story of Seetha, the wife of a liquor addict, turned out to be incendiary. The story, read out in night school to the women of Doobagunta, a small village some 80 km from Nellore town in Andhra Pradesh, struck a chord with the village women, whose earnings from wage labour were spent by their men folk on toddy and arrack; even their household provisions were sold for liquor, and drunken husbands made their wives miserable. Moved by Seetha's plight, the women mobilized to obstruct the liquor contractor and defy the police and the Collector. The incident was reported in a primer Chaduvu Velugu (Light of Knowledge) as a lesson titled Advallu Ekamaithe (If Women Unite). Disseminated through the evening classes of the NLM, If Women Unite had an electrifying effect. Women advised their men folk not to drink and saw to it that arrack shops were closed, and women squads kept vigil to prevent arrack from entering their villages. The demand for a ban on the manufacture and sale of arrack took root in this fertile soil, and eventually culminated in a ban on the manufacture and sale of all liquor in the state.31 That the transformational aspect the TLCs injected had great potential is attested further by other initiatives that emerged in the wake of the TLC's mass mobilization campaigns; cooperative societies and the Pani Bachao Andolan (a ‘save-water campaign’) in Maharashtra and the setting up of nursery schools in Assam are cases in point.32

Adult Education in Urban Areas   Adult literacy initiatives have mostly been confined to rural areas and the adult literacy needs of the urban poor relegated to the background. It was in this context that the Urban Literacy Project, a new initiative under the NLM, was conceived ‘to explore, identify and suggest appropriate strategic interventions, based on documented experiences, authenticated data and research studies, for widening literacy and continuing education in urban areas’.33 In a workshop to deliberate on Urban Literacy Strategies, it was pointed out that literacy had more economic value in the urban setting, where there was no land to fall back upon, and that the urban cognitive world is large and complex, hence urban adults have special literacy needs; slums, poor civic amenities, urban poverty, the growth of the informal sector, unemployment and underemployment, hopelessness, crime, violence against women, alcohol and drug abuse and AIDS are all part of the urban scene. At the same time, the poor are unaware of government schemes and continue to be exploited; hence there is a need to educate these marginal sections.34 The workshop also identified the need for networks to coordinate and mobilize activists, NGOs and government bodies to collaborate with the local people in such areas as slum improvement, urban basic services and poverty alleviation.

Critical Assessment

  • The literacy campaigns were marked by the spirit of voluntarism and decentralized community participation.35 However, overall, the TLCs got bureaucratized and did not live up to their promise. Districts were classified into A, B, C and D categories, depending on how successful they were in relation to the norm of the total literacy, which led to falsification of data and eroded the credibility of the TLCs.36 The ‘total literacy’ declaration and standardized tests deflected attention away from social and development issues. Instead, the focus should be on social accountability to plan for the PL phase and facilitate individuals or organizations that have played a major role. In particular, uneven outcomes among learners should determine how the PL phase is to be organized.37
  • The literacy campaigns have drawn in women, weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in a big way and have succeeded in penetrating the structures of deprivation, but they have failed to change these in a major way due to the ‘lack of concurrent processes of organization of the oppressed’. At best, the ground has been prepared for this to happen.38
  • The uneven success of the programme suggests an element of ad hocism. Thus, in Puddukotai, where the TLC was a huge success due to the initiative of an enthusiastic Collector; block and district level committees emerged to establish participatory structures at the grass roots.39 Likewise, in Pasumpon, the TLC ‘concentrated on and developed a network of participatory grass-roots village panchayat and district-level structures to ensure the continuity and sustainability of the movement’. A significant feature was the gram panchayat coordinator, the link between the village centres and the district, who is appointed by the village people.40 These districts have been cited as ‘success stories’, which suggests that they stand apart.
  • The TLCs were also subject to structural constraints. Authors of one study note that one of their study districts—Birbhum, in the state of West Bengal, where adult-education programmes had been in place for at least 3 years, was a ‘politically aware’ region. Here, ‘devolution of power of local self-government has helped bridge the chasm between the people and the administration’.41 Another analyst argues that regions that had a history of social-reform movements, peasant organizations and working-class struggles were receptive to the campaign approach of the TLC. In the ‘Hindi belt’, class, caste, gender and semi-feudal relations in agriculture were stumbling blocks. Thus, there is a need to take cognizance of each region and devise a suitable strategy; indiscriminate replication of the TLC model is not feasible.42
  • When mobilization does take place, the question arises as to how much ‘space’ a government-sponsored radical programme can provide. In Nellore, the police cracked down on women's groups in places where the anti-arrack agitation was weak. Following this, the PL textbook that sparked off the agitation was withdrawn, as were functionaries in the forefront of the agitation.43 On the heels of the anti-arrack movement in Nellore, and the ‘new euphoria that was engulfing the district’, women established about 7,000 of their own thrift and savings groups. Loans were taken out for traditional activities like vegetable vending, dairying, and goat and cattle rearing, along with consumption loans to spend on health problems, marriages and the education of children.44 The savings movement however petered out after the government co-opted it into an impersonal banking system.45 In Pondicherry, a mass awareness campaign which sought to make the poor aware of their rights was seen by the government in power as dangerous. The government did not sanction the PL budget; thus, material for 530 PL centres could not be procured and committed volunteers were disillusioned.46 The Chief Minister objected to a PL primer that asked, ‘Freedom for the country, but why poverty for us?’ Officials were transferred and a voluntary agency associated with the PL phase was delinked from it.47
  • Political will has wavered and was not uniform, which was one of the hazards of the ‘ideological’ model of the TLC.48
  • The NLM's 200-hour basic literacy component spread over 6–8 months is questionable. The NAEP Review Committee had found even a 350-hour basic-literacy segment over a 10-month period insufficient. The result is that the programme has only succeeded in creating ‘fragile literates’, who are at risk of lapsing into illiteracy. There is recognition of this by the NLM itself, and has been commented upon by an Expert Group as well. The problem has been aggravated by long time lags between the literacy programme and the 24-month PL phase. The coverage of PL too, it seems, has been hamstrung. As per the data from districts covered by the TLC, out of the 448 TLC districts, in only 234 have PL programmes been sanctioned.49
  • The campaign mode, to which the civil servant-driven TLCs were geared, required qualities in the civil servant that his administrative training had not sought to build upon or inculcate. The civil-servant driven model of the TLC needed exceptional individuals proficient in participatory skills as opposed to a bureaucratic mindset, to operate it from the top.50 This in fact can be one reason for the uneven success of the programme. Thus, the Bodhan sub-division of Nizamabad district, which did much better than the other sub-divisions, was led by a dynamic sub-collector.51 On the other hand, it has been argued that the literacy campaigns provided on-the-job training to government officials and brought them closer to the people. They also drew attention to the need for a different sort of administrative ethos in the field of development.52

Adult Literacy—A Road Map

To identify agencies that could participate in the adult literacy programme, there is a need to assess the types of capabilities such as administrative capacities, political will, the clout of PRIs, and the role of personal factors like the temperament of the civil servant and whether his background equips him to function in a manner that encourages participatory initiatives. In addition to such official capabilities, the adult literacy programmes to be set in place need also to be shaped by the potentials in the society that lend or do not lend themselves to social mobilization and people's participation—whether self-help groups are operating in the area, how much voluntary effort can be expected, etc. In regions with a high potential for people's participation, the programme can be truly a ‘people's programme’. Collectors well trained and with an aptitude for a participatory mode of functioning can be posted in such areas, and participatory potentials can be tapped to the full. In areas where the campaign mode is not likely to be effective, other strategies can be tried out. Last but not the least, an identification of problems and needs should help shape the proposed programmes; to that end, a needs assessment to be carried out.

All these factors taken together should not only determine the character of the adult education programmes to be set up, but can be expected also to facilitate the identification of a nodal agency that is best equipped to coordinate the functions of the different actors. (For example, the more the programme depends on a participatory mode, the more will be the need for a nodal agency that has the expertise to manage it). Structured and unstructured survey instruments may be used, together with participatory methodologies like focus group discussions, depending on what is feasible, to assess potentials, capabilities and opportunity-needs linkages. An assessment of needs and the scope of the existing institutional arrangements to cater to them in the sampled locales can be a point of departure. This should facilitate an identification of gaps, an assessment of how and the extent to which governmental and non-governmental agencies can rise to the occasion, and how literacy and adult education can fit into this scheme of things.


