All That Glitters...

Education in the Twelfth Plan

Manas Joardar

Planning Commission of India made its 12th Plan (2012-17) proposal public in the month of December, 2012. The 'Approach Paper', however, was published earlier–about a year back. In between, it needed clearance both by the central cabinet and by the Central Development Council comprising, among others, state chief ministers.

Dr Manmohan Singh has been trying relentlessly to establish himself as a great promoter of education. The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) was constituted in 2005, promptly enough, after Dr Singh had stepped in as the Prime Minister of the first UPA government. The NKC, under the chairmanship of Sam Pitroda, was no less proactive and forwarded an elaborate set of suggestions for an overall improvement of the entire education sector of the country. A few other committees and commissions were also formed thereafter to address specific academic agenda.

In his speech delivered on the eve of independence day celebrations, 2007, Dr Singh stressed upon the importance of education: "I request states to give priority to education, as education alone is the foundation on which a progressive, prosperous society can be built. Growing revenue earnings have improved the fiscal capacity of the States. They must now give priority to education."

On a number of occasions thereafter Dr Singh could be found overzealous in pronouncing that education was the most preferred sector during the 11th plan period. He even designated this plan as the 'education plan'. Maybe, it is due to his desire that the expenditure on education which was 3.3 percent of GDP during 2004-05, was raised to over 4 percent in 2011-12. What follows is an attempt to highlight some of the major issues envisaged in the 12 plan proposal vis-a-vis those dealt with earlier.

Elementary Education
Undeniably, it is during the 11th plan period that The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009–with a number of shortcomings notwithstanding–was promulgated after decades’ disdainful dawdles. The 12th plan document recognises that this Act along with few other flagship schemes such as Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan, supply of Mid Day Meals etc has helped a lot in promoting students' attendance and reducing drop-out rates in the elementary education system of India.

The central government Economic Survey 2012-13 reports that the number of out-of-school children has come down from 134.6 lakh in 2005 to 81.5 lakh in 2009. Till September, 2012, 3,34,340 new primary and upper primary schools were opened; 2,84,032 school buildings and 16,42,867 additional classrooms were constructed. Facility for 2,17,820 drinking water and for 6,18,089 toilets was provided. Free textbooks were supplied to 8.32 crore children. 12.46 lakh teachers were appointed and in-service training was offered to 18.64 lakh teachers ( Sec. 13.31)

Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of the child population in the 6 to 14 years age group increased from 111.2 percent in 2006-07 to 115 percent in 2009-10. Pre-school enrolment of the 3 to 6 year-olds has also increased considerably.
Gini Coefficient for number of years of education has reduced considerably indicating a reduction in inequality. In terms of access to education, significant decrease in socio-economic inequality between SC/ST and other social groups has also been achieved–goes the claim made in the 12th plan document (Sec. 215)

The RTE Act which became operational from April 1, 2010, specifies norms and standards for running primary/upper primary schools. Shortfalls, if any, are to be covered up within the time-line notified. But the planning commission document delineates that only 4.8 percent of the government schools have all the necessary facilities stipulated in the Act (Sec. 21.10). Other shocking revelations include:
"The biggest concern in elementary education is the poor level of student learning... Evidence suggests that learning outcomes for children in Indian schools are far below corresponding class levels in other countries." (Sec 21.11)
The plan document refers to the abysmally poor performance of the under-15 Indian students who participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2010, arranged by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In this context a closer look into the quality of elementary education dished out to children is in order. One may have a glimpse of the Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) documented every year under the aegis of Pratham Education Foundation, a reputed NGO with international recognition. For assessing learning levels of the children, a number of tests is undertaken and a country-wide survey with chosen parameters is conducted for the purpose. ASER-2012 teams–for example reached 567 districts, 16,166 villages, 3,31,381 households and 5,96,846 children. Result of some such tests for the years 2009 to 2012, carried out in rural India over standard V students, is shown in Table 1.

Table 1:
Learning level of class V students
Year of                    Rate of Success (%)
Survey                  Reading       Arithmetic
2009                      52.8              38.0
2010                       53.4              35.9
2011                        48.2             27.6
2012                       46.8              24.8

To test reading skill, students enrolled in class V were asked to read a paragraph from a standard II text book written in a language of their choice and for arithmetic skill–they were to divide a three digit number by a single digit one. The objective was to see how many of the standard V students achieved learning level expected of standard II.

