Prime Minister's Council on TRADE & INDUSTRY

Special Subject Group on
Policy Framework for Private Investment in
Education, Health and Rural Development

Report on
A Policy Framework for Reforms in Education


2.1 Selection of Countries

A review of the development of education in some comparable and/or successful countries will provide useful lessons for India.

The following countries have been selected:

  1. Sweden - Sweden ranks 6 in human development. It has the highest expenditure on education at 8.3% of GNP.
  2. Singapore – Singapore ranks 22 in human development. It is an example of the wide use of information technology in education and of a concerted effort in building a knowledge society.
  3. South Korea – South Korea ranks 30 in human development. It achieved independence, in 1948, at around the same time as India, but has been far more successful in education.
  4. Thailand – Thailand ranks 67 in human development. It has had a similar legacy as that of India in terms of a British system of education.
  5. China – China ranks 98 in human development. It is comparable to India in terms of the magnitude of the education development imperatives.

All these countries are ranked ahead of India in human development. (India’s rank is 132 out of 174 countries). All the five countries have primary school enrolment in the high nineties. (Table 2.1). Incidentally, except Sweden, all other countries have diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion and language.


2.2 Sweden

2.2.1 Background

Sweden covers a total area of 450,000 km2. It has a population of 9 million. The national language is Swedish. For many centuries, Sweden was ethnically and linguistically very homogeneous. There were two exceptions though - the Finnish-speaking population of the northeast and the Sami (Lapps). Today, approximately one million of Sweden’s total population are immigrants or have at least one immigrant parent. Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government.

2.2.2 Education Philosophy

Sweden fundamentally believes that everybody must have access to equivalent education, regardless of sex, ethnic and social background and place of residence. The education system is based on the premise that education and welfare are linked. Sweden has reformed its system to bring about a structurally uniform education system.

2.2.3 Salient Features

Under the Education Act, local bodies are required to provide pre-school activities (public or private) for children in the age group of 1-5 years. Pre-schools are open to all children and the attendance of children is voluntary. As a complement to pre-schools, childcare is also provided.

The aims and responsibilities of the pre-school are set out in a national curriculum formulated by the Government. Experiential learning is underlined as a key factor for learning.

There is no evaluation of the outcome of the individual child in pre-school. Grades and assessments are not issued.


There is a 9-year comprehensive compulsory education for children aged 7–16. However, there is an option for the children to start compulsory school from the age of six years or from the age of eight years.

Compulsory elementary schooling was formally introduced in Sweden in 1842. A process of reform began in the 1940s with the aim of expanding compulsory schooling. The 9-year compulsory comprehensive school was introduced in 1962 and fully implemented in the academic year 1972–73. The compulsory school system comprises compulsory school and special schools for handicapped children and linguistic minorities.

The Education Act provides for parents and pupils to make a choice concerning compulsory education. Parents can choose between public and private schools. The municipalities are obliged to provide pupils with all the materials necessary for schoolwork.

All compulsory schooling is co-educational and provided free of charge.

In order to support integration of activities, a common curriculum for compulsory school and pre-school class is followed. The national syllabi states the objectives, which are to be achieved by the end of the fifth and ninth year of school. This provides an opportunity for nationwide evaluation of school achievements after the fifth year.

Schools are free to decide the organisation of the school, the teaching arrangements, size of classes etc. Pupils may be taught in groups of the same age or as mixed-age groups. Teachers are given freedom in planning their teaching and in choosing their working methods and subject matter.

Municipalities are obliged by law to provide upper secondary schooling for all pupils leaving compulsory school.

Education at the upper secondary level is voluntary and free of charge. Almost the entire compulsory school leavers continue studying in upper secondary school.

There are sixteen nationally determined programmes in upper secondary schools. All study programmes provide a broad-based general education and gives general eligibility for entrance to higher education and prepare the students for working life. Students with interests other than the 16 national programmes can opt for specially designed programmes.

The award of marks in upper secondary education is a continuous process, i.e. marks are awarded on the completion of every course and not for individual subjects or for each term.

Under the Higher Education Act, the requirements of the individual students and the achievements of the individual institutions influence the capacity of different programmes and the allocation of grants between institutions.

Several measures were taken to reform upper secondary schooling in the 1980s to match the needs of the market and the aspirations of the students. This was implemented fully in 1995.

