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


4.1 Pre-primary Education

4.1.1 Issues

a. Social equity

Poor children face many problems in their childhood years, such as lack of nutrition, stunted mental development and reluctance to study. These attributes later lead to low achievement, high dropout rates and functional illiteracy. Pre–primary school can tackle these critical deficiencies early and build a strong base for the child’s successful learning.

b. Socio-economic

Early childhood education increases the productivity of a child and in turn increases the probability of the child’s success at school. In the later years, this may reduce social costs in areas such as school repetition and health education.

c. Increasing literacy

Early child development programmes combine the objectives of education with health and nutrition. Pre-primary schools are mostly in the form of ‘day care centres’ where children are taken care of and provided with the necessary minimum nutrition. Many children and women don’t attend school because they have to take care of their siblings or children. The pre-primary school thus gives them some free time, which they can use to attend school themselves and improve literacy.

d. Increasing productivity

Female participation in the labour force throughout the developing world is substantial and increasing. Availability of childcare centres, which provides education and health, can increase the productivity and income of self-employed women and creates opportunities for additional learning and education.

4.1.2 Imperatives for Sectoral Planning

While the dichotomy between urban and rural pre-primary education has to be eliminated, the pre–primary education system needs to change focus from academics to all round development of children. This calls for a radical change in teaching methodology based on scientific principles.

Research has shown that exposing young children to interesting sources of information for very brief periods each day stimulates the development of the brain cells during early years and fosters a spontaneous curiosity and natural love of learning in children. The pre–primary education system should be based on these scientific principles and has to focus on developing a conducive atmosphere for learning and stimulating the innate curiosity of children.

Learning should be in the form of presenting information to the child in an interesting manner and inducing the child to inquire about the subject. There should not be undue emphasis on memorising. Active teaching should be confined to brief periods and not extend beyond the child’s span of interest. The teacher should engage in active teaching to a group of around five children while other children are engaged in play and other activities. Since the child has a natural tendency to learn languages, very high importance should be given to development of basic reading and writing skills in different languages.

4.2 Primary Education

4.2.1 Issues

a. Urban-rural divide

Education is largely perceived as urban-centric. The stark difference in the literacy rates between rural and urban areas underline this point. In 1997, the urban literacy percentage was 80 % whereas the rural literacy percentage was only 56 %.

Apart from the large difference in the literacy percentages, there is a vast quality difference in primary education between the rural and urban areas. This glaring disparity results in fewer opportunities for rural students in the higher education streams.

Distance between schools and the students is high in certain states especially in the rural areas, which reflects in the educational backwardness of the states. Compared to the urban areas, the availability of trained teachers in the rural areas is limited.

b. Teaching methodology

The current system emphasises teaching by rote. The students are not exposed to experiential learning. This curtails the innate spirit of the children to learn through experiments and practical situations.

c. Low enrolment and high dropout rates

Primary school enrolment and attendance ratios are the most common indicators to measure the success of a primary education system. Net primary school enrolment ratios describe the percentage of primary school-age children who are registered in school. Primary school attendance ratios estimate the percentage of primary school-age children that are actually attending school. Another important indication of success of a school system is the student retention rate, which gives the percentage of enrolled children who reach a certain grade level.

A comparison of these indicators with other developing countries shows that India fairs poorly on all the counts and the goal of universal primary education is still far beyond reach. Countries such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Kenya, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, South Africa and Tanzania score over India in at least one of the two factors. The details of this are presented in Table 4.1.

d. Gender

A major concern is the gender and caste wise disparity in literacy. Girls face many obstacles in pursuing education, including the traditional attitudes about female roles and a lack of female teachers. They are often expected to make a critical contribution to household work and childcare.  With the result, girls constitute two-thirds of all children not attending school.

The female literacy rate was 50% as compared to 73% for male in 1997. There are also wide variations among the various states, ranging from 90% female literacy in Kerala to 34% female literacy in Bihar. A similar situation prevails in the case of male literacy, which ranges from 96% in Kerala to 62% in Bihar.

e. Myths about education

The most common reasons given for inadequate spread of education are:

Illiterate parents don’t value education

Children cannot attend school due to work

However, a recent survey carried out by a group of researchers based at the Delhi School of Economics and the Indian Social Institute finds otherwise. The survey covered all the schooling facilities in a randomly selected sample of 188 villages in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The survey's findings have been released as part of the Public Report on Basic Education for India (PROBE), which is supported by the Centre for Development Economics (India).