We now turn to the shape of and the emphases on educational development in the Five-Year Plans.

The First Plan

The First Plan allocation for education was Rs 153 crore, representing 7.8 per cent of the total plan outlay, with the following objectives:

  • Reorganization of the educational system into various branches and stages.
  • Expansion in the various spheres of education, particularly basic and social education.
  • Modification of the form of professional and technical education.
  • Organizing the existing secondary and university education so as to make it adaptable and useful for the rural sector expansion of women's education.
  • Making provision for the training of teachers in basic schools.
  • Providing aid through grants to backward states and areas.

  The priorities of the First Plan included

  • Expansion of basic/primary education.
  • Consolidation of secondary and university education.
  • Consolidation and development of teacher facilities.
  • Teacher training.
  • Experiment and research.
  • Creation of literature for children.
  • Provision of facilities for social education.
  • Provision of facilities for professional and technical education.

At the time of initiation of the plan, elementary education received considerable importance, and the number of institutions imparting education during the period also registered a stable increase. The coverage of compulsory education, introduced in 396 urban areas before the First Plan, increased to 1,082 urban areas at the end of the plan period. The programme of basic education was integrated within the elementary education programme and a steady progress was registered in all the states. After consultation with the states, 37 areas were selected for the intensive education development programme. This was not just confined to the improvement of existing primary schools; it included the establishment of training colleges for graduate and undergraduate basic schoolteachers, as also, community centres and janata colleges for training rural leaders. In the final year of the Plan, the Ministry of Education established the National Institute for Research in Basic Education at Delhi.

Secondary education too received an impetus. The Secondary Education Commission suggested making secondary education more diversified, with less emphasis on the English language. Training in technical education at the school level in the form of technical schools and agricultural education in rural schools were recommended. Teacher training was facilitated. A Bureau of Textbook Research was set up, along with Bureaus of Educational and Vocational Guidance in the states, and assistance for establishing guidance bureaus was provided.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) was set up in 1954. While only four universities were established in the plan period, the number of colleges went up from 695 to 965. The number of university students increased from 3,96,745 to 7,20,000. The Higher Rural Education Committee of 1955 recommended that rural institutes provide post-basic courses on rural hygiene, agriculture and rural engineering to students in the post-higher secondary stage. In this plan period also, the Council for Rural Higher Education was constituted and 10 institutes were selected for developing higher education facilities.

In the field of technical education, the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur was established, and 14 technical training institutions were selected for further development. Scholarships and stipends were planned for promoting scientific and technical education and research. About 40 technical and vocational schools were developed in the First Plan period.

Social education was planned through literacy and community centres, libraries and janata colleges. Towards the end of the Plan period, the National Fundamental Education Centre for Research and Training of higher personnel in the field of social education was set up.

A Centre of Education for juvenile delinquents was established at Hazaaribagh, Bihar. Schemes for scholarships were provided for the blind, the deaf and the dumb. Voluntary organizations working in the field of social welfare were aided.

Cultural activities were encouraged and promoted through the establishment of institutions like Sangeet Natak Academy, Lalit Kala Akadami, Sahitya Adademi, the National Book Trust, South India Book Trust and the National Gallery for Art.

The Second Plan

Elementary and Basic Education   Apart from the continuation of the programmes initiated under the First Plan, the Second Plan gave an impetus to the expansion of elementary education. Special attention was paid to the problem of dropouts among school children, especially girl students. Since co-education was not readily accepted, the Central Advisory Board of Education recommended the shift system in both basic and non-basic schools. It was suggested that shifts be initially introduced in the first two classes only, and that the related issues of reduced school hours, rationalization of the curriculum and careful planning of work, inside and outside school, be looked into.

With regard to basic education, the government was confronted with administrative problems, as also, teacher's training. Training of administrative personnel and teachers for basic education were prominent in the agenda for education under the Second Plan. The National Institute of Basic Education was expected to give attention to these aspects. Basic Education was to be linked to allied programmes like those in agriculture, village and small industries, cooperation, development and national extension service. To facilitate coordination, advisory committees for basic education were to include persons representing different branches of development work.

Secondary Education   The thrust area with respect to the secondary education was the development of multipurpose schools designed to equip students for an occupation after their secondary schooling. Junior technical schools were expected to provide general and technical education and workshop training for a period of 3 years to boys of the age group of 14–17 years.

Training of secondary school teachers as also teachers for the vocational courses received special attention. The Ministry of Education envisaged training of degree and diploma teachers for multipurpose and junior technical schools. Apart from the provision of educational and vocational guidance, improvement of schools was undertaken for upgrading high schools into higher secondary schools.

Steps were taken for coordination between post-basic and secondary education. At the secondary stage, provision for the study of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking areas, and of other languages in Hindi-speaking areas, was proposed.

University Education   For improving education at the university and college levels and reducing wastage and stagnation, the UGC initiated measures like the introduction of three-year degree courses, improvements of buildings, laboratories and libraries, stipends for meritorious students, scholarships for research, and increase in salaries of university teachers. Establishment of new universities was to be undertaken as well.

Technical Education   The overall policy for technical education was essentially to improve the technological manpower necessary to carry out programmes of development. Research and education in the fields of technology were sought to be provided by the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. A scheme of management education and training, covering industrial Engineering, industrial administration and business management, was implemented in seven selected centres. A Board of Management Studies was set up for training in these subjects in association with industry. The upgradation of the existing institutions and the establishment of new ones were an important part of the Plan aimed at increasing both the graduates and diploma holders in technical fields.

Social Education   Social education was a part of the National Extension and Community Development Programme. The Ministry of Extension proposed the establishment of a Fundamental Education Centre for training social education organizers and for study and research in problems pertaining to social and basic education.

Scholarships   Scholarships were an important agenda item with a provision of about Rs 12 crore. These included post-matriculation scholarships, research scholarships, overseas scholarship, and cultural scholarships for foreign students. Scholarships were provided to students from backward communities like SCs, STs and other backward classes.

Education in the First Decade of Planning (1951–1961)

The emphasis on basic education was reflected in the growth of both junior and senior basic education schools. While the junior basic education schools increased from 16 to 29 per cent, senior basic schools increased from 3 to 30 per cent.

Reorganization of secondary education took place mainly in the form of conversion of high schools into higher secondary schools, and establishment of multipurpose schools providing a variety of courses, together with the expansion of teaching facilities in both general science and science as an elective subject.

In the first decade of planning, progress was greater in respect of establishment of middle and secondary schools as compared to primary schools. With regard to trained teachers, the decade saw a rise from 59 to 65 per cent of primary school teachers, an increase from 53 to 65 per cent of middle-school teachers and increase of 59 to 68 per cent of high school teachers. The number of students at the university level also increased considerably.

Notwithstanding the gains, the All India Education Survey undertaken in 1957–1959 revealed important gaps. It revealed that there were no schools in 29 per cent of the villages and about 17 per cent of the rural population was not served by a school. Regional variations in the disaggregated figure make the picture more complicated.

The Third Plan

Pre-schooling   The Third Plan focused attention on not just primary education, but also, pre-schooling, which, in the First and Second Plans, had been left mainly to voluntary organizations and a number of balwadis. The Third Plan provided for setting up six training centres in Uttar Pradesh for bal sevikas. The programme of education allowed Rs 3 crore for child welfare and allied schemes at the Central level and above Rs 1 crore at the state level.

Elementary Education   The Plan sought to provide free, universal and compulsory education for children of the age group of 6–11 years. Special attention was to be paid to the provision of educational facilities in areas with scattered habitations, such as hilly tracts. The Plan sought an increase in the school enrolment of children in the 6–14 years age group, and, in particular, an increase in the proportion of girls enrolled.

Basic Education   The Plan's objectives were to convert about 57,760 schools into basic schools, to remodel all training institutions along basic lines, to establish basic schools in urban areas and to link up basic education with the development activities of each local community.

A common syllabus was planned for all basic and non-basic schools, apart from the introduction of activities like social service, community living, and cultural and recreational programmes. For the purpose of completing the process of orientation, it was suggested that schools be provided simple equipment and teachers trained in basic education be given short orientation courses. The Plan placed an emphasis on trained teachers for basic and other schools, and community effort for the improvement of enrolment.