All public higher education is free of charge. Students who need help to finance their cost of living can receive assistance from the central government for this purpose. This support consists of a non-repayable grant and a larger repayable loan in combination and may be awarded for both full-time and part-time studies.

Adult education in Sweden is wide-ranging and based on a long tradition. It is provided in many different forms ranging from national or municipal adult education to labour market programmes and personnel training and competence development at work.

The overall responsibility for education in Sweden is borne by Parliament and the Government. The entire educational system is under the Ministry of Education and Sciences. The county councils, municipalities and private organizers are responsible for the provision of education under the Ministry of Education and Science. The municipalities operate almost the entire public education in Sweden below university level. Most of the higher education institutions are run by the central government although decisions in several important areas have been decentralized to the universities and university colleges.

Education in Sweden has traditionally been organized within the public sector. In the middle of the 1980’s the system was opened up for private organisers to receive public funding for childcare. The number of private pre-schools has increased steadily since then. There are a few private institutions in higher education level.

The State has gradually switched from laying down rules to the approach based on goals and results in the educational system. The local authorities have been given extensive autonomy in administering the schools within the framework set out by the Government. Decisions in several important areas were decentralised from the central level to the institutions of higher education.

The funding of school-level education is shared between central and local governments. The municipal tax revenue is the main income of the local government. Additionally, the local government receives a state grant of dual character, consisting of both pure grants as well as tax and structural equalisation. The structural equalisation part is determined by population and structurally related cost differences. Each municipality has the right to decide on the allocation of resources and the organisation of activities.

Teaching materials and school meals in compulsory school are free of charge to the student. The municipalities are obliged to provide free school transport for compulsory school pupils.

Financial support to students at upper secondary level comprises a general study grant, representing a continuation of child allowance, payable to all pupils from the age of 16, and a need-based grant towards the cost of studies and daily travel.

Higher education is financed directly from the state. Appropriations for universities and university colleges are based on proposals from the Government and given to each institution. The basic principles of the allocation system are that appropriations are made as remuneration for results achieved. Results refer to the number of credit points earned by students and the number of full-time equivalent students taught at the institution.

The Government accords the institutions the right to award degrees.

The education system of Sweden is presented in Exhibit 2.1.

2.3 Singapore

2.3.1 Background

Singapore occupies an area of 648 sq. km. It has a population of 3.5 million. There are three major ethnic groups – Chinese, Malay and Indian – accounting for 76 %, 15 % and 6 % respectively. The major religions are Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. The official languages are Chinese, Malay, Tamil and English. Singapore is a republic with the President as Head of the State directly elected by the people.

2.3.2 Education Philosophy

The vision of Singapore for meeting the challenges of the future is summed up in four words: THINKING SCHOOLS, LEARNING NATION. It is a vision that aims to inspire Singapore as a nation of thinking and committed citizens capable of contributing towards Singapore’s continued growth and prosperity. It focuses on the development of human resources to meet Singapore’s need for an educated and skilled workforce.

2.3.3 Salient Features

Every child in Singapore undergoes at least 10 years of general education. This comprises six years of primary education (four years of foundation and two years of orientation) and four years of secondary education.

Literacy, numeracy, bilingualism, physical and moral education, and creative and independent thinking are emphasised by the school education system. The bilingual policy requires that each child learn English and the mother tongue. The system is oriented to foster strong bonds among students and to develop in them a sense of responsibility and commitment to family, community and country.

Computer-based programmes are introduced in schools to ensure that pupils are ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Information Technology is used widely as teaching and learning resources to develop skills in communication and independent learning.

All schools are expected to be fully networked by the year 2002, through the information technology masterplan. Teachers and pupils would have adequate access to multi-media computer resources, courseware, the Internet and digitised media resources. The target of the IT Masterplan is to provide one computer to every two pupils from primary one to junior college, and for IT to be used for 30 % of curriculum time.

All pupils at the foundation stage follow a common curriculum, which provides them with a firm foundation in English, their mother tongue and Mathematics. Also included in the curriculum are subjects such as Music, Art and Craft, Civics and Moral Education, Health Education, Social Studies and Physical Education. Pupils are also encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities.

