Learnings about Improving Education

(Notes and References from documentation for NGOs and Teachers)
John D’Souza, Tanvi Patel and CED DocumentationTeam

Official Programmes to Improve Quality of Schools

The 1986 National Policy on Education (NPE) stated as its goal that Universal Primary Education (age group 6-11; corresponding to classes 1-5), shall be achieved by 1990 and Universalisation of Elementary Education (age group 6-14; corresponding to classes 1-8) will be achieved by 1995.

Neither the target of 1990 nor that of 1995 was actually realized. The Committee for Review of NPEi - 1986 took note of the overall context of social, economic, regional and gender-based disparities. According to the committee “It is clear that the present system of education, in terms of education for the people, has outlived its utility, whatever it ever had. But before we have a new pattern of education we must have a new model of development. In a country like ours, with vast areas of backwardness, economic, social, educational, development, democracy, and education have to go together. They have to be woven together in an integrated programme of transformation and reconstruction.”

The Yashpal Committeeii (1993), a National Advisory Committee set up by the Government in March 1992 under the chairmanship of Prof. Yash Pal, former Chairman, University Grants Commission, to advise on improving the quality of the learning while reducing the burden on school children, also observed that “education could not be altered without altering a lot of things in our social set-up.” It identified the following as manifestation of the existence of the problem: starting education early in life, increasing size of the school bag, fear of the examination system, joyless learning and curriculum load.

In 1987, the Government of India launched the country’s first major programme to address the problem of school quality. Called Operation Blackboardiii (OB), the programme aimed to provide at least a minimum amount of resources to all public primary schools. Under OB, the Government of India provided a second teacher to all one-teacher primary schools and a teaching-learning equipment packet to all primary schools. There was in fact a third component to OB: all schools would have at least two classrooms. The central government provided the first two components (teachers and equipment) to existing schools on the condition that the state governments provide the third component to existing schools and all three components to new schools. In practice, all states chose to participate in OB, and the central government provided the teachers and equipment even when states failed to meet the condition.

The deadline was set clearly - that by 1990 every child would be given five years primary education, and by 1995 every child would get seven years elementary education.

Operation Blackboard is widely perceived to have been an expensive failure. One of the reasons for its relative lack of success it is said was the highly centralised and top-down mode of implementation prevailing at that time.

With a view to make free and compulsory education a Fundamental Right, the Committee of State Education Ministers was formed in 1996. This committee targeted that there should be a primary school within a distance of 1 to 1.5 km., from every rural habitation and a middle school within a distance of 3 km. The government also realized that to achieve the goal of universalisation of primary education it is important to mobilize and motivate people in rural areas.

The government by passed the OB deadline and started the National Literacy Mission (NLM) in 1998, primarily for adult education. The purpose of the NLM failed when it was seen that children in the age group of 9-14 years thronged the Adult Education Centres, whereas such centres were meant only for persons in the age group of 14-35 years. As a result, in 1992, while reviewing the NPE, the Government decided in the Programme of Planning (POP) that children from 9 years could go to Adult Education Centres for education. By doing that the Government proved the failure of both the NPE and the NLM and the lack of farsightedness in policymaking.iv
Mass literacy is not a development outcome that is achieved merely with the passage of time. It requires a conscious and organised mass campaign. India's programmes of adult education failed to achieve any real progress in the field of mass literacy. Internationally, campaigns to promote rapid increases in rates of literacy have involved the mobilisation of large numbers of learners and teachers, often by central authorities who have used elements of compulsion, ideology and social pressure to propagate literacy. Experience has shown that there are some innovative features of the total literacy campaign in India that are common to the different areas in which it has been implemented.v
Several programmes, particularly those relating to Universalisation of Elementary Education were taken up (see table in the previous chapter) and some of them have indeed been successful.

Most of these could be attributed to increased programme related funding from foreign organizations like the UNICEF, World Bank and private NGOs. This funding is usually tied to certain programme conditions including consultation of expertise, programme support, and external monitoring.

The School Revolution of Himachal Pradesh
vi report on elementary education in north India described the educational situation as a “schooling revolution”. Once considered a backward region, literacy rates have gone up from 21 percent for males and mere 8 percent for girls in 1961, to 94 percent and 86 percent respectively in 1991.
TRAWL the Himachal countryside, and a primary school crops up every few kilometres, each one boasting not only well-kept classrooms but also a healthy student-teacher ratio of 25:1, or even lower, all for a handsome fee of Rs.2 a month. The education department has also spiced up teaching by introducing co-curricular activities, a la private schools.

