National Knowledge Commission: Notes before the meeting

Important note circulated by
National Knowledge Commission
before its meeting on 10 dec., 2007 in Delhi

Summary based on NKC consultations on School Education
The Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasised that ensuring quality school education to all is one of the most important priorities of this government, and the National Knowledge Commission has also recognised the crucial significance of this as the foundation upon which any further advances must be based. NKC has held a series of workshops around the country, addressing issues of quantity, quality and access in school education, and tried to involve a very wide range of stakeholders in the consultations.
There was a wide recognition that the primary responsibility for school education is borne by the state governments, and therefore any policy changes must be with the full participation and involvement of the states. Also, there is wide diversity across states in terms of progress towards achieving universal elementary education, and also diversity within states with respect to the quality of school education. Nevertheless, positive changes in systems of schooling that will ensure universal access to elementary education, wider access to secondary education as well as better quality and greater relevance of all schooling, will require the active involvement of the central government. Such involvement is necessary not only in the matter of providing resources but also in promoting organisational and other changes.
I. Quantity and resources
1. Substantially increased public spending is required for both elementary and secondary education.
There is a need to strongly endorse the speedy enactment of a central legislation that will ensure the right of all children in the country to good quality school education up to Class VIII. This should be extended to cover universal schooling up to Class X as soon as possible. A vibrant, good quality and universally accessible government school system is the basic foundation upon which the schooling system in the country must rest.
Therefore this must be supported with a financial commitment of the central government, in such a way as to ensure that the right to quality school education is provided to all children of the country, regardless of which state they are resident in. This necessarily requires a significant expansion of the resources to be provided to elementary school education. While the government has increased allocations for school expenditure, the amounts are still far below what is required to achieve universal school education of reasonable quality for all. This is even truer because of the need to upgrade the “Education Centres” that are operating in many states to proper schools that meet all the norms in terms of trained teachers, minimum facilities, etc. Therefore there is a substantial increase in central government allocation, including funds to be provided to state governments for elementary education, especially in those states where the gap is still very large.
At the same time, the importance of increased spending on secondary education is greater than ever before. There is a huge shortage of middle and secondary schools, which is one of the important reasons for the low rates of retention after Class V. Currently, secondary education is massively under-funded, which in turn creates not only absolute shortages but also problems of inadequate quality in many government secondary and higher secondary schools. The aim should be to reach universal secondary school education within a maximum of ten years. Given the demographics, this implies that expenditure on secondary schooling must be increased by several multiples within the next two years, indeed by seven times the current level if the CABE estimates are used. Currently, many primary schools are being upgraded to secondary school status, without provision of sufficient teachers, rooms and other pedagogical requirements, which severely comprises on the quality of such secondary education. The norms for secondary schools, which do include not only provision for specialised subject teachers but also for science labs, counselling etc., must be strictly adhered to when new schools are created and when primary schools are upgraded.
2. The norms for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan funds and other central schemes for school education are too rigid and must be made more flexible.
The current system of funds transfer and the accounting rules create unnecessary rigidities that often do not allow the state governments to use the money in the most efficient or desirable way, and also lead to less than complete utilisation of the budgetary allocation.
Some of these problems include:
  • very rigid norms on unit costs and what is allowed in terms of spending, that do not recognise the diverse requirements of different states or particular regions;
  • inadequate provisions for infrastructure such as buildings etc, especially for some states and cities, which leads to the creation of poor quality infrastructure;
  • an inflexible accounting system that does not allow transferring funds across heads to meet particular or changing requirements, and therefore inhibits full utilisation and also prevents synergies from developing;
  • insufficient allocation for repair and maintenance of infrastructure;
  • treating rural and urban schools in the same manner even though the requirements are often very different (for example, urban government schools may require different infrastructure and facilities in order to attract students);
  • treating all districts and geographical areas in the same manner regardless of the degree of backwardness, topographical conditions, etc. (This is especially a problem for schools in hilly or heavily forested areas or those with poor physical connectivity, for which per capita allocations are the same as for other more accessible areas);
  • problems in the timing of fund transfer, as well as uncertainties in fund provision created by the insistence on matching funds and the fact that plan ceilings keep changing every year.