Secondary Education   Secondary education was to be reorganized, so that it was able to provide a diversified educational service. Following the Report of the Secondary Education Commission, measures were envisaged to convert high schools into higher secondary schools; develop multipurpose schools with provision of a small number of elective subjects; expand academic courses, improve facilities for the teaching of science; make provision for educational and vocational guidance; improve the examination and the evaluation system; more facilities for vocational education; an increase in facilities for the education of girls and the backward classes; and the encouragement of merit thorough scholarships.

A central organization was to be responsible for science education to co-ordinate, guide, and direct the entire programme of science teaching. Talent search was proposed to identify promising talent at the secondary stage and provide opportunities for development.

On the basis of the recommendations of the Secondary Education Commission, it was proposed to concentrate on strengthening the existing multipurpose schools. An integrated teacher-training programme was to be initiated which would prepare the teachers for training in both practical and scientific subjects. The state bureaus of Educational and Vocational Guidance, established in 12 states, were to be strengthened. The idea was to vitalize the state bureaus so as to ensure a minimum of career information service in as many secondary schools as possible.

The Fourth Plan

The approach of the Fourth Plan was more in the nature of correctives to the previous three plans. The primary task before the Fourth Plan was to remove the deficiencies in the existing educational system and link it effectively with the increasing demands of social and economic development.

Elementary Education   The emphasis at the elementary level was on free and universal primary education, doing away with wastage, and orienting the elementary curriculum towards work and practical outcomes. In order to come to terms with a 60 per cent dropout rate in elementary education, measures such as better organization of schools, free supply of textbooks, and extension of the mid-day meal programme were initiated. The expanded adult education programme was planned. Rescheduling of school hours to make them more convenient; planning school vacations to coincide with agricultural operations like sowing, harvesting; and modification of curricula to meet local needs were other changes effected for tackling the problem of dropout. Provisions were made for new school buildings, introduction of two shifts for the first two classes, and maximum utilization of space by promoting multiple uses of school buildings. Enrolment of women students and increasing the number of women teachers were other aspects of the Plan.

Secondary Education   The provision of vocational education and the strengthening of science teaching received special attention at the secondary stage. The emphasis was on diversification of secondary education, with the inclusion of technical, commercial and agricultural courses. To help improve teacher's knowledge and teaching skills, science teachers were to be encouraged to take correspondence courses and attend summer classes. In states with a good record of progress in education, secondary schools were to be upgraded to higher secondary schools, while, in several other states, high schools were to be upgraded. Multipurpose schools were to be strengthened. Those leaving secondary school were to be trained for productive employment.

University Education   At the level of university education, the proposal was to limit the enrolment in arts and commerce courses, and expand facilities for science, agriculture, diploma level technical courses, and medical education. Facilities of postgraduate training and research in science subjects were to be improved. While no new universities were planned, the preference was for setting up university centres for postgraduate education and research. Institutes of rural higher education were to be linked to development programmes in rural areas.

Teachers’ Education   The improvement of facilities for the education of teachers was to include whole-time, part-time, correspondence, and short-term courses. The Plan provided for correspondence courses for 1,40,000 elementary teachers and about 17,660 secondary teachers. In universities, State Institutes of Science Education, State Institutes of Education, and Summer Institutes, correspondence courses were to be utilized for improving the teacher's knowledge. Cash awards and special incentives were to be provided to teachers, with a view to the enhancement of their academic and professional qualifications.

Technical Education   The technical education sector built up in the first three plans suffered from ‘an overall shortage of 35 per cent in teachers, 53 per cent in equipment, 51 per cent in infrastructure buildings and 55 per cent in hostels’. The Fourth Plan sought to make up for the deficiencies and consolidate the existing institutions by providing more facilities. Efforts were to be made to enable exchange of personnel between institutions. Engineers placed in industries were to be encouraged to take up teaching assignments for specific periods. Expansions were to be limited to select existing colleges and institutes. Special attention was paid to engineering courses at the diploma level. Diversification in training facilities was to be provided to middle level technicians. The institutes of management at Calcutta and Ahmedabad were to be expanded.

Social Education   To cope with the large-scale illiteracy in the country, mass-scale adult literacy movements were to be launched. Adult Education was to serve as a tool for rural development as well. Libraries were to be established in rural areas and large-scale production of books for neo-literates was to be undertaken. Adult literacy programmes were to be undertaken on the lines of Gram Shikshan Mohim in Maharashtra.

Other Programmes

  1. Language institutes were proposed to be set up and universities were to be encouraged to develop departments of modern Indian languages.
  2. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the state governments were to cater to the requirements of good textbooks. A National Book Development Council was proposed to assist the NCERT and the state governments in textbook production.
  3. Physical education was to be a part of secondary education. Facilities for sports training were to be provided in the rural areas. The National Institute of Sports and the National College of Physical Education were to be further developed. Programmes under National Fitness Corps were to be extended.
  4. Social service camps, campus works projects, youth hostels, scouts and guides were to be encouraged.
  5. During the Fourth Plan, the outlay on scholarships was increased to Rs 54 crore under secondary, university and technical education and another Rs 15 crore for agricultural and medical education. These scholarships were largely loan scholarships to be paid back after the students completed their studies and started earning. A national autonomous organization was to be set up for the administration of scholarships.

The Fifth Plan

  1. The Fifth Plan outlay for education was Rs 1,285 crore, with emphasis on elementary education. Adequate measures were to be taken for improving the rate of enrolment, increasing the number and quality of teaching personnel, and for constructing classrooms, especially in backward areas. Curriculum reorientation, work experience and strengthening the educational institutions for teachers were among other priorities.
  2. In secondary education, improvement in the enrolment of students and the vocationalization of education were the priority areas.
  3. University education was to be consolidated and improved. Provisions were to be made for educational facilities for weaker sections and also for the backward areas.
  4. Under the National Scholarship Scheme, 3,000 annual awards were to be given in each of the first 2 years of the Plan, and 5,000 scholarships provided in 1976–1977. 20,000 yearly national loan scholarships were provided for. Also, the number of scholarships for talented children in rural areas was to be increased to about 15,000 per year.
  5. Schemes for improving existing programmes of non-formal education were to be undertaken.
  6. Spreading the national language, Hindi, across the country, especially in the non-Hindi speaking states was emphasised. Language institutes like the Central Institute of Indian Languages (Mysore), Kendriya Hindi Sansthan (Agra), the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan (New Delhi), and the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (Hyderabad) were to be developed further.
  7. The National Service Scheme (NSS) was to be expanded and National Service Volunteers Scheme was to be launched on a pilot basis.
  8. The Fifth Plan provided for development of three national academies—the Sahitya Academy, Sangeet Natak Academy, and Lalit Kala Academy, for the propagation of culture.
  9. Under the 20-Point Programme, three components related directly to education—provision of books and stationary to students at cheaper rates, supply of essential commodities to hostel students at subsidized cost and expansion of the apprenticeship training programme.

The Sixth Plan

The Sixth Plan was characterized by an overall concern for the all round development of children, especially those from the underprivileged groups. In keeping with that approach, a preparatory early childhood programme was introduced to serve the requirements of children in the rural and urban slums and cater to the socially and educationally backward groups. The Plan aimed to have at least one Early Childhood Education Centre in every Community Development Block. The non-formal approach to education was attuned to the perceptions of children on the suitable use of locally available resources of the community and environment. Programmes were to be implemented by the National Council for Educational Research and Training, which was to provide teaching material and teaching aids for teachers.

Elementary Education   Elementary education constituted a part of the Minimum Needs Programme and its universalization was actively pursued. Programmes of non-formal education oriented towards target groups were organized. While the contents, course duration, place and hours of learning and pattern of instructions of these programmes were decentralized, a basic minimum package of inputs to parallel the formal system of education was identified.

In both the formal and non-formal systems, the emphasis was on the retention of students and the effective delivery of services to recipients. Mid-day meals, supply of uniforms and learning material, and compensation to the families of SC girls were additional incentives for parents to send their wards to school. Humanistic values, the capacity for tolerance, promotion of national integration, scientific attitude and temper and the individual's capacity to learn from the surrounding world were built into the curriculum. To achieve the ultimate objective of universalization programme by 1990, efforts were directed at improvement of the rates of enrolment in the educationally backward states of Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Expansion of non-formal education was to be continued so that 80-lakh children were covered in the Sixth Plan period. With regard to target groups to be provided with universal elementary education (UEE), a family approach was sought to be adopted in conjunction with welfare schemes of different sectors and agencies. Remedial coaching programmes were to enable these children overcome their environmental handicap and educational backwardness. It was the specific responsibility of educational administration and planning to see that these groups were drawn into the fold of national schemes at the earliest, through appropriately designed strategies.

