Primary Education

The Millennium development goals aims at eradicating poverty and improving the welfare if their people by the year 2015. The second of its gaols is achieving universal Primary Education, with a specific target of ensuring that by 2015 everyone, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of Primary Schooling.

Primary Education develops the capacity to learn, read and use mathematics to acquire information and to think critically about the information. Micro-economic research has shown that education improves individual income. Research also indicates the contribution of primary Education to better natural resource management and more rapid technological adaptation and innovation. And the returns to Primary Education are higher than returns to higher levels of Education. When a large number of children do not complete primary education, the productivity of the labour force and the human potential from which the society can draw declines. It has been found those mothers who have completed Primary Education are 50 percent more likely to ensure that their infants are immunised than illiterate ones. But, in several developing countries, average level of schooling is still less than primary Education.

Compulsory primary Education

Compulsory primary Education is a Policy Instrument by which state effectively removes children from Labour force, thereby protecting both against parents and would be employers.

Indian Scenario

Since Independence the country has witnessed phenomenal educational development both in quantitative and qualitative terms. But the Nation goals of Universal Elementary Education (UEE) and the total eradication of illiteracy still remains elusive. Some of the relevant features are:

  • Primary Education is still not compulsory
  • Child Labour is not illegal. Law prohibits employment of children in factories but not cottage Industries, restaurants, agriculture or households
  • Children often stay at home to care for cattle, tend young ones, collect firewood, work in field or are employed elsewhere as above.
  • Children are economic asset to Poor Families. Thus, sending them to schools involves explicit opportunity costs

Today India is way behind in decreasing Illiteracy Rates. It is the single largest producer of Illiterates in the World. The literacy rate stands at 65.38% (2001 census). Percentage of Primary Students Enrolment for boys is 63.6% while for girls is 50.3%. Still startling is the Gross drop-out rates, 38.4% for boys and 39.4% for girls (2001 census).

Is is not surprising then that right since independence, the government of India, every commission appointed by the government and every ruling Congress party, all opposition parties have advocated abolishing child labour and establishing compulsory primary education for children up to the age of fourteen. This commitment is reflected in preceding and succeeding efforts by the major parties and then the government.

Some of such developments on Primary Education in India’s past and present are:

  • Gopal Hrishna Gokhale, then president of Indian national congress unsuccessfully urged the British to establish free and compulsory elementary Education
  • In 1930s Indian National Congress passed Legislation authorising local bodies to introduce compulsory education
  • In 1950, Indian constitution declared that the state shall endeavour to within a period of ten years from the commencement of Constitution for free and compulsory education to all children until they attain the sage of fourteen years.
  • Thus in the Indian Constitution of, school education was put in the State list. As such, it was responsibility of the state to provide universalisation of Primary Education
  • In 1964, Kothari Commission was set up to formulate a coherent education Policy for India. It proposed Indian Education Policy to aim at free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14.
  • The compulsory primary education acts were passed by most of the state governments and the number of primary schools 2.1 lakh in 1950 to 5.2 lakh in 1986.
  • In 1976, School education was put in the concurrent List. Thus UEE became a shared responsibility of the central and the state government.
  • In 1979, International year of Child, commission appointed to probe into stat of children in India also padvocated universal primary education for ending child labour
  • In 1986 after the adoption of National Policy of Education proposed by Rajiv Gandhi government, the 1968 policy goals had largely been achieved: more than 90 per cent of the country’s rural population were within a kilometre of schooling facilities and most states had adopted a common education structure

  • In 1987, as step towards NPE, Operation Blackboard was started as as to provide ceratin minimum essnetail facilities in all Primary Schools

  • In 1987 Policy on Restructuring and Reorganization of Teacher Education created a resource for the continuous upgrading of teachers’ knowledge and competence as a result of which

    • The Shikhsa Karmi Project was started in Rajasthan for universalisation and qualitative improvement of Education in very backward villages. The mobilisation and participation of the community in the functioning of Primary Schools is an important feature of this project.
    • Another project, Lok Jumbish project has made a profound impression on the Primary Education in Rajasthan.
  • In 1994 was launched, The District Primary Education Programm (DPEP) for overhauling the Primary Education System. This was done to follow a decentralised approach to planning and community participation for achieving UEE. The main goals of DPEP were, increasing enrolment rate, decreasing drop out, provide primary education to all chiledre thorugh formal and informal means.
  • In 1995, The School Meal Programme was started to increase enrolment, retention attendance in Primary Schools by providing supplementary nutrition to all children in Primary Schools