A less rigid and more flexible system of funds transfer and accounting that will allow for regional and other differences as well as changing requirements over time, and thereby allow state governments to use the resources in the most effective way is necessary. This recommendation is both for the SSA and for the planned SUCCESS programme for secondary education, and also for other centrally sponsored schemes relating to school education.
3. Illiteracy remains a major problem, and therefore literacy programmes cannot be ignored or given less importance. Expenditure on the National Literacy Mission must be expanded rather than reduced, and given a different focus.
The shift in policy focus from the National Literacy Mission to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has led to a declining emphasis on the need to ensure universal functional literacy. However, according to the 2001 Census, a significant proportion of the population - nearly half of all females and one-quarter of males - remains functionally illiterate.1 This is a particular problem among women and those in backward areas and from marginalised social groups. Nor is the problem confined to older people. Around 30 per cent of the age-cohort of 15-35 years is functionally illiterate, since they were too old to benefit from the SSA and also slipped through the net of the literacy programmes. This is of great concern because such people will continue to be active citizens for the next half century and therefore must not be denied the capacities that come from being literate.
The following measures for improving literacy were discussed:
  • Ensure greater funds for the NLM.
  • Encourage the NLM to shift to creating Continuing Education Centres in both rural and urban areas that impart functional literacy that is of relevance and interest to those who are currently illiterate.
  • Orient the post-literacy and continuing education programmes to the emotional, physical and psychological needs of adults rather than children, incorporating issues regarding citizens’ rights, human rights, sex education, health and livelihood;
  • Use a variety of methods to ensure functional literacy, which combine more centralised schemes based on ICT and other new technology with continuous work at the local level based on a clear institutional structure. While new technologies such as ICT provide important new methods for imparting literacy in a short time, they necessarily have a limited role. They cannot be seen as stand-alone quick-fix solutions, but must be combined with other methods.
  • Move to a sustainable system of literacy generation that does not rely on underpaid “volunteer” labour alone, which therefore involves budgetary provision for better remuneration for literacy workers.
  • Create synergies between NLM and the proposed Skill Development Mission, while taking local needs and field requirements into account. For example, in some primarily agrarian economies, undue emphasis on industrial skills in ITIs may be incongruous horticultural and animal husbandry skills may be more relevant.
4. Early childhood education is extremely important and must be universalised. This requires either systematic extension of balwadis with trained staff to handle child pedagogy, or provision for one year of pre-schooling in all institutions of elementary education.
5. The collection and speedy dissemination of accurate and current data on schooling must be made a priority. It is necessary to create a complete database on schools and school-age children so as to track the actual coverage of schooling at different levels. Such data collection may be made an essential part of the fund allocation for school education, with appropriate institutional mechanisms.
India has an extensive and regular mechanism of data collection for primary education. However, its methodology and use leave much to be desired. For example, at present there is no reliable method for establishing which children are in schools. Data collection is too extensive, time-intensive and done almost entirely by teachers, rather than independent and specialised personnel. There is minimal cross tabulation, coordination and cross referencing of data. Results are revealed to administrators, schools etc. too late to be relevant - often several years after the survey takes place. It is immensely difficult even for stakeholders, as well as other concerned citizens, to access data lying with official sources, despite repeated requests.
It is necessary to have a system to provide reliable school education statistics which must be transparently formulated and freely available to all. It is necessary to incorporate into the funding for all school education, at central and state government levels, mechanisms for ensuring and streamlining data collection and use, make it more relevant for planning and implementation and more accessible for everyone. The following goals are relevant in this context:
  • The process of data collection must be streamlined, made less time consuming and more relevant.