Adult Education   The Sixth Plan laid emphasis on minimum essential education to all citizens irrespective of their age, sex and residence. Education, with the primary emphasis on the spread of literacy and imparting of practical skills was to be supported by PL continuing education through a network of rural libraries as well as instructional programmes and the media. Non-formal education for adults in the productive age group of 15–35 years was given higher priority because of its potential role in the economy. Priority in productive adult education for the weaker sections like women, the SCs and the STs, and the agricultural labourers, was another point of emphasis.

Secondary Education   While the quality of secondary education was to be strengthened by updated curriculum and better textbooks and instruction material, there were programmes also for the strengthening of science teaching as also the provision of laboratory equipment for both experimentation and demonstration. Supply of science kits to secondary and higher secondary students was part of the programme.

Higher Education   Improvement of the quality of higher education received special consideration in the Sixth Plan. Courses were to be designed to facilitate employment generation. Infrastructure improvement was to be provided for in universities on a regional basis. The academic community was to be sensitized to the problems of poverty, illiteracy and environmental degradation.

Youth Development   The Sixth Plan recognized the importance of training youth to tackle the problems of poverty and unemployment. The National Youth Policy sought to provide greater equality of opportunity to the youth, to liberate their talent, and to ensure a higher average level of relevant basic skill and education through work and service. To draw upon their idealism and healthy aspirations and canalize their energies into developmental tasks and projects, institutions like Nehru Yuvak Kendras and Yuvak Mandals were to be set up.

Technical Education   The Sixth Plan sought to improve the facilities for technical education, with emphases on

  • Consolidation and optimum utilization of these facilities.
  • Identification of critical areas and creation of necessary facilities for education in emerging technologies in the light of future technological manpower requirements.
  • Improvement of the quality of technical education at all levels.
  • Enhancement of national efforts to develop and apply science and technology as an instrument of the country's socio-economic progress.
  • Completion of development projects of earlier plans and upgradation and modernization of facilities.

The Seventh Plan

The Seventh Plan sought to bring about a reorientation in the education system with the following objectives: the achievement of UEE; eradication of illiteracy in the age group of 15–35 years; vocationalization and skill-training programmes at different levels of education; upgradation of the quality of education; making education useful in the world of work; emphasizing science and environment values; making high quality education more readily available at the district level; removal of obsolescence, and modernization of technical education. For the achievement of these targets, the strategies suggested were decentralized planning and organizational reforms, promotion of non-formal and open learning systems, adoption of low-cost alternatives and maximum utilization of available resources, the forging of links between development agencies and industry, the mobilization of community resources and societal involvement.

Elementary Education   The main focus was on universalization of elementary education for the age group of 6–14 years by 1990 as a part of the Minimum Needs Programme. A combination of both formal and non-formal methods was to be used, with special focus on the needs of the girl child and those belonging to the economically and socially weaker sections. Efforts for reducing the number of dropouts were to be continued. Non-formal education was to be expanded with a view to the universalization of elementary education for those not able to attend full-time school. A target of 25 million children was suggested for the non-formal programme. Non-formal education was to be made flexible and appropriate to the area-specific target groups. Education centres, schools and adult education centres were to be linked together and integrated with development programmes.

Efforts were to be made to enhance the quality and efficiency of the education system. Beginning with the design and construction of school buildings, textbook, curriculum, teaching material and teacher's learning material were to be focused upon. Physical facilities for elementary education were to be built up under the National Rural Employment Programme (NREP).

Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) was developed as a package with nutrition, healthcare and social welfare for increasing the retention level of children in schools, development of the child's personality and inculcation of a healthy attitude among children.

Adult Education

  • Adult education was to be linked to development projects like the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP), with active participation of village panchayats, mahila mandals, and the community centres.
  • Programmes of Nehru Yuvak Kendra (NYS) and NSS were to focus on eradication of illiteracy. Skill-based programmes were to be encouraged through the Shramik Vidyapeeth.
  • In 1991, a National Institute of Adult Education (NIAE) was set up.
  • Citizenship education was to be an essential part of not just adult education, but of the entire education system.

Secondary Education

  • Provision was made for funds to facilitate better utilization of resources in the existing schools.
  • Distance learning techniques and open school systems were to be further promoted.
  • Girls’ education was to be made free till the higher secondary stage, and special attention was to be provided to the needs of the backward areas and under-privileged sections of the population.
  • Environment education was to be made a part of science education.
  • Vocationalization of education at the higher secondary stage was to be emphasized.
  • An expert committee was to be set up to suggest ways and means of an expanded programme of vocationalization to co-ordinate between the education system and the requirements of economic development.

University Education

  • Emphasis was to be on consolidation and improvements of the standards and reforms in the system, and making higher education more relevant to national needs and economic development.
  • Expansion of university education was to provide larger access to weaker sections and people from backward areas, for which reservations, scholarships and hostel facilities were to be provided.
  • Open universities, correspondence courses and part-time education were to meet social demands and the need for continuing education.
  • The Indira Gandhi National Open University was to not only offer courses but also train personnel and conduct programmes with the help of the electronic media.
  • Six education technology centres were to be developed by the UGC to serve as regional centres for the production of software in education technology as also for the training of personnel engaged in running correspondence courses and programmes of distance education.
  • In postgraduate education and research, emphasis was to be placed on promoting quality programmes, on interdisciplinary studies, and emerging frontiers.
  • Remedial teaching, preparatory training and special coaching for the SC and ST students were to be implemented.

Technical Education   In the sphere of technical education, the main emphases were to be on:

  • Consolidation of infrastructure and facilities already created.
  • Optimum utilization of the existing facilities with attention to cost-effectiveness.
  • Identification of critical areas with a view to strengthening facilities in the areas where weaknesses exist in the system.
  • Creation of new infrastructure in areas of emerging technology.
  • Improvement of quality and standards of technical education.
  • Modernization of engineering laboratories and workshops in the technical education institutions.
  • Effective management of the overall system of technical education for an optimum return on investment.
  • Innovative measures to improve existing facilities and provide low-cost alternatives to achieve previous goals and objectives of planning.
  • Institutional linkages between technical education on the one hand and rural development and other development sectors, on the other.

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) recommended the restructuring of polytechnics as well. Special attention was to be paid to emerging technologies and to computerization. The manpower information system was to be strengthened and integrated with the planning of technical education. Programmes of community polytechnics were to be expanded to cover as many polytechnics as possible. Effective linkages were to be developed between research and industry and development agencies and establishments. Emphasis was to be placed on science education and modernization of laboratories in Indian Institutes of Technology, Regional Engineering Colleges and the technical education institutes. An International Centre for Science and Technology Education was to operate through a network of existing institutions and serve as a resource centre for co-operative research.

Other Programmes   Examination reforms were given top priority. The National Book Trust (NBT) was to be involved in the preparation of literature for neo-literates under NLM and the preparation of a list of books for the libraries of 5.5 lakh primary schools. In 1988–1989, a new scheme was implemented for the upgradation of the merit of SC/ST students through remedial and special coaching as a part of National Policy on Education.

The Eighth Plan

The Eighth Plan focused on the universalization of elementary education, eradication of illiteracy in the age group of 15-35 years, the strengthening of vocational education, which was to be linked to the emerging needs in the rural and urban areas.

Elementary Education

  • Early Childhood Education (ECE) was to be expanded by attaching pre-primary classes to selected primary schools.
  • The ICDS model was to be implemented by balwadis, crèches and vikas wadis.
  • Primary schooling was to be made available to children within a distance of 1 km from their places of residence.
  • Innovative schemes like shiksha karmi were to be expanded.
  • Importance was to be given to enrolment of girl students in the upper-primary stage.
  • Operation Blackboard was to be completed during the Eighth Plan in the primary schools, and also extended to upper-primary schools.
  • Expansion of upper-primary schools was to be undertaken and, to facilitate elementary education, the ratio of upper-primary to primary schools was to be brought down to 1:3, with the ultimate aim of a ratio of 1:2.
  • To tackle the high dropout rates, a comprehensive package of incentive as support services for girls, SCs, STs and children of the economically weaker sections was to be put in place.
  • A National Evaluation Organization (NEO) was to be set up to undertake national scale assessment of student learning; annual sample studies were to be undertaken to estimate the completion rates envisaged in National Policy on Education (NPE); and a comprehensive computerized database was to be developed at the district level, to help monitor the education system, and improve planning and management at the district level.