Pupils are formally streamed according to their learning ability at the end of Primary Four. All pupils then advance to the next stage of primary education, the orientation stage. At the orientation stage, pupils are placed in one of three language streams, namely EM1, EM2, and EM3, according to their abilities.

At the end of Primary Six, pupils sit for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) which assesses their abilities for placement in a secondary school course that suits their learning pace and aptitude. Pupils who obtain the necessary standards are then admitted to the Special, Express or Normal stream in secondary schools.

At the secondary level, pupils have the choice of three courses designed to match their learning abilities and interests. Pupils undergo four to five years of secondary education with different curricular emphasis. The majority of pupils undergo the Special course or Express course whilst the rest enter the Normal course.

Pupils in the Normal (Technical) course are prepared for technical-vocational education with the Institute of Technical Education.

After completion of their secondary level, students can apply for entry to a junior college for a two-year pre-university course, or a centralised institute for a three-year pre-university course.

At the end of the pre-university course, students sit for the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education "Advanced" (GCE "A") Level Examinations. Their eligibility for tertiary education is determined by the results of their GCE "A" Level Examinations.

There are six types of schools in Singapore.

Independent schools enjoys autonomy in setting its own scale of fees, in the admission of pupils, in the selection and appointment of teachers and principals as well as in curriculum matters. They conform to national education policies.

Autonomous schools are either government or government aided schools. They are given additional funds and more leeway to execute their mission of providing quality education. They, too conform to national education policies.

The Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools are established to maintain high standards in both English and Chinese whilst preserving the traditional ethos existing in the schools. The secondary SAP schools offer the Special course where pupils learn Chinese at a higher level and English.

The School Cluster Scheme was mooted as a management model to enhance the management of schools by reducing centralised control and decision-making. Under the scheme, a group of schools forms a cluster co-ordinated by a Superintendent with the responsibility of facilitating networking and collaboration among the Principals of the cluster schools. The Superintendents are also in charge of developing and supervising the Principals.

Some of the schools are double-session with two groups of students making use of school facilities from 7:30am to 1:00pm and 1:00pm to 6:30pm. By the year 2000, the Government of Singapore has set a target of converting all secondary schools into single-session schools. Schools are expected to use the available facilities for extra-curricular activities and enrichment programmes in the afternoons.

Pupils with physical or intellectual impairment go to special schools, which are run by the voluntary welfare organisations and heavily funded by the government. Trained teachers are seconded to teach in these schools.

Pupils at primary level do not have to pay school fees. They only pay miscellaneous fees that go to their respective school, to help cover the cost of equipment and special programmes for the benefit of the pupils. Pupils at secondary and pre-university levels pay subsidised school fees and similar miscellaneous fees.

Professional training for teachers is conducted by the National Institute of Education (NIE), an institute at the Nanyang Technological University

Admission to the two universities, the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University, is based on GCE "A" level performance and, in some cases, interviews as well. A third University, the Singapore Management University, is being established and expected to offer academic programmes from 2000.

The Ministry of Education appointed the Singapore Institute of Management to run the Open University Degree Programme.

The education system of Singapore is presented in Exhibit 2.2.

2.4 South Korea

2.4.1 Background

South Korea covers a total area of 98.480 sq. km. It has a population 46.9 million. It is almost homogenous in terms of ethnicity, except for a minor presence of Chinese. The major religions are Christianity and Buddhism. Korean and English are the most frequently used languages. South Korea is a republic and is headed by a President, who is elected by the voters directly. The Prime Minister is the head of the government and is appointed by the President from the National Assembly.

2.4.2 Education Philosophy

Korea has established knowledge, human welfare and open-mindedness as its ultimate goals to be delivered to the individuals from the education system. The vision of the education system is to develop a self-reliant individual equipped with a distinct sense of independence, a creative individual with a sense of originality, and an ethical individual with some sound morality and democratic ideology.

2.4.3 Salient Features

Following the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, an education law was enacted on the basis of democratic principles. Accordingly, an autonomous educational structure and a compulsory education system were introduced.

Korean education in the 1980's endeavoured to enhance the quality of education. The government set the formation of a sound personality through education and reform of civil education, emphasising science and life-long education as the nation’s top priority.

In March 1985, the Presidential Commission on Educational Reform was established under the direct supervision of the President. To achieve the goal of educating Koreans as the Prospective Leaders in the 21st Century the Commission recommended major reforms in school system, facilities, teacher training, content and investment.