  • In 1997, United Front Government introduced 83rd Constitutional Amendment Bill to make Schooling Compulsory. Proposed to amend Article 21 by adding the clause ‘The state shall provide free & Compulsory Education to all citizens of 6 to 14 yrs age. Tamil Nadu is the only state to have passed the law (yet to be implemented)

  • Movement to Educate All (2000) aimed to achieve universal primary education by 2010 through micro-planning and school-mapping exercises, bridging gender and social gaps. Elemetary School within 1 km under Education Guarantee Scheme

  • Fundamental Right (2001) involved the provision of free and compulsory education, declared to be a basic right for children aged between 6 and 14 years

  • Sarav Shiksha Abhiyan is a flagship program of the national government in the new Millennium. It seeks to achieve the goal of Universal Primary Education (5 years of Primary Schooling) by 2005 and the goal of UEE (eight years of Elementary Schooling) by 2010.

What holds them back?

Despite, all these efforts, why has state not take a legislative action on when Indian Constitution calls for ban n Child labour and Compulsory Primary Education. The reason behind this problem of backwardness in this regard is more complex to understand than the problem itself

  • The Poverty argument: India’s Low per capita Income and economic backwardness forces households to send their children to school. Children are and economic asset to poor people.

  • Education as a means of maintaining differentiations in Social Class: A set of belies widely shared by Educators, Social activists, trade unions, academic researchers, Indian middle class, government, non-government etc, all see Education as a means of differentiation among social classes..

    • Excessive and inappropriate” Education would disrupt existing Social Order

    • Does not train children of the poor to work (service/white collar jobs)

    • They should work with hands (ruled) than heads (ruler)

    • Parents and not state are the ultimate guardians of Children


  • Problem of Poverty: Sending children to School involves an explicit opportunity cost. The free education available right now still remains out of reach f the Poor sections of society. This brings in a major affordability issue in light. The cost of Education is high expenses on textbooks, uniforms and stationery around Rs 318 per year which is very high for the poorest brackets.

  • Problem of Quality: Quality of Education remains a major deterrent. Poor Infrastructure, absences of a functioning school, incompetent teachers provide less incentive to an Education which doesn’t even ensure a job

  • Problem of Motivation: People living in long years of Deprivation, with no tradition of Literacy and inadequate availability of Information find no motivation to send their children to school.

  • Inadequate Expenditure in Education: Kothari Commission proposed that 6.2 % of GDP should be spent on Education as compared to current spending of 4.2%. India’s expenditure on Elementary Education was 2.02% of GDP in 2001-02. Human development Report states than India spent much less than other East Asian Countries as Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia

  • Teacher performance: PROBE report found widespread problem of teacher Inertia due to a de-motivating environment, lack of accountability, single-handedly managing several grades, lack of teaching material, low monetary incentive

  • Religious Systems: None of the religious systems in India be it Hinduism or Islam propagate Mass Education and state intervention. In many other countries theologies or secular ideologies have stood for a system of national education aimed at social equality


Primary education imparted at the most formative years of any child will form the foundation on which any child would develop his/her cognitive abilities. Strangely, the socio-cultural and linguistic background of the child is of no consequence to curriculum planning and classroom interaction. Children coming to these schools often speak different languages, wera different clothes, eat different kind of food, live in different geographical conditions.

  • Professor R.C das remarks that primary Education Package should be designed so as accommodate for Cultural diversity, local needs and local resources.

  • There should be enough space for Teachers to grow or to develop innovative programmes

  • Children often come to school with empty stomachs, adequate provision for good quality food can be good motivation to come to school

  • Affordability issue should be addressed by not only providing free education but the concept should be extended to uniforms, books and other related expenses.

  • The curriculum should accommodate for the vernacular backgrounds of children so as to not distant children from the materials and methods used in the schooling system

  • Alternative Channels of Education such as the Non-Formal Education (NFE) System

Non-formal education has become an accepted alternative channel of education for children who cannot attend full-time schools due to various socio-economic constraints. To reach this large segment of marginalised children, we in India have been running, since 1979-80, a programme of NFE for children in the 6-14 age group, who have remained outside the formal system. These include drop-outs from formal schools, children from habitations without schools, working children, children who have to remain at home to do domestic chores, and girls who are unable to attend formal schools for a variety of reasons.