  • A comprehensive mapping of schools and school children, so as to have accurate information on which children in which localities are enrolled, and attending which schools. This would also map out localities where there are high rates of dropout and/or non- enrolment.
  • A tracking mechanism for all school children should be set up, to track their individual school going status, and progress in school. This would reduce problems such as no government schools available for particular localities or girls. A tracking mechanism will also facilitate checking for drop-outs and related problems, and allow for speedy interventions.
  • Data collected for the purposes of planning must provide all the relevant information – for example, the number of rooms should also mention whether these are electrified; where availability of toilets is described, there should also be information on the availability of water in the toilets.
  • Safeguards must be instituted against "creative readjustment" of data, which is a common problem given the structure of incentives and the fact that the data are most often provided by the teachers or school management.
  • ICT must be integrated for data collation and management, wherever required. A local area network with digital entry provisions could be set up to make it easier for the teachers.
  • The data thus collected must be freely available and easily accessible, provided on dedicated websites in addition to the usual means of publication.
  • More specialized micro-level surveys and research should be commissioned. There should also be attempts to bring together other relevant research for easy access by practitioners.
II. Quality and relevance
1. Currently school education is highly segmented, even in government-run institutions, as a result of the parallel track of “education centres” in some states. These separate systems must be integrated to give all children access to schools of acceptable quality. This will require additional spending.
In a number of states, funds under various schemes (SSA, EGS and AIE) were used to create "Education Centres" (Shiksha Kendras) rather than proper schools. These typically involve "teachers" who are essentially local women who have just passed Class VIII (or even Class V in some cases) and are paid between Rs. 1000 to Rs. 3000 per month in the different states. They typically receive no training or a 2-week training at best, and may have to teach multi-grade classes often in single rooms. The proportion of children in such schools varies very widely, but the all–India average amounts to around 16 per cent of total enrolment in primary education. All such children are described in the official statistics as enrolled in schools, even though going to an Education Centre cannot be treated as school enrolment on par with the proper schools, and such instructors do not meet the required norms for teachers. Currently state governments allow these parallel (and deeply unequal) systems of schooling to continue to be run by different departments – “proper schools” by the Education department, and education centres under the panchayats and therefore by the Panchayat Department.
The need to integrate these two parallel systems must be explicitly recognised. This requires special budgetary allocations for upgradation and quality improvement of the Education Centres through better infrastructure, as well as intensive training of existing teachers and additional employment of adequate numbers of qualified teachers - all of which will have financial implications.
2. At the same time, planning for school education must take into account the ecology of education – the need to adjust school systems to agro-climatic and other local variations. This requires flexibility with respect to school timings, vacations, teacher recruitment – but without sacrificing quality. Norms for schools must recognise the possibility of regional and local differences as well as the particular requirements of certain communities, such as nomadic groups or tribal communities.
3. There is a multiplicity of management structures and government departments which creates confusion, unnecessary replication and possibly inconsistent strategies across different schools. There must be greater co-ordination between different levels of government on school education policy.
Currently schools are run or funded and monitored not only by the central and state governments, but also by different departments within state governments – the Education Department, the Panchayat Department, the Department for Tribal Welfare, the Department for Minority Welfare, etc. This creates overlapping and conflicting structures of authority, an excess of bureaucratic tangles, unnecessary replication of some activities (and even replication of enrolment in some cases!), different guidelines and differential standards for acceptable quality and other sorts of confusion. For example, in the rural areas of several states, the local Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) run parallel to the SSA-run Village Education Committee (VEC). The exact remit of each is not clear and the policy intentions of both become diluted in the process.
It is necessary to make systematic efforts to integrate or at least co-ordinate the activities of these separate management structures. The precise roles and responsibilities of each local level and state level department should be clearly specified, but even more than that, there should be some sort of pressure for these different bodies to work together as far as possible and provide a common and equal schooling. Education policy must be part of the integrated framework of decentralised planning.
