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The Indian Constitution, adopted in 1950, directed the State to ensure provision of basic education for all children upto the age of 14 years within a period of 10 years. The struggle to achieve this basic commitment began immediately. During the last fifty years, several milestones in this regard have been crossed. Beginning with a situation where four out of five persons were illiterate, and only two out of ten children went to school, it has not been an easy task to meet the constitutional commitment. The country began its journey towards the goal of universal elementary education for all by opening more and more primary schools across the country. The system has grown huge in size and coverage. Today nearly four out of five children in the age group 6-14 years are in the school. Two out of three persons are functionally literate. Progress achieved is by no means small. But it falls short of meeting the goal of Education For All.

In the pursuit of the goal of providing basic education for all, the National Policy on Education and the follow up actions on the recommendations of the policy in 1986 has been a major landmark. The World Declaration on Education For All adopted soon after in 1990 gave further boost to the various processes already set in motion in the country. As the analysis presented in the document demonstrates, the last decade of the century has witnessed tremendous progress in the area of basic education in the country. Yet, it is realised that the journey is not yet over. The main task is not to lose the momentum created by the progress made in the last decade. It is necessary to consolidate the gains and capitalise on the enlarged base created by the progress. It is realised that the methods hereto adopted may not be appropriate for crossing the difficult hurdles in the last leg of the journey towards EFA. The strategy has to be such that the goal is achieved within the first few years of the next century. The future policies and programmes are to be guided by this perspective. The following paragraphs set forth the directions in which the EFA effort will be focussed in the years to come beyond 2000.

Provision of Elementary Education for All - Continuing the Unfinished Task

Approaches to achieve the goal of universal elementary education in the years to come have to measure upto the magnitude and complexity of the task which has so far remained incomplete. Efforts to pursue this goal will be guided by three broad concerns :

Further, recognizing the importance of the primary education sector, the Central Government has been working with the state governments on a principle of shared responsibility for achieving the goals of UEE. This becomes even more important in the context of the commitment to make ‘right to elementary education’ a fundamental one. With the magnitude of the unfinished task, the Government of India will continue supporting the initiatives in primary education while promoting the capacities of the State Governments to meet the challenges effectively. Mobilizing additional resources to reach the critical mark of 6 per cent of the GDP for education is a goal towards which the country will continue to strive.

Meeting the Concerns for Equity

Broad-based efforts made during the last fifty years have resulted in a massive expansion of the education system in the country, raising the overall status of educational provisions in terms of accessibility and participation. The efforts were guided by concerns of equity. Yet, a closer analysis of basic statistics reveal glaring disparities in the progress made. Certain sections of population and certain geographical pockets in the country have failed to fully benefit from the investments made in education. Keeping this in view, the approach during the years to come will be to specifically deal with the question of equity with focus on the educational needs of the following categories:

Convergence in Management and Delivery of Education Development Programmes

With the expansion of the education system in the country, the administrative machinery has also expanded tremendously at all levels (separate directorates for school education, higher education, technical education, adult education, etc.) Separate administrative structures are found to be doing tasks which have a common goal and even common set of activities. This is clearly evident in the case of primary education, non-formal education, and adult education. This trend towards creating parallel administrative machinery has not only over-expanded the bureaucratic machinery, but also the very burden has made it counter-productive. It is against this backdrop that the goal of integrated planning and convergence in delivery will be pursued in a three fold manner:

The task of achieving convergence may not be easy. It may, therefore, be necessary to support national and state level institutions to experiment with possible alternatives for field level integration in selected locales across the country and also to examine the possibility of involving NGOs and private initiative in such area specific explorations.