ASER-2012 released in January last by the Human Resource Development Minister M M Pallam Raju announces an unbelievably dismal record. Rate of failure in reading skill is more than 50 percent and in arithmetic skill–more than 75 percent. Result is not much better for three preceding years too.(Table 1).

It is all the more alarming that the success rate has been declining since 2010–the year the RTE Act was given effect to. 'Pratham' CEO Madhav Chavan blamed no-exam directive of the Act for this decline. He writes–"There has been a feeling that RTE may have led to relaxation of classroom teaching since all exams and assessments are scrapped and no child is kept back."

Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation (CCE), an alternative format suggested in the RTE Act, could not, it transpires, hold much water. Pallam Raju himself admitted that since his taking over as HRD minister, parents have been demanding that CCE be scrapped.

Secondary and Higher Secondary (HS) Education
In their suggestion submitted to the Prime Minister in February, 2008, the NKC observed "we 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. We also believe that this should be extended to cover universal schooling up to Class X as soon as possible.

Therefore this must be supported with a financial conmitment 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".

The central legislation on RTE has been enacted thereafter and there has been a significant growth in enrolment at the elementary level of education during recent years. A consequential demand for admission into Secondary (class IX-X) education as well has been generated.

The plan document seems to uphold central government claims in implementing the NKC recommendation as above. It certifies–"Secondary schooling received a major thrust during the Eleventh Plan with the Central Government support for it increasing several fold." But the outcome, in terms of GER alone, is woefully low. GER, here, refers, needless to say, to Gross Enrolment Ratio–the total enrolment as a percentage of population in the eligible age cohort of 14 to 16 years.

GER at Secondary and HS levels during 2009-2010–62.71 and 35.92 respectively–(Table 2) was not encouraging at all. There are huge inter-State variations. Secondary level GER for Jharkhand and Bihar was as low as 29 and 35 percent respectively while for Kerala it was 98 percent and for Himachal Pradesh 89 percent.

At secondary level, India's GER, though comparable to that of developing countries (63 percent), is much below the world average (68 percent). Emerging economies such as Malaysia (69 percent), Thailand (77 percent), China (78 percent) and Brazil (101 percent) are also substantially ahead.

One may feel a little upbeat to learn that enrolment of SC boys and girls at both the levels, has improved considerably so much so that it compares favourably with non-SC/ST category. But for STs, it continues to be significantly lower. Gap between boys and girls–not too small really–also exists among all social groups.

The 12th plan document targets near universal access to secondary level of education by the end of the plan together with universal retention by 2020.

For achieving the goal of access equity and quality in secondary education, the Rashtrya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), a centrally sponsored scheme was launched in March, 2009. All secondary schools under the scheme were to conform to the norms prescribed.

Another high profile scheme announced by the Prime Minister in 2007 during his independence day speech was the setting up of 6000 new high quality pace setting schools—one in each block of the country. Of these Model Schools, 3500 were to be established in Educationally Backward Blocks (EBBs) under the support of government, both Central and State. The rest, 2500 schools would be set up under Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) mode in non-EBBs.

Fund needed for implementation of both the schemes is to be shared by the Centre and the States in the ratio of 75:25 (90:10 for North-Eastern States) during the 11th plan. The pattern would change to 50:50 during the 12th plan.

The 12th plan document suggests extension of RAMSA scheme to all government and government aided Secondary and HS schools during the plan period without changing the funding pattern. Further, setting up of 2500 Model schools in the non-EBBs under PPP-scheme has been recommended during first three years of the plan period. GER has been targeted at a level of over 90 percent for Secondary and 65 percent for HS by the end of 2017.

Higher Education and Research
In support of the 11th plan being claimed as an 'Education Plan', it is often referred to the share of expenditure on education in the total outlay which went up from 6.7 percent in the 10th plan to 19.4 percent in the 11th plan.

Special emphasis was accorded to higher education. In 2008 the "Committee to Advise on the Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education" under the Chairmanship of Prof Yash Pal was constituted exclusively for the purpose. A number of "recommendations–in addition to all those available from the NKC–was forwarded by the committee in 2009.

In the 11lh plan period, 16 central universities, seven new Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), 8 new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), 10 new National Institutes of Technology (NITs), 5 Indian Institutes of Sciences/Education & Research (IISERs) were established–reports the Economic Survey 2012-13 (Sec. 13.33).