Most respondents were very keen to enable their children to acquire education. 80.2 per cent of parents felt primary education should be made compulsory for all children. While 98 per cent stressed it was important for sons to go to school, as many as 89 per cent felt similarly in case of daughters. A small minority did not consider it important for a girl to be educated.

While many children have to work long hours, the survey found that among children who don’t attend school, about half worked less than three hours on the preceding day, and 33% had not worked at all during school hours on that day. Only 18% worked for more than eight hours. Also, girls worked more than boys did, but mainly at home. It is thus clear that the real causes go deeper than the apparent.

f. Lack of Educational Infrastructure and Services

One of the main reasons for India’s poor progress in primary education is the lack of educational infrastructure and facilities. Overcrowded classrooms, long distances to schools, high student-to-teacher ratios, lack of school supplies such as desks, chairs, chalk, and blackboards etc. limit access to primary education.

g. Cost of education

Despite attempts to make primary education free for all, schooling is still a costly proposition for the average agricultural labourer. The PROBE survey estimates the cost incurred to send a child to a government primary school at Rs.366 per student per year. The break-up of the cost is presented in Table 4.2.

Sending two children to school amounts to about 30 to 40 days wages for an agricultural labourer. Further, the loss of the child’s earnings and his job experience adds to the family’s decision not to send children to school.

h. Low teacher to student ratio

During the period 1951 to 1997, the number of primary teachers increased by three times and the percentage of trained teachers has increased from 61% to 87%. However, the student teacher ratio has remained stable at around 45 students to a teacher. The actual number in states varies from 17 in Sikkim to 78 in Bihar. The PROBE survey found that there were about 50 children enrolled for each teacher. Teachers are often absent and spend little time in active teaching even when they are present. Further, the distribution of teachers among schools is highly uneven. This often leads to the actual pupil-teacher ratio being much higher than 50 in many schools, even shooting up to three-digit figures in some cases.

Another manifestation of this problem is that of the single-teacher school. Officially, single-teacher schools have been abolished in the country since introduction of Operation Blackboard in 1986. However, in the PROBE survey sample villages, 12 per cent of all primary schools had a single teacher appointed. Another 21 per cent had a single teacher present, because the other teachers were absent. Thus, one-third of all schools effectively had a single teacher.

i. Inefficient teaching methods

It is found that many children are unable to read and write even after many years of schooling. This is due to the inefficient teaching methods employed in schools. Teaching aids are rarely used either because they are not available or are kept locked up and away from the children. The favoured teaching method is copying from the board or from textbooks and emphasis is on controlling the children rather than teaching. Teachers are compelled to teach more than one grade at a time. Some teachers deal with this by concentrating their efforts on the higher grades, leaving the younger children to their own devices.

j. Child labour

The 1991 census of India lists 112.8 lakhs child workers in the age group of 5–14, 90% of which are in rural areas. Besides, 62 lakhs children are involved in housework, majority (88%) of which are girls. There is a strong relationship between child labour and lack of primary education. Working children have low enrolment, high absenteeism and dropout rates. This may be attributable to fatigue from long hours of labour, injuries and illnesses, and work schedules that conflict with school hours.

Recognising this, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has stipulated that the minimum working age should be more than the age required to complete compulsory education and in any event, not less than 15 years. However, India does not have any compulsory education laws.

The U.S. Department of Labour through its International Child Labour Programme has studied 16 developing countries to find the link between primary education and child labour. The fifth report in this series states that high absenteeism and drop out rates are particularly chronic among working children in rural areas. Though many countries have complementary child labour and compulsory education laws, India has no national laws in this regard. Only 14 states in India have legislation regarding compulsory education. A comparison of this legislation is given in Table 4.3.