Quality Improvement

Beginning with the Operation Blackboard Scheme to equip all primary schools with at least a minimum level of infrastructure and human resources, the 1990s also witnessed major initiatives in the area of quality improvement. However, it is realised that the task has only begun and has to continue to be one of the major goals to be pursued. It is recognized that quality improvement has a significant impact not only on enrollment and retention of children in the school but also on the possibilities of further education for increased productivity and exercise of citizenship rights and responsibilities. The task of quality improvement will be pursued through:

In spite of several large scale initiatives, quality of functioning of schools has remained far from satisfactory. Studies on the subject have highlighted the need for a more direct action to be initiated at the school level in a need based manner. Keeping this in view, efforts will be made to strengthen the internal management of schools; and to improve the quality of teaching-learning processes. The focus will be on streamlining the regular management practices within the school giving a direction to school development processes through ‘institutional planning and monitoring mechanisms.’ This is to be coupled with adequate locally based support services in pedagogic as well as planning and management dimensions. Towards this end, the programme already initiated to give localised support to teacher and head teachers through block resources centres and cluster resource centres will be further strengthened.

Decentralized Planning and Management

The National Policy on Education 1986 had proposed decentralization as a fundamental requirement for improving the efficiency of the educational planning and management system and creating a meaningful framework for accountability. Several state governments have already initiated the process of decentralization of the primary education management framework. New legislation has been adopted to provide for the changed framework to operate effectively. Some states have also gone for much closer collaboration and involvement of the community in decentralizing the system of education management. On the whole, this has not been an easy task with deeply entrenched centralized mechanisms. The country will continue to work towards the goal of decentralization by initiating processes of community involvement and gradually shifting the locus of decision making from state to district level and downwards through panchayati raj bodies.

This shift in planning and management strategy will also require a vast effort to train and continually give support to educational bodies constituted under the urban local governments and panchayati raj institutions. Efforts will be made to reorient the programmes of various resource institutions at national and state levels to meet this requirement. Towards this end, the local level institutions in the education and allied sectors will be strengthened adequately. Besides, it is envisaged that distance education mechanisms will play a significant role in the task of building capacities among personnel working at local levels. The distance education programmes already launched for inservice education of teachers will be strengthened to play this enhanced role.

Pursuing the goal of decentralization along with the principle of partnership between the centre and the states demands careful orchestration of the policies and programmes particularly in the area of elementary education. As envisaged by the National Policy on Education and reiterated by several bodies subsequently, the national government will continue to play a major role both for coordination and capacity building. It will continue to monitor the progress of reaching national goals in the field of elementary education.

District as the Unit of Planning

Traditionally, planning for development of education has been done at the state government level. The National Literacy Mission changed this trend and adopted district level campaign mode. All assessment for action was done from within the district. Following this, planning for primary education particularly under the DPEP has been firmly anchored at the district level. It is recognised that planning at the district level has several advantages: (a) It helps in making the plan strategies and approaches more locally relevant; (b) It promotes participation of local people in planning process and therefore develop better commitment and accountability for its effective implementation; and (c) It helps in addressing the issues of inter district disparities within the state more effectively. Keeping these factors in view, the country proposes adopt an integrated approach for planning at the district level for development of elementary education. This approach it is envisaged will help identify districts needing more attention and varied types of inputs, thereby tackling the question of equity in an appropriate manner. Movement towards planning at block and cluster and village levels in partnership with NGOs will be encouraged and supported.

Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

It is now globally recognized that systematic provision of ECCE helps in the development of children in a variety of ways such as group socialization, inculcation of health habits, stimulation of creative learning process and enhanced scope for overall personality development. In the poorer sections of the society, ECCE is essential for countering the physical, intellectual, and emotional deprivation of the child. ECCE is also a support for universalisation of elementary education and it also indirectly influences enrollment and retention of girls in primary schools by providing substitute care facilities for younger siblings.

At present, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is the most widespread ECCE provision. Besides, there are preschools, balwadis and so on under the Central Social Welfare Board, in addition to some state government schemes and private efforts. Efforts have to be made to achieve greater convergence of ECCE programmes implemented by various government departments as well as voluntary agencies by involving urban local bodies and gram panchayats. Further, ECCE will be promoted as a holistic input for fostering health, psycho-social, nutritional and educational development of the child.

Promotion of Alternative Delivery Systems

The school system has expanded multifold at all levels during the last five decades. Yet it is difficult to conclude that the system has been able to meet the educational needs of all. This is particularly true of the elementary education sector where it is recognized that a single track approach of formal primary schooling will not help achieve the national goals in a speedy manner. The school education programme has to look beyond the rigid formal framework in a flexible and adaptive fashion. Part-time formal, or non-formal education, seasonal learning centres for the children of migrant labour, voluntary schools by NGOs, post primary ‘open’ learning system, the camp approach for adolescent girls, etc. will have to be systematically promoted.