The enlarged and modified version of the NFE programme now in operation visualises NFE as a child-centred, environment-oriented and flexible system to meet the diverse educational needs of the geographically and socio-economically deprived sections of society. Non-formal education is designed to overcome the shortcomings of the formal school and make education a joyful activity. Decentralised community participation through village education committees (VECs) in planning, running and overseeing the programme has been considered crucial for its success.

Minimum Levels of Learning (MLL)

The need to lay down minimum levels of learning (MLL) emerged from the basic concern that irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex, all children must be given access to education of a comparable standard. The MLL strategy is an attempt to combine quality with equity. It lays down learning outcomes in the form of competencies or levels of learning for each stage of elementary education.

The focus of the MLL strategy is development of competency-based teaching and learning. Preliminary assessment of the existing levels of learning achievements has revealed that they are quite low across several districts. Minimum levels of learning in respect of three subjects, namely language, mathematics and environmental studies, have already been laid down for the primary stage. It has been stressed that the emphasis should be on concept formation rather than on content.

Revamping the Scheme of Operation Blackboard (OB)

Recognising the unattractive school environment, unsatisfactory condition of school buildings, inadequate physical facilities, and insufficiency of instructional materials in primary schools, which function as demotivating factors for enrolment and retention, a scheme symbolically called Operation Blackboard was introduced in 1987-88 to bring all existing primary schools in the country to a minimum standard of physical facilities. Under this scheme, each school is provided with: (i) at least two reasonably large all-weather rooms along with separate toilet facilities for boys and girls; (ii) at least two teachers (one male and one female); and (iii) essential teaching and learning materials including blackboards, maps, charts, a small library, toys and games, and some equipment for work experience.

External evaluation of the scheme indicated the lack of training of teachers in using the teaching materials, specification of a large number of uniform facilities to be provided without modification according to local needs, and lack of provision for breakage of equipment. Effective steps have since been taken to remove these drawbacks. The scheme of Operation Blackboard has also been modified and expanded to provide a third room and a third teacher to primary schools where enrolment exceeds 100, and it has been extended to upper primary schools. The scheme is concentrating on rural areas and SC/ST areas, and girls� schools are being given the first priority.

Establishing Linkages between Programmes of early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), Primary Education, Literacy and UEE

  • Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is viewed as a crucial input in the strategy of human resource development, as a feeder and support programme for primary education, and as a support service for working women of the disadvantaged sections of society. Since the age-span covered by ECCE is from conception to 6 years, emphasis has been given to a child-centred approach and play-way and activity-based learning in place of formal methods of teaching including introduction of the 3 Rs. Keeping in mind the role of ECCE as a support service in UEE, it is deliberately directed to the most underprivileged groups, those who are still outside the mainstream of formal education. The aim of ECCE is that every child should be assured access to the fulfilment of all basic needs. It involves the total development of the child in every aspect including the physical, psychomotor, cognitive, language, emotional, social and moral. The present ECCE programmes include:
  • the integrated child development service (ICDS)
  • the scheme of assistance to voluntary organisations for running early child education (ECE) centres
  • balwadis and day-care centres run by voluntary agencies with government assistance
  • pre-primary schools run by state governments, municipal corporations and other agencies
  • maternal and child health services through primary health centres, sub-centres and other agencies

The ICDS is today the biggest programme of early childhood development, serving about 15 million children and 3 million mothers.Appropriate linkages are being established between ECCE programmes, primary schools, NFE centres and other related schemes of UEE.

Promotion of Access to Girls and Disadvantaged Groups

As with all educational indicators, gender disparities are conspicuous in regard to enrolment and retention. Over the past 25 years, enrolment of girls at the primary stage has grown from 5 million to 47 million and at the upper primary stage, from 0.5 million to 16 million. But disparities persist. Today girls account for only 46 per cent of the enrolment at the primary stage and 38 per cent at the upper primary stage. The drop-out rates of girls at the primary and upper primary stages are higher than those of boys. Regional disparities are also conspicuous. The very low female literacy (20 to 29 per cent) in some of the major north Indian states causes grave concern. The rural girls are doubly disadvantaged by non-availability of educational facilities and by their domestic chores.

Concerted efforts are now on to reach out to the girl child in rural and remote areas and urban slums by designing special NFE programmes with a view to getting them back into the formal stream. The NFE programmes are being dovetailed into the total literacy campaigns (TLC) to reach out to the girls in the 10-20 age group. Programmes for continuing education are being designed to ensure that neo-literates and school-going girls have access to reading materials.