During this term, the central government established 65 degree awarding institutions–a new record of sorts. This includes–besides IITs, IIMs and NITs–14 deemed universities fully funded by the central government.

Table 3 depicts the number of various Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) under government (Central and State) and private management in 2011-12. Figure within parenthesis shows that in 2006-07.

It reveals that the number of HEIs increased from 29,384 to 46,430 during the 11th plan. State governments added 89 universities, 4024 colleges and 1340 diploma institutions during the period while those contributed by the private providers were 118, 7818 and 3581 respectively. By the end of the 11th plan, total number of public HEIs were 16,768 and that under private management 29,662.

In 2006-07, 61.75 percent of HEIs (18,145 out of 29,384) were under private management. In 2011-12 it has gone up to 63.9 percent (29,662 out of 46,430).

The document under discussion thrives to focus on "Three Es"—Expansion, Equity and Excellence—during the 12th plan period. GER in higher education increased from 10.4 percent in 2006-07 to 15.2 percent in 2011-12 in regular programmes alone. In combination with Open and Distance Learning (ODL) programmes, the increase is from 12.3 to 17.9 percent. The NKC recommendation of a 15 percent GER by 2015, has been achieved before the NKC stipulated time limit. Much below the world average (26 percent) though, substantial increase in GER achieved during the "Education Plan" deserves applause. The document sets the GER target of 25.2 percent by 2017-18 and 30 percent by 2020-21.(Sec. 21.186)

While an increase in enrolment of about 10 million has been possible in regular HEIs during the 11th plan the distribution is utterly uneven. Delhi, Chandigarh and Puducherry have GERs over 30 percent while for states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Rajasthan, Odisha and West Bengal, values are much lower.

Wide variations exist, as always, within various social groups. Participation of students from deprived and under privileged sections of the society is considerably lower than the national average. It is pertinent to recall the fate of reservation of 27 percent seats to OBCs in the Central Government institutions without diminishing the general category seats. The document observes "GER in the ST category is one fourth that of general category students. It is less than half for the SC and more than half for the OBC students." For Muslim students, it is around half. (Sec. 21.226)
Since lower enrolment, higher drop-out and other compelling draw-backs start at the school level, the disparity continues and eventually burgeons. That explains why a large part of seats reserved for SC, ST, OBC and other deprived sections of the society remain vacant. No wonder, abolition of differences among social groups and of gender gap still remains a far cry. Little wonder, it is getting wider instead.

Quality of higher education, in general, is not impressive at all. It has been deteriorating over the years. In October, 2007, Arjun Singh, the then HRD minister, in a meeting of the Vice Chancellors grievously observed–"Higher education is a sick child of education. It is not serving the cause of the young people of India".

IITs and IIMs acclaimed the glory of islands of excellence in the vast sea of substandard higher educational institutions. During the 11th plan, their number has more than doubled. They could not, it appears, hold on that glory in international reckoning. Quality has failed to keep pace with quantity. Tuition and other fees–specially in the IIMs–are sky scrapping. For all students pursuing undergraduate study in IITs, tuition fee has recently been hiked from Rs 50 thousand to Rs 90 thousand per annum. Economically disadvantaged students, however, enjoy fee-waiver facilities.

As of now, for a 2-year course, IIM-Ahmedabad charges 16.6 lakh, IIM-Bangalore 17 lakh, IIM-Calcutta 13.5 lakh and IIM-lndore 13 lakh. For IIM-Lucknow, it has come down from 12 to 10.8 lakh and for IIM—Kozhikode, from 10 to 9.7 lakh. Apprehending a hammer on their autonomy, IIMs refused proposal of higher rate of subsidy from the central government.

A few months back, during the conference of the Central University Vice Chancellors, Prime Minister remarked—"We must recognize that too many of our Higher Educational institutions are simply not up to the mark, that not one Indian university figures in the top 200 Universities of the world today."

In fact, in the QS World University Ranking, 2012/13, IIT Delhi–the first to appear in the list from India–occupies 212th position, IIT-Bombay 227th, IIT-Kanpur 278th, IIT-Madras 312th, IIT-Kharagpur 349th and so on.

Recently, present HRD minister M M Pallam Raju is on record to have admitted—"Two-thirds of Indian colleges and universities are below standard.... Also faculty crunch in centres of higher learning is a major impediment." Only a couple of months back, it was reported in parliament that even the old, established IITs have a shortfall of 41 percent in their teaching posts.