In the day-to-day management of schools, it is also necessary to work towards segregating teachers from managers in the school administration.
4. There is need for a national body to monitor the quality of both government and private schools, to ensure that minimum standards are met.
Currently there is no systematic and continuous feedback on the actual impact and outcome of various educational schemes and initiatives, or the actual quality of education imparted in schools. There is a strong case for a testing body at the national level for quality assessment of schools. A results-based monitoring framework with due process indicators and outcome indicators needs to be evolved. This should be based on a short list of monitorable criteria. These should include fixed infrastructural requirements, enrolment and attendance, as well as outcome indicators such as learning levels achieved in certain basic areas such as language skills and numeracy, etc. Such a process of assessment needs to be applied to all schools – both public and private. However, the testing of students must not involve topics or questions that provide any incentives for rote-learning.
Since school education is largely a state subject, but it is also important to achieve minimum schooling norms at the national level, the institutional framework for this should be at the national level with state subsidiaries. The role of this testing body will simply be to provide information on the results of its assessments, with the state governments free to act upon this information.
The monitoring of private schools, in terms of ensuring a transparent admissions process, regulation of fee structures, as well as meeting minimum set standards for quality of teaching and infrastructure, also requires attention. There is currently no exact data on the numbers and enrolment of unrecognised private schools in the country, their fee structure or admissions policy, or their standards of infrastructure and quality. Private schools should become the subject of regulation and inspection within a set framework which is universally applicable.
5. The system of school inspection needs to be revamped and revitalised in most states.
The current inspection system is overburdened and inadequate, with a small number of inspectors required to cover a large number of schools, often spread over wide physical areas. The solution does not lie in simply expanding the system – rather, we need to develop systems to ensure meaningful monitoring. The strategy for the revitalisation of the school inspection system should include the following:
  • The number of inspectors needs to be increased in many states, and they must be provided the facilities to undertake their activities properly, such as transport, communications devices, etc.
  • The monitoring and inspection of schools must be separated from school administration, as the two functions require completely different orientations.
  • Local stakeholders should be involved in the monitoring of schools, whether in the form of Village Education Committees, parent associations, or other such bodies.
  • The criteria for inspection should also include minimum standards for quality.
  • The inspectors themselves must be accountable in some way to the stakeholders of the area.
6. The dignity of school teaching as a profession must be restored, and at the same time there should be transparent systems for ensuring accountability of school teachers.
Teachers constitute the basic foundation of the school education system. However, there is a general decline in morale among school teachers, especially those in primary schools, and consequently it is no longer seen as an attractive profession for qualified young people. Two types of public perceptions, also propagated in the media and among officialdom, contribute to the low morale among school teachers: first, that anyone can teach and no particular pedagogical skills or training are required; second, that in any case most teachers do not work much, are frequently absent from school, etc. While the latter may be the case for a relatively small minority of teachers (as is the case also for most other professions) most school teachers are committed to their profession even if they have to function under very difficult conditions. However, they are also subject to many other pressures, in terms of political pressure, obligations to perform non-teaching duties, etc., which can prevent them from fulfilling their teaching duties adequately.
It is essential to ensure that qualified teachers are hired and provided with the necessary incentives to enable them to work better. The professional status of teachers should not be diluted, and all drives at recruiting untrained teachers must be checked, although it is important to allow for flexibility in recruitment of teaches for specific subjects such as art, craft and livelihood skills. The use of para-teachers must be treated as a strictly transitional measure until proper schools are established.
The imposition of a wide range of non-teaching duties, such as that of manning poll booths and collecting data for surveys etc., cuts into the available teaching time and also undermines the professional status of teachers. These activities should be shared out among a wider range of public employees or even those hired specifically for the purpose, and the burden of such work on teachers must be reduced. Specifically, unemployed local youth and recently retired people may be considered for such activities as far as possible.