(Source: PROBE Report, 1999)

The education expansion has been based almost entirely on government schools. And this has been achieved despite the unfavorable settlement pattern i.e. in scattered villages and high involvement of child labour. The reasons for such developments were cited as:
a) Family & School

b) School Environment

c) Teacher & Society

d) Educational Administration


The Janashaala (meaning community school) or the Joint Government of India (GOI)-UN System Support for Community based Primary Education (SCOPE), was launched in 1998, in nine states namely, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand (formerly Bihar), Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, to provide programme support, in a coordinated manner to ongoing efforts undertaken by the Government of India towards Universalisation of Elementary Education. The programme covers approximately 1,253,339 children and 35,462 teachers in 12,624 schools. It has special focus on educational needs of girls, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, working children, children with special needs and children in marginalised and difficult groups.

Bharathi Prabhuvii profiles this unique school education programme, striving towards universalisation of elementary education through joyful learning, community participation, school sanitation and inclusive education.

“A white washed and inviting building, colourful boards and lots of aids prepared by the facilitators and the learners, smiling children and involved teachers, surely this can’t be a village government school? Wait, there is more, the toilets are clean and there is even a small patch of garden that the children themselves tend to. We also spot a girl wearing a hearing aid and a boy with crutches in the classroom. When the predominant image of a government school is that of dilapidated building, disinterested teachers and discouraging results, the above mentioned welcome scenario has been possible due to Janashaala programme.

This programme has been in effect in 10 blocks, covering six districts of Karnataka through the Department of Public Education. Funded at a cost of 11.37 crores in the State, this project has now received an extension of 2 years.

Nali-Kali, is an innovative method that lets a child learn at his own pace. It has produced excellent results with children in the lower primary classes. Under the Janashaala programme selected teachers undergo a12-day training in the implementation of the Nali-Kali method. Even without textbooks and homework, traditionally considered a must for school education, children have blossomed into confident learners. Teachers too have begun to enjoy this new method.”

The Nali Kali strategy adopted creative learning practices to help retain children in school and bring in those not attending school. Child competencies were pegged to a learning ladder, and the learning process was organised into milestones, providing every child with the opportunity to assess his or her own progress. According to UNICEF, the initiative has helped improve enrolment, particularly of girls, and has been expanded to cover more areas within Mysore and 10 more districts in Karnataka.

District Primary Education Programme (DPEP)

The DPEP launched in November 1994 took a holistic view of primary education with emphasis on decentralised management, community mobilisation and district specific planning based on contextually and research based inputs.

In an articleviii reviewing the structure, functioning, impact and implications of the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), in Karnataka, Padma M. Sarangapani and A. R. Vasavi observe that “Prior to 1990, there were a few large scale foreign funded projects in education. All of these were 'aid' programmes. In 1993, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India (GOI), conceived the DPEP as an umbrella scheme under which support from all the different funding agencies would be channeled [MHRD, 1993]. Since 1990, the Government of India began accepting funding for elementary education in the form of loans, with the World Bank being the largest creditor. The European Union is also a large donor. From this perspective, the DPEP is a 'post-facto' programme, evolved to accommodate funds that were being made available; it was not a programme conceptualised by the government for which it subsequently sought to raise money.

The DPEP programme consists of a scheme spread over seven years to achieve the following:

The DPEP was able to renew interest and support for primary education. Coming after a decade long decline in the administration and management of primary education, the DPEP is widely perceived as having provided a boost to accessibility of schools in all settlements, and enabled an increased participation of disadvantaged communities. Following a pattern that has been noticed in all the DPEP phase I states, in Karnataka also there was a surge of interest in primary schoolteacher training, raising academic standards through introduction of new curricula (including encouraging textbooks using local stories and inputs by local persons), and renewing pedagogy.”

Along with the (DPEP) and the Nutrition Support to Primary Education (Midday Meal Programme) was planned to address the problem of equality, access retention and quality at primary stage. During the VIII Plan the enrollment of girls and children for SC and ST has shown an increase at the primary stage. The dropout rates have also shown a declining trend.ix

DPEP aimed to promote a child-centred form of education that was intended to bring out the total involvement of the child in the learning process. Shwetha E. Georgex depicts the atmosphere in one of the many government-aided schools in Kerala that underwent a curriculum revision under the DPEP.

“In a dilapidated building sporting the board 'Government High School' in Alwaye, a prominent town in Ernakulam District, a few Class One students are trying to learn the tables of seven by counting the seeds of the manjadi plant. A few others are reading aloud an adukkalapaattu and a bhakshanapattu (songs on kitchen vessels and food) from charts clipped to a rope tied across the classroom. No text-books and no scribbling down meaningless information. The noise is deafening, the scene pure chaos. The kids have never enjoyed learning better-says their teacher, but an official order to cease this kind of teaching could come any day now. This school is one of the many government-aided schools in Kerala that has undergone a curriculum revision under the DPEP introduced by the Left government in the early nineties. ...Text books were changed. Written content was minimized. Drawing, colouring, group activities, field trips and reading comers in classrooms were the new curriculum. Teachers were trained in batches by expert groups. Monitoring agencies comprising of higher-grade teachers and Zilla officers toured schools to extend support and technical tips.”