The nineties and the following years are expected to advance education by realising quality education and educational welfare. The major concerns are the pursuit of qualitative, rather than quantitative, growth of education, and the fulfilment of high public demands for education through extending compulsory education, popularising secondary education and increasing opportunities for higher education.

Early childhood education is largely provided by private institutes or those affiliated to public primary schools. Parents are expected to pay the entire costs of this education. At present, opportunities are not yet universal. Children are admitted to the kindergartens in their residential areas on the basis of parents' applications and is purely voluntary.

f) The government has concentrated on building public kindergartens in rural areas while encouraging the private sector to establish kindergartens in major cities where a large number of kindergarten-aged children are concentrated.

Primary education in Korea is free, compulsory and provides the general basic education necessary in daily life. Practically all children are provided with primary education. This consists of six years of education.

The objective of middle school education is to provide general education to build on the foundation of elementary education. All applicants are allocated to schools near their residences.

This level of education is free and compulsory. Free and compulsory middle school education was first introduced in 1985 to agricultural and fishing villages, and was extended to the entire nation within a few years.

Admission to high schools is through grades obtained in a national level selection examination. This was modified in 1995 to enable the schools to consider other factors in addition to the examination grades for admission.

Additionally, private schools with self-supporting ability, which is managed by a school foundation and on fees paid by the students, are given the autonomous right to set their tuition fees and select students.

Vocational high schools aim at providing advanced general education as well as vocational training in agriculture, technology, commerce, fisheries and ocean sciences.

In addition, foreign language, science, art and athletic high schools are also operational to educate future leaders in these specific areas. Under strong governmental support, these schools aim at identifying the gifted at an early age and developing their potential to the maximum level.

Higher education aims at teaching and studying fundamental academic theories and their various applications as applicable to the progress of the society. The period of study for college education is four or six years.

The scholastic achievement test is administered on a national scale. Private universities are free to administer their own exams.

One of the unique features in South Korean education is the utilisation of modern technology to improve education reach even at the primary school. The Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) was inaugurated in 1990 to support school education and expand the opportunity for education.

EBS has one television and radio channel and a staff of 630.The Ministry of Education is responsible for policy making and financial support. EBS is in charge of planning, organisation, production and delivery of the education broadcasting. Educational broadcasting programs are aired on television for 8 hours and 30 minutes every day (18 hours on Sundays) and on radio for 20 hours a day.

2.5 Thailand

2.5.1 Background

Thailand occupies a land area of 514,000 sq. km. It has a population of 60.6 million in 1999. The major ethnic groups are Thais (75 %) and Chinese (14 %). The official languages are Thai and English. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The King is the Chief of the State. The Head of the government is the Prime Minister and he is the leader of the party enjoying majority in the House of Representatives.

2.5.2 Education Philosophy

Thailand sees education as centric to long term economic development. The National Education Development Schemes are evolved to meet needs of a changing economy.

2.5.3 Salient Features

Pre-school education is provided for 3-5 year old children through child care centres, nursery schools and kindergartens. The Ministry of Education has established a kindergarten in every provincial capital to serve as a model for the private ones. Since this level of education is voluntary, the private sector has played an active role.

Primary education is compulsory and free of charge for the children in the age group between 6 and 11 years. Primary school curriculum is an integrated curriculum comprising five areas of learning experiences, namely: basic skills development, life experience, character development, work oriented education, and special experiences.

c) Since student backgrounds in the various parts of the country are different, a basic national core curriculum allows certain flexibility for regional diversification.

The secondary education is divided into two levels, each covering a period of three years. There is a common curriculum across the nation.

Students who complete upper secondary school successfully are eligible to enter higher education courses. The higher education institutions can be classified into four categories. They are public universities and institutes, private universities and colleges, technical institutions and specialised training institutes.

There are 24 public universities and institutes and 41 private universities and colleges comprising of 23 universities and 18 colleges. They do not depend on government support and have freedom in operating their institutions.

Apart from the above, several ministries operate higher education institutions in their own fields such as medicine, agricultural sciences, physical education etc. The respective ministries administer these institutions.