The recruitment of teachers from the locality has many advantages, as they can become accountable to the community, and have added stakes in improving the quality of education in their schools. In cases where local language or dialect is different from the state language, teachers familiar with the local language are likely to make better teachers.
A major problem cited by many teachers in the government school system is that of frequent transfers. School teachers should be appointed to a particular location for a minimum fixed term of at least three years. (The specific case of attracting teachers to remote and backward areas is considered below under Access.) There should also be attempts to improve public recognition of the contribution of school teachers, through various incentives such as more local, state-level and national awards, etc.
It is also necessary to monitor the emoluments and working conditions of teachers in private schools, which vary substantially, and prevent exploitation of teachers by private school employers as far as possible.
However, in addition to improving the working conditions of teachers, it is also necessary to institute measures to provide greater accountability of school teachers not only to their superiors, but to students, parents and the local community. Currently, any mention of increasing teacher accountability is viewed with hostility and suspicion by teachers themselves. Such an outlook needs to be changed, and blame should not be placed on the shoulders of teachers, for faults of the system as a whole. Greater accountability of teachers to the community and the school, should be accompanied by a recognition of the concerns of teachers and allowing them more space to be active in school management and school activities. The actual administrative arrangements whereby this is done should be left to be decided at the state and local level. Systems of self-evaluation and peer evaluation of teachers should be encouraged.
7. The training of school teachers is extremely inadequate and also poorly managed. Pre-service training needs to be improved and regulated, while systems for in-service training require expansion and major reform in all states.
Both pre-service and in-service teacher training programs face major problems at present, at the national level and in almost all states. With respect to pre-service training, there is a proliferation of private colleges awarding the B.Ed. degree, and these are inadequately monitored or regulated. A significant proportion of those who receive B.Ed. degrees do so through correspondence or distance learning courses, which involve absolutely no practical exposure. In any case, classroom experience is underplayed in standard B.Ed courses. At the same time, the employment of ad hoc teachers and those without even high school diplomas as teachers in the parallel stream perpetuates the notion that it is not necessary for school teachers to have systematic and prolonged pre-service training.
In-service training shows problems of inadequate quantity, uneven quality, outdated syllabi, and poor management. A very large proportion of school teachers in the country have received no in-service training at all. In any case, many DIETs are currently understaffed, demoralised, and incapable of giving good quality training to teachers. In part, this is because teacher training positions are often occupied by those who have not themselves been school teachers. In many states the administration of DIETs is left to bureaucrats who view this as a punishment posting and have no pedagogical experience. Further, DIETs typically lack adequate infrastructural facilities. Even when in-service training is regularly held, there is no mechanism which can monitor the impact of in service teacher training courses on the subsequent teaching-learning process in the classroom. Most SCERTs themselves hire contract teachers since there are very few qualified and regular teachers and lecturers. These therefore find it difficult to supervise functions at the block level unless their numbers are greatly increased. Funds are needed from the central government for human resource development at this level.
The following steps may be undertaken for teacher training:
  • Institutions providing pre-service teacher training and granting B.Ed degrees should be subject to the same higher education regulatory authority, and there should be adequate monitoring of the training provided by private organisations.
  • The budgetary allocation for teacher training needs to be enhanced and made explicit, and central government provisions are required for this.
  • State-level teacher training needs to be revamped in most states. The system of DIETs needs to be restructured. In some smaller states, there is a strong case for one state-level institution for teacher training. In other states, the DIETs need to be strengthened and undergo structural changes. The faculty of SCERTs, SIEs and DIETs must be expanded, and include experienced school teachers. The use of contract teachers must be kept to a minimum. In addition, the link between university departments and school teaching needs to be strengthened.
  • The administrative hierarchies within DIET and SCERT have to be restructured, so that there is a clear separation of personnel engaged in administrative and academic activities. (This distinction is currently blurred in most states.)
  • The teacher training course should not be seen in terms of a finite period of time, but as a process by which the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom can be regularly improved. Therefore there should be a mechanism for feedback and subsequent interaction between teachers and the training institutes, especially for pedagogical techniques that are new or require more continuous innovation from the teacher.