Teachers’ Education   The National Council for Teacher Education was to lay down the standards for institutions and courses. Schemes like DIETS, STELS and IASES were to be continued to strengthen the institutional information and programmes for teacher education.

Adult Education

  • A central strategy with a voluntary learning emphasis in certain districts and in backward sections of the populations was stressed. In the first instance, a few blocks with the potential to achieve success within reasonable time were to be selected for the literacy campaign. The demonstration effect of these programmes, it was hoped, would spill over to the backward blocks where appropriate literacy programmes could then be developed.
  • In consultation with state governments, voluntary agencies were to be developed to work in cooperation with the government.
  • Academic and technical support to the Adult Education Programme was to be provided by the newly set up NIAE.
  • Values like secularism, national integration, small family norm, concern for environmental conservation, and cultural appreciation were to be stressed in the adult education programmes.

Secondary Education   The secondary schools were to be expanded selectively to cater to the needs of girl students, SCs and STs, and rural areas. Quality improvement was to be emphasized. Provisions for re-entry to secondary school after having discontinued were to be looked into. Education at the 10+2 stages was to be made more vocational and work-oriented. The concept of open schools was to expand the reach of education for those who do not have access to regular institutions because of socio-economic and locational constraints. The National Open School was expected to provide programme and resource support to state-level open schools.

Higher Education   The thrust areas for higher education under the Eighth Plan were:

  • An integrated approach to higher education.
  • Qualitative improvement of institutions and excellence in results.
  • Cost-effective expansion, and higher education to be made financially self-supporting.
  • Making higher education relevant in the changing socio-economic context.
  • Strengthening the management system of the universities.

For the realization of these goals, a National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) and a National Accreditation Council (NAC) were established. New university centres were to provide facilities in areas like Biotechnology, Atmospheric Sciences, Oceanography, Electronics, and Computers. Improvement in undergraduate courses in science was to be undertaken in a phased manner. Distance Education was expected to take care of adult learners beyond the age group of 17–23 years.

Thrust areas of the Eighth Plan included:

  • Modernization and upgradation of infrastructural facilities.
  • Quality improvement in technical and management education.
  • Responding to new industrial policy and industry-R&D labs interaction.
  • Resource mobilization.

In the Eighth Plan, the central government launched a project to enable the state governments to upgrade their polytechnics, in quality, capacity and efficiency over the period 1990–1999. With an outlay of Rs 1,892 crore, the project was to be taken up in two phases: the first phase would cover 296 polytechnics recognized by AICTE in Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Delhi. The Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) and the Institute of Applied Manpower Resources were made responsible for technological standards. Technology development, through innovation, and its subsequent transfer to industry by five IITs, would be the first step towards the identification of the project mission and creation of appropriate environment. All remaining polytechnics were to be covered under the community polytechnic scheme.

The Ninth Plan

The Ninth Plan emphasized a high priority in the allocation of resources for education. It also talked of convergence of the basic minimum services for contributing to educational development.

Early Childhood Education   The Plan documents talks about strengthening early education under the preschool system, especially the ICDS. It also emphasizes decentralization of the management of ECE under the system of PRIs and Urban Local Bodies. The role of the women's bodies and NGOs are also highlighted, as also the importance of social mobilization.

Primary/Elementary Education   The Ninth Plan recognizes several critical issues that need to be addressed.

  • Backlog of non-enrolled children
  • Dropouts
  • Unserved habitations with primary/upper primary schools
  • Lack of physical infrastructure
  • Availability of teachers
  • Low levels of achievements
  • Equity and regional disparity in availability of physical infrastructure as well as quality of education

The document suggests a multi-pronged strategy which is both ‘imaginative’ and ‘innovative’ and focuses on a decentralized and flexible ‘area approach’ and on ‘target populations’. It also emphasizes community support for school improvement through greater involvement of Village Education Committees. The teacher education programme, it notes, needs further strengthening through curriculum development and upgradation of infrastructure. Alternative education has also been suggested for working children, dropouts, migratory population and others. Expansion of the non-formal education centres, especially those run by NGOs, is recommended. It is recommended also that the scope of national and State Open schools be expanded.

Adult Education   The Plan puts forth the aim of making 10 crore adults literate in the Ninth and Tenth plan periods. To do this, all the districts were to be brought under the literacy campaigns and the Continuing Education Programme. For neo-literates wanting to study further, an equivalency programme is suggested, whereby they can enrol at Open Schools. The document also talks about devolving administrative and financial powers to State Literacy Mission authorities who would sanction these projects. Awareness generation, amongst women especially, and the empowerment of women, is emphasized, as is the sensitization of the functionaries of PRIs and other local government bodies.

Secondary Education   The Plan document highlights ways in which the critical areas of concern in the field of secondary education could be addressed

  • Revision of curricula in tandem with the New Education Policy 1986 (revised in 1992) and the developments that have taken place over the years. Preparation of a National Draft by the NCERT and the SCERTs (State Council of Educational Research and Training). Review of the training needs of the in-service teachers, and the preparation of the framework for pre-service teacher education.
  • Vocationalization of education to divert at least 25 per cent of students after the 10+2 level to self-employment or wage employment. Setting up of an empowered committee representing government, industry and trade, to promote a meaningful partnership and better interdepartmental coordination.
  • Distance education to be expanded as an alternative approach to secondary education. Wider responsibilities to devolve on the National and State Open Schools with respect to elementary education, secondary students, the adult population, including working women, the problem of dropouts, and vocationalization of education for neo-literates.
  • Quality improvement in teaching in mathematics, science, and computer education by developing new popular source books, and by linking the teaching to the immediate environment of the child. Recommendations of the Task Force on Computer Education to be implemented in a time-bound manner.
  • Hostel facilities for girls particularly in remote and tribal areas, so as to improve attendance rates.
  • Minority education to be focused upon. Madrasas to be modernized. The Area Intensive Programme for Educationally Backward Minorities to be strengthened. An awareness drive to attract more members from the backward communities and the mobilization of the leaders of the communities also to be undertaken.
  • Integrated education for the disabled by adopting a composite area approach and by training teachers for these groups in universities.

Technical education

  • Doubling of intake capacity of the IITs and other reputed institutions, particularly in high demand areas like software engineering. The RECs and other technical institutes to be provided greater autonomy and their performance to be closely monitored.
  • These institutions to be encouraged to create a corpus fund by suitably restructuring and remodelling their tuition fees and development charges, so as to promote innovations and meet gaps in infrastructure.
  • Hi-tech and new technology programmes to be promoted and a greater flexibility to be inculcated in course structure, credit transfer and design of curriculum. To meet the shortages of faculty for postgraduate teaching, special incentive schemes for M.Tech., M.Phil. and Ph.D. programmes to be devised.
  • The Technician Education Project started under the Eighth Plan to continue. The scheme of community polytechnics to be made people friendly by transfer of appropriate technology to the community and by imparting training in such technology to rural folk.

University and Higher Education

  • Relevance and quality to be improved by increasing vocationalization in disciplines ‘which have strong linkages with industry’. The UGC to restructure the undergraduate courses and actively involve industrial houses in the development of curriculum, on-job training, etc. Teaching at postgraduate and doctoral levels and research to be market-oriented so as to ‘establish relevance, need-based specialization and market driven skill generation’. Faculty improvement schemes to be strengthened.
  • A multimedia approach to teaching is emphasized. The Internal Quality Assessment Cells and National Assessment and Accreditation Council to be used for monitoring of quality and for accreditation.
  • Additional resource to be mobilized by fee restructuring based on unit cost and socio-economic background of the student. Public funding to be attracted and contributions from industries to be encouraged.
  • To increase access to education, unserved areas to have educational facilities. College mapping is suggested on an area-based approach so that regional imbalances are removed and there is optimal utilization of resources. Distance education also to be promoted.

Women's Empowerment   The document talks about making it feasible for the National Agenda for Governance provision of free education for girls up to college level to be implemented. It also talks of redefining free education to take into its purview tuition fee, basic text books, hostel maintenance expenditure and library and books.

The Tenth Plan

The focus during the Tenth Plan period was on improving access to schools, reducing disparities, improving the quality of education and greater use of new technologies especially computers.