An important constraining factor for female education is the lack of women teachers in rural areas. Therefore, special efforts are being made to recruit women teachers and to augment teacher training facilities for women so that adequate numbers of qualified women teachers are available. Co-ordinated efforts are also on to provide the necessary support services to enhance their participation and performance.

We in India are unambiguous about removal of disparities and attainment of equality of education opportunities for SCs, STs and other backward sections including girls. A number of strategies aimed at accelerating their rate of enrolment and retention have been detailed and are being implemented. Because of the affirmative policies of the government, the enrolment of these categories has increased considerably at the primary stage. The participation of SCs and STs at the primary level is more or less in proportion to their share in the population. Drop-outs, though declining, continue to be significantly large [primary stage (classes I-V), SC 49 per cent, ST 64 per cent; upper primary stage (classes VI-VIII), SC 68 per cent, ST 79 per cent]. Gender disparities are conspicuous among SCs and STs.

To ensure universal access and enrolment of SC children in rural areas, priority is given to the needs of SC habitations and hamlets in opening primary and upper primary schools. For SC children access and enrolment are assured primarily in the formal schools. Where they are not able to attend these, provision is made for non-formal and distance education centres. Every ST habitation is being provided with a primary school or other suitable institution. In tribal areas, the educational plan is being implemented in an integrated manner. Pre-school education, non-formal education, elementary education and adult education are being organically linked and integrated to ensure achievement of total literacy of the entire population.

Adequate incentives are given to the children of SC, ST and other backward sections in the form of scholarships, uniforms, textbooks, stationery and midday meals. All schools, NFE centres, and pre-school centres in SC/ST habitations are being equipped with necessary infrastructural facilities in accordance with the norms laid down for Operation Blackboard and for achieving MLL. Operation Blackboard has already covered almost all schools in tribal areas. Indigent SC/ST families are given incentives to send their children, particularly girls, to school.

Restructuring of Teacher Training

Teacher performance is the most crucial input in the field of education. In the ultimate analysis, the national policies on education have to be interpreted and implemented by teachers as much through their personal example as through teaching-learning processes. With a view to improving the quality and competence of teachers, a centrally sponsored scheme of Restructuring and Reorganisation of Teacher Education (RRTE) was launched in 1987.

During the period 1987-90, nearly 1.8 million teachers were trained under the programme of mass orientation of school teachers (PMOST). Most of them were primary and upper primary teachers. The main objective of the programme was to orient teachers in the main priorities and directions envisaged in the NPE 1986 and to improve their professional competence.

Among the other main components of the RRTE, as far as elementary education is concerned, are:

  1. setting up of District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs) in all districts to provide good quality pre-service and in-service training to elementary school teachers and adult education/non-formal education personnel and to provide resource support to these systems
  2. organising Special Orientation Programmes for Primary Teachers (SOPT) with a view to providing training to teachers in the use of OB materials and orienting them towards MLL strategy with a focus on teaching of language, mathematics and environmental studies

More than 300 DIETs have already become operational and have started conducting training programmes. The SOPT launched in 1993-94 is now going on in almost all states and more than 115,000 teachers have already been trained. A National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) was set up in 1993 with statutory status for the effective implementation of all teacher education and training programmes and to achieve planned and co-ordinated development of the entire teacher education system throughout the country. The regulation and proper maintenance of norms and standards in the teacher education system is the responsibility of the NCTE.

Availing of External Financial Support for Basic Education

As a matter of policy and principle, India had not been seeking financial support from external agencies to implement its programmes of basic education. This situation changed in 1991-92, when a conscious and strategic decision was taken to avail of external assistance to achieve the goal of Education for All (EFA).

Today a number of agencies including the World Bank, Unesco, Unicef, Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), International Development Association (IDA), and the British Overseas Development Agency (ODA) are sharing our concerns in this area. A new phase has, therefore, emerged � a phase of partnership between the inherent potential of the country and financial and other support from external agencies.

Launching the National Elementary Education Mission (NEEM)

With the objective of mobilising all the resources � human, financial and institutional � necessary for achieving the goal of UEE by the year 2000, a National Elementary Education Mission (NEEM) was set up in August 1995 with the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) as its core. This Mission will monitor and implement all the meticulously formulated strategies based on microplanning, and will ensure that free and compulsory education of satisfactory quality is provided to all children up to 14 years of age by the turn of the century.



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