  • In service teaching courses need to be incentivised, possibly by making attendance at and completion of such courses pre-requisites to professional advancement.
  • There is need for curricular reform in both pre-service and in-service teacher training. The curriculum should be framed in ways that are directly relevant to teachers and the requirements of particular classroom situations, such as multi grade teaching, special needs of first-generation learners, etc. This means that curricula should be framed with greater inputs from teachers themselves, and their practical requirements in the classroom.
  • ICT must be incorporated more fully into teacher training programs, which in turn leads to ICT being used more freely in the classroom.
8. Curriculum reform remains an important issue in most schools. School education must be made more relevant to the lives of children. There is need to move away from rote-learning to understanding concepts, good comprehension and communication skills and learning how to access knowledge independently.
Successive Commissions and Committees set up by the government have emphasised the need to make the curriculum more interesting, relevant, creative and useful for students. The National Curriculum Framework 2005 also clearly articulated such an approach. Nevertheless it appears that in a majority of schools across the country, a significant emphasis on rote-learning and memorising facts remains the norm. Also, there is evidence of children being overburdened with too much detail and an excess of scholastic requirements at the elementary level.
It is essential to make greater efforts to change the attitude to learning and knowledge. It has been noted in several states that learning results have improved considerably upon providing inputs for communication and comprehension in language and basic mathematical skills using activity-based and imaginative pedagogical strategies. The focus of primary schooling in particular must be on good language and communication skills, basic foundation maths and inculcation of self-learning and critical examination through innovative teaching methods. For language teaching in particular, there should be much greater emphasis on communication skills at a practical level.
It is also important to ensure that the curriculum contains locally relevant content that children can relate to their own lives. For example, in certain parts of the country (such as, but not only, the Northeast) the curriculum at both primary and secondary levels could also include training in disaster management, especially for floods, while in other parts of the country responses to earthquakes may be more relevant. In rural areas, horticulture and pisciculture techniques should be included in the syllabus.
To make secondary school education more relevant, and also address the problem of drop outs, Livelihood centres in secondary schools that would impart practical employable skills need to be established. These should not be treated as catering to a parallel stream, but should be provided to all students and integrated with the overall syllabus.
9. Changes in the examination system are required, especially at Board level but also earlier, to ensure that the pressure for rote-learning is reduced.
The current over-emphasis on details, memorising of facts and similar abilities rather than on understanding and accessing knowledge independently is reflected in the pattern of examinations. Board examinations in which marks are awarded based on the ability to recall lots of details or on rapidity of response or on the ability to do large numbers of sums in a limited period through practice in pattern recognition, are not sufficiently discriminatory and may end up providing misleading results. They also put pressure on schools to ensure that memory and pattern recognition skills are developed at the expense of genuine understanding.
This is also reflected in the pattern of annual examinations which many schools continue to run even at very junior classes such as Class III and Class V. Performance in such examinations then becomes the basis for choosing students who will be eligible for scholarships or gain entrance to Navodaya Vidyalayas and similar schools. Forcing children to undergo a large number of examinations in different subjects, with an emphasis on memory rather than understanding, must be discouraged at the primary level.
For curriculum reform to be successful, it is necessary to make major changes in the examination system. This applies equally to some of the national school boards (such as CBSE) and the state-level boards. It is also crucial to push for such reform in the annual examinations held by schools, where the testing must be focussed on language and comprehension, numeric and quantitative skills, and ability to use knowledge creatively.
10. New technologies, especially but not only ICT, should be used as much as possible to reduce costs, enable more effective use of resources, and provide wider exposure to students and teachers.
The use of ICT as a teaching and learning device needs to be more firmly incorporated into the classroom. Both teachers and students need to be far more familiar with ICT, and get practical experience of web based research. For this purpose computers need to be provided for on a much larger scale in schools, as well as connectivity and broadband facilities.