Elementary Education   The emphasis is on universalization of access, enrolment and retention, and on promotion of equity by bridging all ‘gender and social gaps in enrolment, retention, and learning achievement’. The plan document recognizes three main challenges to the goal of UEE: (a) access to basic education for unreached segments and groups, (b) qualitative improvement in content and processes and (c) tackling high dropout and low retention rate in primary and upper-primary schools. Therefore, any strategy towards achieving UEE should be adopting holistic, convergent and target-oriented approach. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is seen as the main vehicle for achieving UEE. Involvement of the community is envisaged through involving the Panchayati Raj institutions, the urban local bodies, village education committees, mother-teacher associations and parent-teacher associations in the management of the schools in the villages. A ‘synergistic public-private partnership’ is to be built up and the private sector will not just contribute monetarily but also get involved in effective management of the system and development of ‘locally relevant teaching materials’.

Secondary Education   There is a focus on improving access and reducing disparities by emphasizing the Common School System that makes it mandatory for schools to take in students from low income families in a particular area. There will be greater emphasis on vocational education and employment-oriented courses in the curricula. The document also talks about diversification of the open learning system, re-organization of the teacher training and greater use of new information and communication technologies.

Vocational Education   A Working Group on Vocational Education for the Tenth Plan was formed in 2000, and as per its recommendations the centrally sponsored scheme for vocational education is sought to be recast in the Tenth Plan. The vocational courses in school are to be made competency-based, with multi-point entry and exit, and a linkage to be established between vocational courses at the school and university levels. Facilities for vocational courses are to be made mandatory for Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas. These courses are to be designed on a self-financing basis so as to ‘sustain the scheme’. The industries are to be involved in the process of curriculum designing, training of faculty and in certification of the courses. The All India Council for Technical Education's (AICTE) vocational education board to be reactivated to provide technical support to schools and establish linkages with other technical institutes. It is also recommended that vocational education at the secondary school level, polytechnics and the like, should all come under one department of the state for better networking, focused targeting and optimal utilization of resources.

Higher and Technical Education   The objective of the Tenth Plan was to raise the enrolment in higher education to 10 per cent of the 18–23 age group from the present 6 per cent. This is to be done by increasing the access to facilities, enhancing the quality of education, liberalization of the system, and adoption of state-specific strategies. At the same time, the document also talks of ‘relevance of the curriculum’, which should be viewed in the light of the perceived increasing participation of the private sector in the management of colleges and universities.

The key focus in the area of technical and management education is on increasing the capacity of the present institutes and enhancing the quality of education, including research in technology.

Adult Literacy and Continuing Education   Flexibility will be built into the scheme of adult education and it will be operationalized keeping in mind the specific needs of the region or the group (tribal pockets, areas with low literacy, and areas with low female literacy). NLM will integrate literacy with income-generating activities and vocational and technical skills with the help of NGOs, PRIs and other local bodies, taking into account the needs and cultural sensitivities of the particular group. To make the Adult Education Programme self-reliant in finance, implementation and monitoring, cooperation between the educational, social, cultural, religious and other institutions is sought. The Adult Education Programme will work in tandem with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and institutional linkages will be developed with other departments like the Rural Development, Health and Family Welfare, etc.


After Independence, the major task before planners was to improve literacy rates, with the primary focus on enrolment expansions, new institutions, more teachers, and manpower for industries. While the policy canvas incorporated elementary, secondary as well as technical education, primary attention was accorded to the programme of universalization of elementary education. Also, the spread of education among the less developed sectors and backward regions and classes was kept in mind. Production of books, libraries, polytechnics, training materials and similar infrastructure constituted a necessary part of planning. Gradually, social education and inculcation of values also became an integral part of the education programme.

As enrolment rates gradually improved, the perspective of planning changed in the direction of creating a proper atmosphere, for instance, through mid-day meals and child welfare programmes, and the reorienting of education programmes towards rural and community development. Much of adult education programmes were expected to be parent education. Education and social values were sought to be expanded. Education was to be linked to welfare.

The focus of policy soon shifted to the widespread development of quality in education by betterment of schools and institutional infrastructure, training of teachers, and better textbooks. In the later plans, particularly the Seventh and the Eighth Plans, special attention was paid to the evaluation system in order to make education more efficient.

From secondary education onwards, the plans enabled education to include vocational training as well. Education was increasingly sought to be made relevant to work, to enhance employment opportunities. Even the technical training imparted was to be increasingly related to industry. Quality in education, along with the necessary focus on vocational training, was expected to solve the twin problems of the need for manpower and of unemployment.

More and more, non-formal schools, part-time education, and long-distance education came to be emphasized.

The policies also focused on welfare perspective in education. As child-development programmes were linked to education, the plans reflected a trend of not just improving the numbers of recipients but also creating conditions so that the numbers could be improved and retained.

Education was widened to include youth affairs, physical education and sports, art and culture. Education policy in India became more comprehensive and tended to be more practical in as much as it addressed the problem of unemployment.


A brief survey of the education scene in India since Independence shows the vast changes that have taken place; the number of primary schools increased from 2,09,671 in 1950–1951 to 5,98,000 in 1996–1997. In the same period, the number of upper-primary schools increased from 13,956 to 1,77,000. In addition, by 1991, there were 2,70,000 non-formal education centres. The primary stage enrolment increased from 19.2 million in 1950–1951 to 110.40 million in 1996–1997 and that of upper primary from 3.1 million to 41.06 million. Therefore, the enrolment in these two stages together increased sevenfold from 22.3 million to 151.45 million. At the higher secondary stage, the enrolment increased from 1.5 million in 1950–1951 to 24.27 million in 1996–1997.

As in the case of schooling, in higher learning too, there have been significant gains. There were 25 universities and 700 colleges in India in 1947. By the mid-1990s the number of universities including deemed universities and institutions of national importance had risen to 2,174 and is still growing. There were 6,759 general colleges in 1996–1997 and 1,770 professional colleges. Over a period of roughly 50 years, the stock of scientific and technical personnel in the country increased from 1,88,000 in 1950 to 63,13,500 in 1996. Yet, the numerical growth of institutions, enrolment and the educated person for the country as a whole conceals the inequitable ‘educational attainment and access…among regions, communities and genders’.53

Yet, over time, disparities have attenuated. Over a period of 50 years, while progress in literacy was far more dramatic in urban areas, rural areas have been catching up (Table 6.1). Both male and female literacy rates have been on the rise since 1951, with male literacy consistently at a far higher level than female literacy. However, the gender gap has closed dramatically—from 32 per cent of the male literacy rate in 1951 to a high of 73.29 per cent in 2001 (Table 6.2). Data show also that though gender inequity is in evidence at every level—primary, middle, and secondary, the gender gaps have been narrowing (Table 6.3).

Disadvantaged social groups like the SCs and STs have been lagging behind but are catching up. In rural areas, where they are mainly concentrated, their literacy rates have been far below that for the general population (Table 6.4); however, while there is evidence of inequity, there are distinct indications that it has been consistently decreasing. Persisting inequity is, nonetheless, a cause of concern.


Table 6.1
Literacy rate and indices of rural-urban disparity, India, 1951–2001


  1. For 1951: Census of India, 1951. Table CIV. Cited in Planning Commission, Indian Planning Experience: A Statistical Profile. Planning Commission Government of India, 2001. Table 11.2: Literacy rates, 1957–1997, p. 136.
  2. For 1961: Census of India, 1961. Part II C (i): Social and Cultural Tables. Cited in Planning Commission, Indian Planning Experience: A Statistical Profile. Planning Commission Government of India, 2001. Table 11.2: Literacy rates, 1957–1997, p. 136.
  3. For 1971: Census of India, 1971. Part II C (ii) Social and Cultural Tables. Cited in Planning Commission, Indian Planning Experience: A Statistical Profile. Planning Commission Government of India, 2001. Table11.2: Literacy rates, 1957–1997, p. 136.
  4. For 1981: Census of India, 1981. Primary Census Abstract: General Population. Part II B (i)
  5. For 1991: Census of India, 1991. Union Primary Census Abstract: General Population. Part II B (i)
  6. For 2001:Census of India 2001. Primary Census Abstract. Table 7: Number of literates and literacy rate by sex.

Note: The rural-urban gap in literacy is based on the disparity index (Gurupada Chakrabarty, Quality of Life of Scheduled Castes and Tribes in Rural India, Yojana, June 1999, p. 37). The rural-urban gap in literacy is calculated by the formula: (Rural literacy rate / Urban literacy rate) × 100. Literacy rates have been derived from census data by dividing the number of literates by the population, separately for rural areas, urban areas and all areas.