4.2.2. Imperatives for Sectoral Planning

There should be a compulsory enrolment of children at the age of 5 in primary schools. This should be enshrined in the constitution. A system of reward and penalty needs to be followed. The students should be offered incentives such as mid-day meals, free textbooks and teaching aids. There should be stiff penalties for parents in case the children are not admitted to schools.

To ensure retention, the mid-day meal scheme and other incentives should continue. There are a large number of NGOs working in the field of primary education. The synergy between the Government and the NGOs should be utilised.

The curriculum should be overhauled to encourage learning through experience and not by rote. The teacher’s role should shift to that of a facilitator.

The trained teachers should serve a specified period in the rural areas, as in the banking system and the medical profession.

A national education fund needs to be created. The donations to this fund should be offered attractive tax breaks. This fund to be utilised for primary education and adult literacy.

There should be at least one primary school within 2 kms. of each prospect student.

The reach of new technology tools such as television, cable television and Internet should be utilised for enhancing the reach and quality of primary education.

Economic incentives alone are not very effective in increasing school attendance. However, a recent survey carried out by ILO has found it to be very effective when combined with other social measures such as raising community awareness about education and improving educational quality and infrastructure.  Economic incentives are thus very important in raising education levels and should be employed in India more as a means to offset the income loss incurred by sending a child to school. Incentives can be in the form of free meals to students, food to the student’s family and free uniforms and books.

A variety of programs to provide alternative education opportunities for working and underprivileged children should be introduced. These may include the following programmes:

a.  Orientation Schools

Temporary schools, which would operate in the lean months of employment, should be introduced. These schools should target working children who are early drop outs or have never attended school and should impart basic reading and writing skills, vocational skills and other skills relevant to their work environment. Focus should be on generating interest in the formal education system.

Andhra Pradesh, with the highest number of working children in India, is implementing such a program successfully with about 74% of the students subsequently enrolling to formal schools.

b.  Flexible Schedules

Another strategy for increasing school enrolment and attendance is to make school schedules more flexible, allowing working children the opportunity to both work and study. Schools should operate on a two-shift basis, one starting in the morning and other later in the day. Working children should be allowed the flexibility to attend school in either shift. Agricultural and rural labour requirements are highly seasonal. The school calendar should be adapted so that majority of the curriculum is covered in the lean months. Moreover, many labourers migrate to other places for some time in a year. Appropriate arrangements should be made to allow children of such labourers to attend school at different locations in the same grade. Such programmes have been successfully implemented in countries like Guatemala, Peru, Brazil and Mexico.

There should be national legislation requiring compulsory education for children during the ages of 6-14. Effective child labour laws fixing the minimum working age at 15 should complement this.

An example of a country where compulsory education has worked to reduce child labour and increase literacy is Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government decided to enforce compulsory education in the 1920’s and 1930’s. With this compulsory education policy, school participation rates rose from 58 percent in 1946 to 74 percent in 1963. The literacy rate also increased from 58 percent in 1946 to 86 percent in 1984 and to 90% in 1997. Correspondingly, the employment rate of children in the ten to fourteen age group has shown a substantial decline from 13% in 1946 to 6.2% in 1963 and currently stands at 5.3% for males and 4.6% for females


4.3 Secondary Education

4.3.1 Issues

a. Urban-rural divide

The enrolment figures though improving with time, is still lopsided in favour of the urban areas. The distance to the nearest school is quite high especially in rural areas.

b. Lack of facilities

Most of the existing schools have poor facilities for laboratories, learning resources, computers and sports. The variance in the quality of teaching is stark between different schools. Apart from the lack of facilities, the other major reason for this is the lack of adequate teaching professionals in remote areas.

c. Different systems

There are several organisations administering to this education system both at the Centre and the states.

4.3.2 Imperatives for Sectoral Planning

A common system of education across the nation is absolutely necessary. This could contain common syllabi across the nation allowing for regional variations. The states would be responsible for implementing the syllabi. The curriculum should provide vocational education at the 10 + 2 levels. The curriculum to be reviewed periodically.

All higher secondary and high schools to be provided computers at a ratio of at least 1 computer for every 50 students. Stress should be on practical learning rather than on theoretical learning.