11. There is need for a web-based portal for teachers to exchange ideas, information and experiences.
A forum for teachers needs to be developed where they may interact, share experiences and ideas. This needs to be incorporated into teacher training programmes, and also provided generally for in-service teachers. A web-based teachers’ portal can play an important role as such a networking forum.
III. Access
1. Special strategies are required to ensure greater access to schools in backward regions, remote locations and difficult terrains.
There is a tremendous shortage of teachers and also great difficulty in ensuring minimum schooling infrastructure in some areas that have been historically deprived or have difficult topographical conditions. Distance and difficulty of physical access are important reasons for school dropout, especially in such areas. Sometimes it is also the case that such areas are inhabited by particular communities with their own language or dialect that is different from the state language. In order to ensure access to schools for children in such areas, special measures must be taken.
The following measures are necessary for such areas:
  • Financial norms for schools in such locations must be different from those in more accessible areas, as they will require additional resource allocation based on particular conditions.
  • Special incentives, including a financial incentive (such as a “hardship bonus”) need to be provided for teachers to take up jobs in such areas. Two different models may be considered – one based on recruiting local teachers on a permanent basis for a job in a particular school without transfer; and another based on a transfer policy that divides locations into hard/middle/easy categories and allows teachers to rotate among them at specified intervals. Ideally, there should be at least one local teacher and one non-local teacher to ensure some variation, local acceptability and quality.
  • Residential arrangements must be made for teachers in such locations, by providing quarters next to or near the school. The cost of building such quarters should be factored into the costs of the school building.
  • There are some geographical zones especially in mountainous regions, that are plagued by unique problems due to vast tracts of land, difficult topography, and a sparse and nomadic population. In such areas, well equipped residential schools should be set up instead of insisting on a school in every habitation. These schools must be equipped to look into the needs of very young children living away from their families.
2. Measures are required to ensure greater enrolment and retention of girl students.
The high dropout rate of girls especially from Class V onwards is a matter of great concern. One major reason, as noted above, is the sheer lack of secondary schools nearby, as parents are reluctant to send girls to travel long distances to school. However, social conditioning and other constraints also play a role. Some policies to address this include:
  • Special incentives for girls in secondary education where these are required (they are not required everywhere), in addition to free textbooks and uniforms, such as bicycles.
  • Girls-only schools especially in particular areas.
  • An enhanced scholarship scheme especially for girls, with particular emphasis on girls from socially deprived groups.
  • The need for separate and functional toilets for girls in all schools, with access to water, is very important, especially but not exclusively in urban areas.
3. Language issues must be explicitly taken on board in designing school curricula and methods of pedagogy.
Language has been found to be a highly alienating factor in the education of many school children, particularly amongst minorities, tribal communities with languages without a script, as well as linguistic minorities in most states. Many children resent the imposition of the state language as the medium of instruction, or as second language in school.
More teachers for teaching minority languages must be appointed in government schools to increase intake of children from minority language communities. Qualified teachers from the local community and therefore speaking the same language must be recruited on a larger scale, as a means of encouraging retention amongst those who feel marginalised, as well as a means of bringing greater community control in the school. This would also act as a boost to confidence, and provide role models to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
At the same time, some teaching of and in English seems to be universally desired, as it is seen an avenue for employment and upward mobility and enables the pursuit of higher education.
4. There is need to re-orient official strategies for ensuring better access of Muslim children to schooling.
Areas with Muslim majority population have tended to be overlooked in the implementation of government educational schemes. In addition, with a few exceptions, there has been less private initiative in this regard. As a consequence, Muslims as a community, fewer government schools, girls schools, and higher educational institutions. It is important to rectify this gap and ensure adequate public expenditure to ensure that the physical and social infrastructure for schooling is made available. This means that the government should have a minority component in all its school development schemes and budget outlays, which should be in proportion to the minority population.