“…But it bombed. In just the fourth year of its implementation, the DPEP lost the complete faith of the public and was labeled the greatest fiasco of the Left government. Parents began complaining that their wards were not being given any written homework. They could not fathom how composing a song on kitchen vessels would help these kids pass the Tenth Board Exam. Anti-Left parties maintained that 'alternative education methods' are brainless schemes funded by the World Bank to keep backward countries more backward. It was an excellent scheme. But it was implemented without any proper planning.”

Alternative Schooling, Non Formal Education (NFE)

The system of Non-formal Education (NFE) was conceived in 1978 to meet the requirements of those children who were unable to attend formal schools. The process was meant to be part of a micro- planning strategy, to reach out to every family and every child, and involve them in the process of education. An Alternative School (AS) has a delivery mechanism distinct from formal schools and NFE. It has been conceived as transacting the same curriculum and textual material as in the formal system but outside the structure. The Open School and Shiksha Karmi schools are examples of AS.

Although non-formal education was seen as one way to meet the needs of children who are unable to go to formal schools the concept did not take off.

According to Shushmita Duttxi, today it is becoming increasingly clear that the Indian educational system requires more than just an expansion of the school system and an inclusion of the NFE system if it is to be set right.

“The ground realities have proved that without absolute commitment and large-scale human resource input, the very characteristics which should have made NFE attractive have worked against it — flexibility, localisation and need-specific strategies have often been used as loopholes to offer sub-standard education. It is also being accepted that without a parallel growth in economic activity and rise of other social development indicators, the true benefits of education will not reach the masses. Gradual disillusionment with the existing educational conditions has given rise to a concern that the very educational paradigm accepted by India may be unsuited to a large majority of its people. In an attempt to tailor the delivery system and content to the specific needs of various sections, there have been some small-scale experiments with educational structures, curricula, teaching strategies, teacher training, evaluation and certification, the teaching calendar and management.”

Shiksha Karmi

The Shiksha Karmi or volunteer teacher concept is some what like the barefoot doctor concept. The blueprint drawn up for the Shiksha Karmi Scheme is almost identical to the Gondi experiment of 1946 in Adilabad. It also has a parallel in the extremely successful strategy devised by Bunker Roy for night schools run by the Tilonia School of Social Work in Rajasthan for school dropouts and children of grazers and peasant families. Girls have a higher dropout rate than men. In Tilonia, school dropouts who have passed only the eight or 10th grade are employed as barefoot teachers. They are trained to generate social awareness towards the village environment and rural issues amongst the students by involving every possible resource in the village-policepersons, postmaster, nurse, patwari, bank manager, village head who explain how systems work (or do not work) for them. 

The Rajasthan State Government implemented the Shiksha Karmi scheme in state schools in poverty-stricken areas where teacher absenteeism is rampant and village responses to the schools apathetic. These volunteers have low qualifications, and smaller salaries, but are highly motivated. They work in understaffed schools. In Madhya Pradesh, particularly in remote areas where there are no teachers, Shiksha Karmis substitute for them.xii

In an articlexiii published in Down-to-Earth, the then Education Secretary, National Capital Territory of Delhi, stressed the need for a review of India’s educational and training policy to educate tribals, the backward classes and the poor. “The Shiksha Karmi scheme has now completed a decade since its inception, covering about 2,000 village primary schools in over 70 blocks spread over 29 districts of Rajasthan. Taken both in terms of economy of investment as well as the spread of beneficiaries, this scheme is far more effective than residential schools would have been for the spread of primary education. While the Navodaya Vidyalayas have an annual student population of over one lakh students in the whole country, the Shiksha Karmi project benefits about 1,20,000 children in a single state.

Girls' Education Initiative in Uttar Pradesh

In 1999, in partnership with the government and other voluntary organisations, UNICEF initiated a project for girls' education in four blocks of Uttar Pradesh's Barabanki district, where female literacy was about 15 per cent. Alternative Learning Centres (ALCs) were established in villages that did not have a primary school within a one-kilometre radius, with the active participation of communities. Instructors were selected in co-operation with panchayats, and preference was given to local candidates. The number of ALCs increased from 50 in 1999 to 140 in 2001, when more than 4000 children were enrolled - a significant majority of them were out-of-school girls.