4.4 Higher Education

4.4.1 Issues

As with the other sectors, there is a tremendous variance in the quality of education being imparted by various institutions. The reasons for these include the variation in infrastructure facilities in different institutions and variable quality of the teaching professionals.

There are no innovations in teaching and research. The existing scheme for continuous learning of faculty is inadequate. The outcome is ill-equipped faculty members.

The higher education is an urban phenomenon with most of the Universities located in the urban areas. Also the decision making process of the Universities is extremely slow. This is one of the reasons for the perception amongst the rural population that they do not need higher education.

The content and curriculum is not in tune with the needs of the society and does not reflect the changing trends. The result is an increasing level of educated unemployed.

The objective of higher education at the most basic level is to prepare its students for employment. This would mean value addition of a fairly high level. However, as mentioned earlier this is merely a dream. The value addition for the cost of collegiate education is disproportionate.

At the higher education level, the financing options for the students is almost non-existent. This and the other issues discussed above preclude a large segment of the Indian population from being a part of the higher education system.

4.4.2 Imperatives for Sectoral Planning

The system should provide affordable and quality higher education on par with the best in the world to all. This would mean tremendous value addition for the students and they would be better prepared for employment.

There is a need to evaluate the utility of current Arts and Science courses in the prevailing scenario. This evaluation should not restrict to the curriculum alone but also to the linkage to employment opportunities.

There should be in-built mechanisms to constantly upgrade and evaluate curriculum. These evaluations should be undertaken at a maximum interval of one year.

The private institutions should be encouraged to establish science and technology institutions. There should be no funding from Government to these institutions. The linkages between industry and academic institutions, especially in research and development, should be institutionalised.

All courses from the UG level should have a module on entrepreneurship.

Continuous learning should be made mandatory for all teachers in higher education on a period basis. This should be at least 6 weeks of training for every two years of teaching.

The institutions should be rated by independent agencies, as is done in the financial markets. The process should be analogous to the credit rating for financial instruments. All institutions failing the minimal quality tests to be given a pre-specified time to improve, failing which these are de-recognised. All institutions should obtain this rating each year. This should be prominently displayed in all communication and application forms. This would strengthen the accreditation process.

The University governance structure should be compact and effective. In view of global participation of the Universities, the issue concerning their jurisdiction of geographical territory needs a review. Also the University should be allowed to establish their centres of studies at various locations in India and abroad.

The University administration should be effectively decentralised and based on the latest information technology techniques. The courses of studies should be flexible to encourage the students to choose the variety of subjects in tune with their strengths and the market demands.

The University system should establish transfer of credits to enable students to move from one institution to the other.

4.5 Professional Education

4.5.1 Issues

The colleges and universities have largely bypassed the rural sector, except a few universities designated as rural universities. India is still a largely rural nation. It is the duty of the education system to disseminate knowledge to the entire nation. The urban-centric approach has left a large population of the country untouched. These institutions should utilise the reach of the latest medium and also spearhead the transfer of technology to the rural sector.

The faculty, once they are part of the academic system do not keep themselves abreast of the latest happenings in their field. There should be methods to compulsorily train teachers at specified periodicity. This would enable them to update themselves on the latest tools and techniques especially in the emerging areas.

There is a variance of quality of education amongst institutions, with the result that for a few colleges and institutions, there is a greater demand for admissions, and for some others there are not enough requests for admissions.

The cost of professional education is quite high. The lack of financing options attenuates this.

4.5.2 Imperatives for Sectoral Planning

An all-India examination for professional courses on the lines of SAT, GMAT or GRE should be organised. This will be the evaluation criterion for entry into professional courses at the undergraduate courses. The tests can be conducted every quarter. The students are free to take the test at their convenience. The entry into post-graduate level for the technology courses must be strictly through GATE or other similar entrance examinations.

The curriculum should be reviewed and updated to be globally competitive. The teaching faculty should compulsorily attend programmes to update their knowledge and skills on the latest research and trends.

Consistency in quality amongst all technical education should be ensured. The role and powers of AICTE, MCI and other organisations responsible for accreditation needs to be merged into one single entity which would grant institutions an annual certification process based on the rating obtained from independent authorities.

The institutions should explore methods of increasing their corpus and reduce their dependence on the Government for funding.