The non-formal education programme that has been in operation in many parts of the country with support from the central government has been a mixed bag of success and failure. While the programme has been effectively implemented by many NGOs, the state sector could not show expected results. Nevertheless, the last decade has witnessed the emergence of alternate models for implementing the programme in a local specific manner. Lessons from these efforts along with the experience gained in the NGO sector will be used to reformulate and strengthen the programme of non-formal education.

Open learning system (OLS) will form an important dimension of the efforts during ninth plan to reach school education to all. OLS at the school level will be strengthened for providing education from the elementary stage and above to meet the needs of those who are unable to seek education through full time institutional system, with assured equivalence with institutional learning in terms of certificate, degree, etc. Scope of the OLS channel will be expanded to bring more academic and vocational areas into its fold and cater to a larger student population from various segments of the population both in school and adult education sectors.

Partnership between Public and Private Sectors

The task of implementing educational programmes in the country is so stupendous that it is difficult to expect the public sector to meet the burgeoning needs of the society effectively. Even though private initiative has always been a part of the school education endeavour, it is often felt that the country has not been able to fully exploit the potential of the private sector. Possibilities in this regard will have to be actively explored. It should be noted that private sector can contribute not only in monetary terms but also in the forms of expertise for quality improvement through effective management of the system and development of locally relevant teaching-learning material. As mentioned earlier in the analysis of progress, some efforts in this direction have already taken place. More collaborative efforts at institutional level as well as programme implementation level will be designed in order to expand the profile of private initiative in the elementary education.

Increased Role of NGOs

As mentioned earlier, the government views NGOs as partners in the process of moving towards the goal of education for all. As a broad policy, the country proposes to promote the role of NGOs at all levels in the social sector with a view to achieving participatory development and unburdening the administration which is unduly loaded with implementation of development programmes. This approach will be followed in enhancing the role of NGOs in education development programmes also. At present, involvement of NGOs is generally limited to running NFE programmes and implementing small scale innovative experiments in schooling. However, it is recognized that the NGOs have tremendous creative potential to contribute in innovating and implementing education programmes. While continuing with existing programmes of NGO involvement, effort will be made to identify technically competent NGOs and enable them to assume a larger role by functioning alongside government agencies in a significant manner.

Literacy and Continuing Education

Literacy and Continuing Education will continue to receive increased attention so as to achieve the goal of complete eradication of illiteracy in the age group 15-35 years and to enable the neo-literates to retain, improve and apply the newly acquired literacy skills for improvement of the quality of life. The emphasis will be on consolidation and sustaining of the adult education processes through increased participation of NGOs, panchayati raj institutions, youth organizations, teachers and student volunteers.

The focus of the adult education programmes will be two-fold. While the post-literacy and continuing education needs of the neo-literates will be taken care of through provision of opportunities for self-directed learning, equivalency programmes based on open schooling, job oriented vocational education and skill development programmes, a fresh momentum will be given to basic literacy programmes. This is essential in order to take care of the backlog of non-literates viz., those who are the dropouts and left-outs of the literacy campaigns and those out-of-school children who constitute new accretions to the adult illiterate population.

Launching a national Campaign for Education for All: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan

The last decade has witnessed a number of new initiatives to improve the access to and participation of children in elementary education as well as for improving the quality of education provided in the primary schools. The proposed Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan will be implemented by Government of India in partnership with the state governments with a long term perspective on cost sharing and through district level decentralized management framework involving local bodies. It is envisaged that the Campaign, to be launched in a mission mode, will move towards achieving the following four goals:

The programme will be implemented in a manner that will provide adequate opportunities for NGOs and private sectors to contribute towards the achievement of these goals and lead towards a community owned initiative for universalizing elementary education. Keeping in view past experiences, efforts under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan will be underscored by effective decentralization, sustainable financing, cost effective strategies for universalization, interesting curriculum, community owned planning and implementation and focus on girls, marginalised caste groups and ethnic minorities.


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