This article has been published in Enabling Education 6
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Title: Focus on Policy: India
Author: Singal, N
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2002

Focus on Policy: India

Nidhi Singal

Universal Primary Education (UPE) is a formidable task in a nation which has 16% of the world’s population, 4 major religions, 16 official languages and 200 million children between 6-14 years of age. It can only be achieved with perseverance and commitment – as reflected in the government’s policies, programmes and legislation. Here Nidhi Singal reviews the development of educational policies and programmes since India’s Independence in 1947.

The National Policy on Education was developed in 1986 and modified in 1992. It envisaged a national system of education, which aimed to provide ‘education for all’. A unique and participatory forum involving a large number of individuals, educational institutions and states helped frame this policy – the document which guides policy today.

The policy stresses the ‘removal of disparities’ in education along with an attempt ‘to equalise educational opportunity by attending to the specific needs of those who have been denied equality so far’. It recognizes the need to respond to the nation’s varied linguistic, religious, and socio-cultural heritage, and the effects of over 300 years of colonial rule. Disabled children, girls, minorities, and children living in remote rural areas were identified as needing extra attention. Two other marginalised groups are Schedule Caste and Tribes:

  • Schedule Caste (SC): Caste is an ancient social system. Each individual’s position on the social ladder is determined at birth. SCs are at the bottom of this ladder. In the past they were referred to as ‘untouchables’.
  • Schedule Tribes (ST): These tribes live deep in jungles and mountains away from the main population. They are also called ‘Adivasi’, meaning aboriginal. Bringing them in to the mainstream is a formidable task.

The focus over the past 55 years has been on achieving universal access, retention and achievement. Initially the main focus was on enrolment, but in the 1980’s there was a shift towards quality-related issues. Several initiatives were developed:

Operation Blackboard (1987-88):
aimed to improve the human and physical resources available in primary schools.

Restructuring and Re-organisation of Teacher Education (1987):
created a resource for the continuous upgrading of teachers’ knowledge and competence.

Minimum Levels of Learning (1991):
laid down levels of achievement at various stages and revised text books.

National Programme for Nutritional Support to Primary Education (1995):
provided a cooked meal everyday for children in Classes 1-5 of all government, government-aided and local body schools. In some cases grain was distributed on a monthly basis, subject to a minimum attendance.

District Primary Education Programme-DPEP (1993):
emphasised de-centralised planning and management, improved teaching and learning materials, and school effectiveness. DPEP takes a holistic view of primary education.

Sarv Siksha Abhiyan or ‘Movement to Educate All’ (2000):
aims to achieve UPE by 2010 through micro-planning and school-mapping exercises. It envisages the bridging of gender and social gaps.

Fundamental Right (2001):
marks a significant development with free and compulsory education being declared as a basic right for children in the age group of 6-14 years.

All these programmes have been supplemented by schemes specially targeted at marginalised groups. For instance, the integrated education of disabled children, and schemes for SC/ST children provide various monetary incentives to students and parents, awareness and sensitisation of teachers, and support in adapting the curriculum.

Although enrolment in primary education has increased, it is estimated that 35 million children aged 6-14 years remain out of school. Severe gender, regional, and caste disparities exist. There are problems related to high drop-out rate, low levels of learning and achievement, various systemic issues such as inadequate school infrastructure, poorly functioning schools, high teacher-absenteeism, large number of teacher vacancies, poor quality of education and inadequate funds. Other groups of children ‘at risk’, such as orphans, child-labourers, street children and victims of riots and natural disasters, are not addressed by the policy on formal education. A number of parallel systems of questionable quality have developed. There is a need to build a single effective system of education under one ministry.

The government must generate a demand for good education by raising awareness in the community that education is a right for all.

Nidhi Singal is involved in developing a national web resource for India on similar lines to EENET with the help of an NGO. She is also doing her Doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge in the area of inclusive education. She can be contacted at: or through EENET