Table 6.2
Literacy rates and gender disparity in literacy, India, 1951–2001


  1. Literacy rates for 1951–1991 are from Census of India 2001, Series 1—India, Provisional Population Totals, Paper 1 of 2001, Statement 31, Literacy rates in India, 1951–2001.
  2. Literacy rates for 2001 are from Census of India 2001, Primary Census Abstract, Total Population. Table 7: Numbers of literates and literacy rate by sex.


  1. Literacy rates for 1951, 1961 and 1971 are for the population of age 5 years and above. For 1981, 1991 and 2001, the literacy rate is given as the percentage of literates in the population of age 7 years and above.
  2. The gender gap in literacy has been derived from these figures and is based on the disparity index (Gurupada Chakrabarty, Quality of Life of Scheduled Castes and Tribes in Rural India, Yojana, June 1999, p. 37). The gender gap in literacy is calculated by the formula (Female literacy rate/Male literacy rate) × 100.


Table 6.3
Girls per 100 boys enrolled in schools and colleges, India, from 1950–1951 to 2003–2004

Source: Data from Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development, reproduced in Selected Socio-Economic Statistics, India, 2006. Central Statistical Organization, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India. Table 3.9: Number of girls per 100 boys enrolled in schools and colleges in India. Data from Ministry of Human Resource Development.


Table 6.4
Literacy rates of groups as a percentage of the total literacy rate, India, rural areas, 1961–2001


  1. For 1961–1991: Gurupada Chakrabarty, Quality of life of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in rural India, Yojana, June 1999, p. 37.
  2. For 2001. Census of India. Primary Census Abstract, 2001. SCs Table 7: Numbers of literates and literacy rate by sex. STs Table 7: Numbers of literates and literacy rate by sex.


With regard to inter-state disparities, as Table 6.5 points out, the disparities continue to be vast, with some states lagging behind. In recent years, however, there have been some pleasant surprises. Data from the 1997 survey of the National Sample Survey Organization54 indicate that the performance of the BIMARU states has been encouraging; ‘As against the all India improvement of 9.8 percentage points in literacy between 1991 and 1997, Bihar showed an improvement of 10.5, Madhya Pradesh of 11.8, Uttar Pradesh of 14.4 and Rajasthan of 16.5 percentage points’. Disparities have been narrowing down not only between socio-economic groups, but also across and within regions.55 Yet, areas of persistent educational backwardness have been identified, for instance, 17 talukas in Maharashtra and 22 in Orissa, with low literacy in 1981 and slow improvement between 1981 and 1991. In selected districts of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, moreover, absolute declines in literacy rates occurred in a sizeable proportion of villages.56

‘Social exclusion’ is another criterion around which the states differ vastly. The subject of a recent book,57 it is a cumulative term that ‘links together both material deprivation as well as denial of social rights; it encompasses not only the lack of access to goods and services but also exclusion from social security, from justice, from representation and from citizenship’.58 The detailed disaggregated analysis indicates that such ‘exclusions’ apply to various groups: ‘the poor, people in rural areas, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, the Muslims and, almost in every case, women’.59 Micro surveys confirm gender disparities, lower literacy levels of SCs and STs, and show also that disparities are lower when overall literacy rates are higher.60


Table 6.5
Literacy rates, states of India, 2007

Literacy Rates, General Population (7+), India. From: Primary Census Abstract, General Population Table 7: Numbers of literates and literacy rate by sex.


  1. The literacy rates for Himachal Pradesh have been worked out by excluding the entire Kinnaur district, where enumeration could not be conducted in the 2001 census of India due to a natural calamity there.
  2. The literacy rates for Gujarat have been worked out after excluding Kachchh district; the Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and Wankaner talukas of Rajkot district, Jodiya taluk of Jamnagar district, where enumeration could not be conducted in the 2001 census of India due to a natural calamity there.
  3. The figures exclude Mao Maram and Purul sub-divisions of Senapati district of Manipur state.

The low level of public expenditure on education is another prominent feature of the Indian educational scene; ‘in a list of 86 countries for which relevant data is available, India ranks only 32nd in terms of public expenditure on education as a proportion of GNP’.61 While expenditure increased from 0.68 per cent of GNP in 1950–1951 to 3.80 per cent in 1995–1996 and 4.2 in 2000–2001 (Table 6.6), the figures are still less than the 6 per cent recommended repeatedly by the Education Commission of 1964–1966 and the National Policy of Education of 1968, 1986 and 1992.


Table 6.6
Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP, India, 1951–1952 to 2003–2004

Year % of GDP
1951–1952 0.64
1961–1962 1.52
1971–1972 2.25
1981–1982 2.83
1985–1986 3.49
1986–1987 3.41
1987–1988 3.73
1988–1989 3.72
1989–1990 3.93
1990–1991 3.84
1991–1992 3.80
1992–1993 3.72
1993–1994 3.62
1994–1995 3.56
1995–1996 3.56
1996–1997 3.53
1997–1998 3.49
1998–1999 3.85
1999–2000 4.25
2000–2001 4.33
2001–2002 3.82p
2002–2003 3.97p
2003-2004 3.74p

Source: Selected Socio-Economic Statistics, 2006. Central Statistical Organization, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India. (GDP figures from National Account Statistics of the Central Statistical Organization. Expenditure on education from budgeted expenditure on education by the Department of Secondary and Higher Education).

Note: ‘p’ stand for provisional.


While the state has had a key role to play in the country's educational achievements, socio-economic factors and public attitudes too are important. These can significantly influence government policy and its implementation and impact.62 Private initiatives also play a critical role. A survey of 95 villages spread over 9 states showed that the proportion of private unaided schools was as high as 47 per cent in the Rampur district of Uttar Pradesh.63 Another study too underscores wide private initiatives in schooling in Uttar Pradesh, and notes that in private unaided schools, there is evidence of a genuine commitment to basic education, particularly among disadvantaged groups.64 Similarly, it was found that in Dumka, a prominently tribal area of Bihar, private schools were mostly run by missionaries.65 Clearly, the educational gains shown by macro data sources are not all the results of the state policy. Still, it is useful to profile achievements and shortfalls so as to take stock and identify issues needing attention.

The expenditure on education has mostly been met by the states, but the share of the Centre has increased substantially. The highest growth rate of 15.6 was reported for Rajasthan while Andhra Pradesh recorded a level of 4.9 per cent (Table 6.7). (The low figure for Kerala is explained is terms of its ‘spending substantial amounts on education since the inception of the planning process.’) A break-up of expenditure in terms of the three sectors of education, primary, secondary and higher) also shows strong differentials, with Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Maharashtra spending far more on primary education than the other states.


Table 6.7
Public expenditure on education and annual growth rates (at constant prices 1980–1981 =100)

Source: Computed from data in Analysis of Budgeted Expenditure on Education (various years). Quoted in Abusaleh Shariff and P. K. Ghosh, op. cit. p. 1399.


In terms of per pupil expenditure too, there is a wide range of variation; in 1980–1981, they ranged from a low of Rs. 220 for Bihar to a high of Rs. 522 for Himachal Pradesh, with the growth rate in per pupil expenditure from 1980–1981 to 1995–1996 fluctuating from 0.3 per cent for Andhra Pradesh and 5.8 per cent for Bihar, to a peak of 6.9 per cent for Kerala.66 Notwithstanding these disparities, primary education was relatively neglected across states, with per pupil expenditures overwhelmingly weighted in favour of secondary, university, and technical education.67


Finally, let us take a look at some of the ground realities in respect of the accessibility and quality of education in the country.

Evidence of Micro Surveys

Based on surveys of 95 villages spread out over 9 states, Vaidyanathan and Gopinath Nair sum up the findings reported by the authors concerned on a range of policy issues. These are briefly listed below.68

  • Supply-related factors—accessibility, cost, etc., play an important role.
  • Educated parents are more likely to send their children to schools; hence there is a need for more extensive and effective adult education programmes.
  • Mass literacy campaigns like Bharat Jnan Vigyan Jatha, the Total Literacy Programme and the Lok Jumbish-Shiksha Karmi programme in Rajasthan do make a difference by instilling awareness and interest. Social movements, however, are far more potent, and there is a need to better understand the factors that underlie them.
  • Economic factors are important. Even in tuition-free government schools, private costs are sizeable. Not only the provision of uniforms, etc., the opportunity costs in terms of children's contribution to the household are important, hence, the need for development schemes that reduce these.
  • Social disabilities of caste and religion need to be countered. In this context, there is a need for public initiatives.
  • While special initiatives for disadvantaged social groups are called for, there is also a case for the improvement of overall provisioning.
  • Pupil-teacher ratios should be reasonable and teachers not overloaded with non-teaching responsibilities.
  • Teachers should have the requisite competence and should conduct classes regularly.
  • Interventions should be tailored to the great diversity prevailing on the ground.
  • Greater powers to local bodies in the educational sphere, and greater involvement of the local community in monitoring the functioning of schools.
  • Disciplinary powers should be vested in a body consisting of concerned government officials, eminent local citizens and teacher's representatives.