The strategy cannot be based solely on more public resources provided to madrassas for their modernisation, as 96 per cent of Muslim children do not attend madrassas for schooling. Indeed, if the modernization of madrassa education is the only policy for increasing access for Muslim school children for a modernized education, it will only result in their being further isolated.
It is important to ensure that children from all minorities and socially deprived groups are not discriminated against in the process of attending school. This must be an active and concerted campaign, in which syllabi and curriculum are checked to avoid prejudice, teachers are sensitised and instances of discrimination are punished. This also requires grievance redressal mechanisms at the school level and also at higher levels.
5. The access of children from Scheduled Tribes requires more flexible and sensitive schooling strategies.
Tribal children face problems of inadequate geographical access, discrimination at school and issues of language, which have been discussed earlier but are especially relevant in these cases. All of these must be addressed at the local level as well as at the district and state level.
Every state should have an education policy for tribal and minority education, with a long term vision of eventual integration into the mainstream.
Tribal students have to compete with SC students, often at a disadvantage to the former.
Vocational education and training is doubly important in tribal areas, and efforts must be made to impart this at a larger and more mainstream scale in these areas in particular.
Rather than setting up separate schools for those who had dropped out because they felt discriminated against, teachers should be better sensitised to the needs of students from such communities, as well as the particular needs of first generation learners.
The issue of language is particularly important, and care must be taken to find and train teachers who can deal with children in their own language, rather than forcing them to adjust to the regional language.
6. Education of SC children must be a priority, but with the required flexibility and avoidance of discrimination.
The points made earlier with respect to discrimination are especially valid also for SC children, and must be addressed in similar ways.
In addition, scholarships should be increased and provided to much larger numbers of Dalit children, along with other provisions such as free textbooks up to Class X and other incentives.
7. Children of seasonal migrants require special conditions and efforts to ensure continuous access to schooling.
Seasonal and short-term migration is a major cause for early drop outs and non enrolment. In order to ensure that such children have access to a quality and complete education, their economic insecurity has to be taken into account while formulating educational schemes. Tent schools and mobile schools must be made a part of the urban landscape for migrant children, while rural school also have to be made aware of the need to admit migrant children. This requires a significant change in the way that school admissions and enrolment are carried out, as well as greater sensitivity, flexibility and effort on the part of the school administration, all of which require hard and soft resources. It is necessary to identify good practices in this regard which can serve as a model to be emulated elsewhere.
8. Labouring children require incentives and bridge courses.
Some sort of monetary stipend may have to be paid to labouring children to bring them into schools. In addition, synergies must be created with NREGA to look into school education concerns of labouring children. Pre-school systems like balwadis and anganwadis must be strengthened, so that a school going habit can be ingrained, as well as providing a space for small children to be cared for, while their elder siblings may go to school. Alternative Centres for Education must be utilised specifically to provide bridge courses aimed at different age groups and classes for drop outs. However, the use of Alternative Centres for Education must be no more than in a transition capacity. AIE should not become the only option for access to poor school children for a school education.
Study Centres must be provided for first generation learners and seasonal migrants as a space which is more conducive to learning than what may be available at home. These may also be used as community centres, libraries, etc.
9. Needs of physically disadvantaged children, as well as teachers, have to be factored in more thoroughly in provisions for school education.
School buildings must have provisions for access and navigation for the visually impaired, wheelchairs for the physically handicapped, etc. Residential schools for special needs students may also be established in remote areas.
There is a perception that government mechanisms may not be best suited to provide sustained and sympathetic support for learners with special needs and severely disabled children (such as the blind). In this context, it may be better to identify appropriate and willing institutions outside the government who may become partners.

1 There is even a significant share of households which do not have any literate member. According to the NSSO, in 2004-05, in rural India 26 per cent of urban households had no literate member above the age of 15 years, and 60 per cent had no literate female member above 15 years. The corresponding figures for urban areas were 8.4 per cent and 19.5 per cent.