In addition, Thailand has three specialised training institutions, viz. the Asian Institute of Technology and two Buddhist Universities, which are popular and attract students from all parts of the world. They are completely autonomous.

Each public university or institute has its own Act empowering the University Council to function as the governing body.

2.6 China

2.6.1 Background

China occupies a land area of over 9. 5 million sq. km. The population of China is over 1.25 billion. The country is divided into 23 provinces, 5 autonomous regions and 4 municipalities. The most popular languages are Mandarin and Cantonese. Buddhism and Taoism are the most popular religions and the minorities include Christians and Muslims. The country is a Communist State headed by a President. The National People’s Congress elects the President and the Vice President. The President nominates the Prime Minister who is later confirmed by the National People’s Congress.

2.6.2 Education Philosophy

The focus of China's educational policy is to improve the country's intellectual outlook and bring about competent students in all aspects of China's development.

2.6.3 Salient Features

Since 1978, China has adopted an education policy of nine-year compulsory schooling system, which means that all children are required to attend school for at least nine years. During this period, students will finish both the primary school program and the junior middle-school program.

Children aged from 3 to 6 usually attend kindergartens near their neighborhood, where they learn the basics of their mother tongue. The inculcation of values in the children is one of the top priorities on the teaching agenda among kindergartens and childcare centres throughout the country.

The primary school education was for a period of five years earlier and has now been increased to six years.

High school education is divided into two parts: three-year junior high school program and senior high school.

Admission to higher education is through the national college entrance examination. Usually, two sets of examinations are designed. One is for the science stream and the other for the arts stream.

China provides free education at the university level, and those students whose families have financial difficulties receive subsidies. The students’ union runs the dormitory, which is an integral part of student life in China. The dormitory is provided free of charge to the students. Attempts have been made to charge students from the economically superior classes in the past few yeas. In recent years, the number of pay students increased because of the education reform.

The Chinese have established three components to address major issues and constraints:

The Access to Nine Year Compulsory Education Component to remove barriers to access (particularly for girls and minorities) by financing renovations, rehabilitation, construction of new schools, furniture and instructional equipment, assistance programmes and a pilot textbook rental scheme at the primary and secondary levels.

The Education Quality Enhancement Component to enhance the quality of education particularly for minorities and girls by providing books and materials, upgrading staff programs, establishing pilot teacher service networks and supporting the dissemination of information, training of education staff, administrators and technicians.

The Education Management Improvement Component to develop education systems and management capabilities at the national, provincial and institutional levels through staff training, provision of equipment and expert services, training of local education managers and project implementation authorities, an education management information system (EMIS).

The Chinese education system is presented in Exhibit 2.3.

2.7 Lessons for India

Based on the above discussion, the following are the implicit lessons for India:

As a nation, we have to prepare ourselves to graduate to a knowledge based society. A vision for the nation has to embrace the development of competent human resources.

Creative and independent thinking must be emphasised across the education system in order to promote a learning society.

The inculcation of values in children has to be on top of the teaching agenda in pre-school and primary education.

Primary education has to be universal, compulsory and, if possible, free.

There has to be a mix of government and private initiative. Government should directly participate in all the education segments, but focus more on primary and adult education. Private participation should be encouraged in pre-school education.

Higher education must involve private initiatives including setting up of private universities.

A strong emphasis on vocational education and education that is market-oriented, especially in secondary and higher education, is called for.

An obsession for the use of technology, particularly information technology and communications technology must pervade the education system.

A common curriculum with an integrated education structure is essential for progress.

A national level testing program would be required in order to channel students to higher levels of education based on performance and aptitude.

Admission to institutes of higher learning should be on a centralised testing and enrolment system.






Autonomy and freedom for educational institutions is important to bring about innovations in education.

Grants have to be linked to achievements of individual educational institutions.

Reforms in education is a continuing process.




Table 2.1


(in percentage)

Country/ Region

Adult literacy rate – 1997

Net enrolment – 1997

Public expenditure as of GNP – 1993-96





76 .0




All developing countries  




Industrialised countries  




South Asia  









South Korea















India *










Source : UNDP Human Development Report 1999

* - NSSO data states that the Indian literacy rate in 1997 was 64 %, whereas the UNDP Human Development Report 1999 puts it at 53.5 %.


Exhibit 2.1




Exhibit 2.2



























Exhibit 2.3