Public Report on Basic Education (PROBE)

The PROBE Report, which came out in October 1998, is based on a detailed field survey carried out from September to December 1996, covering all elementary schooling facilities (defined as first 8 years of schooling) in a sample of 1,374 households in 234 randomly selected villages of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. These states account for 40 per cent India's population, and more than half of all out-of-school children. Since Himachal Pradesh has been taken as a contrast to the situation in the other four states, survey data apply to these four states, that is—Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. These four states are referred to in the Report as PROBE states. The data pertain to the primary stage (i.e., classes I–V) of elementary education. The following are the main findings of the Report:

  • Demand for education: There is an overwhelming popular demand for elementary education of decent quality. The proportion of parents who indicated that it is important for a boy to be educated was as high as 98 per cent. In the case of girls, the figure was 89 per cent. One other indication of the high demand for education was that the proportion of children who have never been enrolled in a school is declining quite rapidly. It declined from 50 per cent in 1986 (NSS data) to 20 per cent in 1996 (PROBE data). However, high parental motivation for education is often combined with open contempt for the schooling system.
  • Poor parents equally concerned about quality of education: Poor parents are concerned about the quality of education and what is judged to constitute quality of education does not vary fundamentally between different social groups.
  • General picture: The general picture of the schooling system is characterized by depleted infrastructure, unmotivated teachers, paralyzing curriculum and irresponsible management.
  • Poor infrastructure for education: Schooling infrastructures have significantly improved during the last 10 years. They, however, remain highly inadequate. School facilities are minimal—classrooms are overcrowded, school buildings are falling apart and teaching aids are a rare sight.
  • Inside the classroom: Children are burdened with an over-loaded curriculum, unfriendly textbooks, oppressive teaching methods and exacting examinations.
  • Teaching and teachers:
    1. Skill levels. Most teachers at the primary stage have at least completed secondary schooling. About two-thirds received some pre-service training. Among the younger teachers, the level of general educational qualification is higher but the proportion of those who have received pre-service training is lower. Teachers’ skills are vastly unutilized. There is little evidence of in-service training having a practical impact on classroom processes.
    2. Teaching environment. Teachers feel trapped in a hostile work environment and lack of respect by the local community. Most teachers convey a deep lack of commitment to the promotion of education in the local community. Some of them come with good initial motivations but they lose it over time. The report says, ‘Indeed, among recently appointed teachers we often met people with genuine enthusiasm. The honeymoon, however, is short-lived, as the morale of younger teachers is battered day after day’. The main concerns of the teachers were: poor infrastructure facilities; parents’ apathy towards their children's education; paralyzing curriculum; unwanted postings; distracting non-teaching duties; excessive paper work; and unsupportive management.
    3. Accountability. Apart from improving teaching environment, the other challenge is how to ensure teachers’ accountability.
      • One of the means for doing so is to get the village community interested in the schooling of the children. This raises the question of teacher-parent relations. The most common pattern was one of scant interaction between parents and teachers. The two formal institutions of such interaction are Parents-Teachers Associations (PTAs) and Village Education Committees (VECs). These institutions were quite dormant. Less than one-fifth of the schools surveyed had a PTA and even the PTAs that did exist met only once or twice a year for the sake of formality. VECs were doing only a little better. By and large, they seemed to be token institutions with neither teachers nor parents expecting much from them.
      • The panchayat supervision of local teachers may have some potential as an accountability mechanism. However, there seems to be a real danger of abuse by despotic sarpanchs. Thus, lack of active parent-teacher interaction is a serious shortcoming of the schooling system as it exists today. In considering measures for improvement, it is important to take a broad view of the potential tool of parent-teacher interaction. One should not rely only on formal institutions such as VECs and PTAs but should also look for outside channels of parents-teachers interaction.
    4. Parents’ frustration: Parents, themselves illiterate in many cases, are powerless. Hence nothing improves. Lacking faith in the system, parents are half-hearted in their efforts to send their children to school. This further de-motivates the teachers. Everyone's hopelessness feeds on everyone else's. The children are the victims.
    5. Increase in the number of primary schools: The number of primary schools has tripled since independence. Most rural households are now at a convenient distance from a primary school. In 1993, 94 per cent of the rural population lived within 1 km of a primary school. However, it is little use living within 1 km of a primary school if the school is already over-crowded, or if it has a single teacher, or if the school is deprived of basic facilities such as a blackboard. Moreover, nearly one-third of the PROBE survey villages did not have a middle school.
    6. Is education really free? The cash cost of education plays a major role in discouraging poor families in sending children to schools, especially when the quality of schooling is low. North Indian parents spend about Rs 318 per year on an average to send a child to a government primary school. Assuming that they have a family of three children, this is a major financial burden. In a middle class family, sending young children to school on a regular basis is a relatively simple affair. In poor rural families, sending children to school is an exacting struggle.
    7. The issue of child labour is exaggerated: Contrary to the popular belief mainly engendered by the propaganda of the protectionist lobbies in developed countries, only a small minority of Indian children are full-time labourers. The vast majority of them work as family labourers at home or in the fields, and not as wage labourers.
    8. School meals: There is a lot of merit in schemes for providing school meals. They promote school attendance by providing incentives not only to parents but also to the children. They improve the nutrition level of the children, and facilitate socialization—sitting together and sharing a meal helps to erode the barriers of class and caste. None of the PROBE states have actually introduced school meals. Instead, they run the scheme of ‘dry rations’ which defeats much of the purpose of the school meals programme. It rewards enrolment rather than attendance. Moreover, in some PROBE areas, particularly in large parts of Bihar, no food was released in 1996 even in the form of ‘dry rations’.
    9. Private schooling: Among the PROBE sample households, 18 per cent of school-going children were enrolled in private schools. The figure was as high as 36 per cent in Uttar Pradesh. Private schools have emerged mainly because of two factors: (i) the breakdown of government schools and (ii) parental ability to pay.
      • It would be a mistake to think that private schooling is restricted to privileged families. Even among poor families and disadvantaged communities, one finds parents who make great sacrifices to send some or all of their children to a private school. This is another source of evidence for their high motivation to educate their children.
      • The following are some of the positive features of the private schools:
        • There is a high level of class room activity.
        • Attendance rates are higher. On an average, 84 per cent of the children enrolled were present at the time of the PROBE survey.
        • The rapport between parents and teachers is more constructive in private schools than in government schools. There seems to be mutuality in parents-teachers relations.
        • There is better utilization of facilities, greater attention to children, and greater responsiveness of teachers to parental complaints.
      • Private schools suffer from serious limitations:
        • They remain out of reach of the vast majority of poor parents.
        • Private school teachers tend to belong to the privileged class, with an even lower proportion of women than in government schools. Their formal educational qualifications are similar to those of government teachers, but most of them (80 per cent) are untrained. Private school teachers also receive very low salaries—often one-fifth of the salary of a government teacher with similar teaching responsibilities.
        • They often take advantage of the vulnerability of parents. They maintain an appearance of efficiency and discipline, but the teaching standard in many of these schools is no better than in government schools. The hollow claim of English instruction made by many private schools is an illustration of this problem.
        • Private teachers have little reason to promote the personal development of the children, or treat them with sensitivity, or to impart a sense of values.
        • Finally, the expansion of private schools carries a real danger of further undermining of government schooling system. The parental pressure to improve government schools is likely to diminish because of the declining interest of parents from relatively privileged backgrounds, who can put their children in private schools. This scenario may lead to a very divisive pattern of schooling opportunities.


Himachal Pradesh, to which a separate chapter is devoted in the Report, is in the process of making accelerated transition towards UEE. To conclude on an optimistic note, according to the authors of the Report, there is no reason why, given the political will and commitment, this transition cannot be realized on a broader basis for all the North Indian states.