A one-year residential camp programme for girls was also introduced to provide learning opportunities for older out-of-school girls. This is now being replicated under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) across the state.xiv

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)

The Government planned a major initiative to achieve UPE over the next seven years under the SSA scheme. The scheme envisaged community owned schools in which, all children between the ages of 6 and 14 years would be enrolled by the year 2003 to complete four to five years of schooling by the year 2007. A significant difference between this scheme and the previous attempts to push UPE is the idea of community-owned schools. This would make those who run the schools as well as the teachers directly responsible to the community they serve.xv

In the government's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (education for all), many places have no schools and many schools have no teachers. Most states have failed dismally to reach their teacher-appointment targets for 2003-04. Bihar's achievement was 0%. The achievement of teacher-appointment targets was just 21 % in West Bengal and 22% in UP. It was best in Orissa (79%) and Jharkand (69%) where appointments were decentralised to the panchayat or community level. In Bihar, power remains tightly centralised and that militates against flexible hiring. This drives home the need to decentralise education.

Some think India has too many civil servants. Yet, a World Bank study showed that India had one of the lowest number of civil servants per million of population. India's problem is an excess of bureaucrats in the wrong place and gross inadequacy where they are needed, as in education. The Pay Commission award raised salaries and made most state governments bankrupt. Consequently, the latter virtually froze fresh recruitment.

Many opted for para teachers appointed by panchayats rather than regulars. The ostensible reason was to increase accountability and reduce teacher absenteeism, but a more compelling reason was bankruptcy. Para-teachers are not state government employees, and so can be paid a tiny fraction of government teachers' salaries. True, they cannot provide high-quality education, yet some education is better than none. But as long as they are appointed by state governments, they can always claim and get parity with regular teachers. Ideally panchayats and communities should have the authority and funds to hire, pay and fire teachers. That alone will ensure accountability to the community and end the current scandalous state of education where teacher absenteeism can be as high as 40 %. They must be appointed by panchayats, not state governments.xvi

Fudged statistics, rather than effective policy, is now the chief weapon to substantiate India’s capacity to meet the Dakar Goal of UPE by 2015. The Dakar Goal is a dilution of India’s policy commitment to elementary education of eight years. Interestingly, the SSA boasts of universalising primary education by 2007 and upper primary education by 2010. However, last year’s UNESCO’s report had placed India in a category that is at “serious risk of not achieving any of the three Dakar Goals” even by 2015. These goals included universal primary education, adult literacy and gender parity at the primary stage. The only other two South Asian countries in this embarrassing category with India are Nepal and Pakistan. Even Bangladesh and Bhutan are ahead of us.xvii

i Report of the Committee for Review of National Policy on Education 1986, Final Report, National Informatics Centre,
[C.ELDOC1.0610.ED1_Report_of_the_Committee.html]  http://www.education.nic.in/cd50years/g/T/V/0T0V0201.htm

ii Load of School Bag (Yashpal Committee Report), National Informatics Centre [C.ELDOC1.0610.ED1_Load_of_School_Bag_Yashpal_Com_Rep.html]
iii Can Redistributing Teachers Across Schools Raise Educational Attainment? Evidence From Operation Blackboard in India, Aimee Chin, University of

iv Campaign For The Right To Education, Advocacy Update, July-Sept 2002, No.17, National Centre for Advocacy Studies, 01/07/2002,

v Total Literacy Campaigns: A Field Report, Nitya Rao, Economic & Political Weekly, 08/05/1998, [J.ELDOC.N00.08may98EPW.pdf]

vi Public Report on Basic Education in India (PROBE), 1999, [R.N21.604]

vii Adding joy to learning, Bharathi Prabhu, Deccan Herald, 30/03/2003, [C.ELDOC.N21.30mar03dh6.htm]

viii Aided Programmes or Guided Policies? DPEP in Karnataka, Padma M Sarangapani, A R Vasavi, Economic & Political Weekly, 09/08/2003,

ix Policies and Programmes to Improve School Education in Rural India - A Critical Evaluation, H.D.Dwarakanath, Social Action 01/10/2002,

x Off the beaten track, Shwetha E George, Humanscape, [J.ELDOC.N00.01jan02HuS2.pdf]

xi Why India needs alternative schooling, Shushmita Dutt, Humanscape, 01/08/1998, [J.ELDOC.N00.01aug98HuS2.pdf]

xii Adapted from the PROBE Report,[R.N21.604]

xiii Educating the underprivileged, Grassroot Development, 31/08/1998, [C.ELDOC.N00.31aug98grd1.pdf]

xiv Mapping India’s Children, UNICEF in Action, [R.L22.641]

xv Plan for Universal Primary Education, The Hindu, 17/11/2000, [C.ELDOC.N21.17nov00h1.pdf]

xvi Teachers day out, Give Panchayats Right To Hire & Fire, Economic Times, 30/06/2004, [J.ELDOC.N20.30june04et1.pdf]

xvii Goal posts shifted, Anil Sadgopal, Hindustan Times, 11/11/2003, [C.ELDOC.N21.11nov03ht1.html]

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