Establishment of Private Universities in the field of Science and technology should be encouraged. An enabling legislation for this purpose should be passed.

4.6 Adult Education

4.6.1 Issues

a. Rapid Increase in Population

The total population of the country has been increasing at a fast rate and is currently around one billion. Though, the literacy rate has also been consistently rising it has not been able to keep pace with the population growth rate. Consequently, the number of illiterates kept increasing for several decades. However, there has been a turnaround in the trend since 1991. The details are presented in Table 4.4.

b. Needed for a larger focus on certain states

About one-third of the world’s illiterates are in India. 48 % of the illiterates in India are in the four states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

c. Functional literacy

Concept of functional literacy and emphasis not on mere enrolment of learners but on attainment of certain predetermined norms and parameters of literacy, numeracy, functionality and awareness is not focussed.

d. Rural-urban disparity

The rural-urban disparity has posed a major problem with respect to literacy. However, in this decade the growth of literacy in the rural areas has been significant. In spite of the improvements in this decade the literacy percentage in the urban area is 80 % and in the rural areas is only 56 %.

e. Economic disability

Poverty is widely acknowledged to be the underlying cause for all the social problems facing India, illiteracy obviously being one of them. An individual in India, especially in the rural areas does not have the inclination towards education, since he would rather earn his living than spend time on getting educated. Hence the opportunity cost of learning is high. In other words, the utility from education is considered very low.

f. Access

Another critical reason to the slow growth of education could be attributed to access; in terms of time and place. The timings of the educational institutions/communities are not convenient for most of the people. A common man will not compromise on his daytime to study since he has to sustain his family through employment. Also, the community centres imparting adult education are more concentrated in urban or semi-urban areas rather than rural areas. Basically, the reach of these programs is very poor and again it becomes inconvenient for a common man to access such education.

g. Weak Policy Formulation

A review of the efforts made so far in policy formulation and planning on training in adult education in India indicate that though meticulous planning has been done and concrete policy guidelines formulated but there is a lacuna in implementation of these programs and policies at the grassroots level. A number of research and evaluation studies have been conducted of the implementation of total literacy campaign (TLC) in India and these studies have revealed the following facts which need to be rectified immediately.

The weaknesses revealed by these studies are generally the following: -

1. It is not primer specific.

2. Lack of proper planning.

3. Training needs are not properly identified.

4. Appropriate training methods are not used (focus is on lecture method).

5. Lack of relevant training materials on specific aspects of TLC.

6. Proper monitoring, evaluation and documentation is not seen.

7. Numbers of participants are bigger in size (un-manageable number)

8. Insufficient support system for training.

9. Same training model is followed in low and high literacy areas.

10. Research in training is very poor.

11. Development of training skills is not properly attended.

4.6.2 Imperatives for Sectoral Planning

India should achieve, by 2010 AD, 100 % literacy levels in the age group 6 to 65. The current estimates of NSSO state that by 2005, our literacy rate would be over 75 %. We would need support of a large number of organisations to achieve this, both within Government and outside of it.

A comprehensive programme similar to those launched for polio vaccination needs to be organised involving large number of social organisations and NGOs.

The responsibility should be placed with a single ministry who will co-ordinate with all the States and Union Territories for achieving the first objective.

Additional sources of funding for this programme should be explored. The norms for receipt of foreign funding for literacy programme to be liberalised. Focus should be more on the educationally backward states.

Separate programmes for women illiteracy eradication, taking into account the social norms should be drawn up on a micro-management level.


Table 4.1



(in percentage)


Net Primary School Enrolment Ratio


Primary School Attendance Ratio


Primary School Children Reaching Fifth Grade



Not Available (NA)







































South Africa
















Source : UNESCO and UNICEF publications

Table 4.2



Rs./ year



Books and Stationery


Uniform/ Clothing


Private tuitions


Other expenses




Source: PROBE survey



Table 4.3



National Compulsory Education

Minimum work age (years)



Number of years

















































South Africa
















Source : UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP publications

Table 4.4


(in lakhs)

Year Total Population 7+ Age Population Number of Illiterates (7+)
























Source: NSSO survey 53rd round and extrapolation based on the same