Research work forms an integral responsibility of HEIs–for the degree awarding institutions in particular. During computation of university rankings too, it plays an eminent role. During 2008-09, number of Ph.Ds awarded in science and technology was around 30000 in China and 25000 in the USA. In India it was a meagre 4500. While expressing satisfaction over India's improvement in share of world research publications from 2.8 percent to 3.4 percent during past 10 years, the plan document is expressly unhappy that even the top universities of the country "remain largely teaching-focused with limited research and doctoral education." (Sec. 21.278).

Amount invested in research and development has been perennially low all these years. In 2011, India invested on this head 0.9 percent of GDP, China 1.42 percent, USA 2.6 percent, Japan 3.67 percent. If number of patent applications is any indicator, India's innovation potential makes no bones about a not-so-gracefull scenario of the country. Only 42000 such applications were filed here in 2011, compared to over five lakh each in China and USA. Number of applications for international patent in 2010 was 12,296 from China, 45,008 from USA, 32,150 from Japan and 1286 from India.

The plan proposal seeks to champion investment of private capital in education at all levels. In context of elementary education it is pertinent to go through the observation of ASER-2012:
"At the All India level private school enrolment has been rising steadily for quite some time. The percentage of 6 to14 year olds enrolled in private schools rose from 18.7% in 2006 to 25.6% in 2011. This year this number has further increased to 28.3%. The increase is almost equal in primary (Std. I-V) and upper primary (Std. VI-VIII) classes...

Since 2009, private school enrolment in rural areas has been rising at an annual rate of about 10%. If this trend continues, by 2018 India will have 50% children in rural areas enrolled in private schools. Quoting the report prepared by the District Information System for Education (DISE) under the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), an MHRD organisation, Madhav Chavan writes :
"In the election year of 2014, about 41% of all of India's primary age children will be in private schools, and by the time 2019 elections come around, private sector will be the clear major formal education provider in India. Some say that RTE will take a decade to show its impact. Perhaps so. By that time, if all goes well (?), a further 25% of private school enrolment will be supported by governments through the quota for economically weaker sections and only the remaining poorest (by all measures) will send their children to government-run schools."

The 12th plan document is quite unequivocal in advocating private investment in education at all levels. From the policy prescription it appears–privatisation is the panacea for all shortcomings of the academic system. Some excerpts :
"Their (private providers’) legitimate role in expanding elementary education needs to be recognised and a flexible approach needs to be adopted to encourage them to invest in the sector." (Sec. 21 73) "It is essential, therefore, that the private sector's capabilities and potential (in promoting secondary education) are tapped through innovative public-private partnerships,..." (Sec.21.88); "... private provision in secondary education should be fostered wherever feasible.:" (Sec. 21.89) "The role of private sector in secondary education can be further strengthened... A single window approach needs to be adopted to facilitate barrier free entry of private institutions..." (Sec. 21 106)
"..the not-for-profit status in higher education should, perhaps, be re-examined for pragmatic considerations so as to allow the entry of for-profit institutions ...
"For-profit private higher education can be taxed and the revenue from it can be channelled into large scale scholarship programme to promote equity as is practised in Brazil and China." (Sec. 21.215)

During his opening speech delivered in a meeting of the Planning Commission held in September, 2007 Prime Minister remarked—"It mist be recognized that about 60% of secondary schools are under private management and the Ministry and the Planning Commission should focus on incorporating the role of the private sector wherever possible."

As has been stated earlier, during the 11th plan period altogether 11517 HEIs–most of them offering professional courses–have been set up under private management. Of the total of 46430 HEIs, private colleges constituted 63.9 percent in 2011-12. In fact, education has turned into a market commodity for sale.

How enrolment in higher education is being changed under different management–government, private and ODL—is reproduced in Table 4 with data from the plan document. It embodies present plan targets too.

Instances of scandal and corrupt practice involving people in positions of power on the one hand and the private investors on the other, galore. Role of higher education regulatory bodies has been under scanner for long. Both NKC and Jash Pal committee suggested their replacement by an umbrella organisation. Foreign universities, with questionable track record in their own country, have been invited here with much fanfare.

A number of bills on higher education have been drafted since 2010 for being enacted by the parliament. These include the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, 2010, the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010, the Foreign Educational Institutional Bill, 2010, the Educational Tribunal Bill, 2010, and the Universities for Research and Innovation Bill 2012. In place of National Council for Higher Education and Research Bill, 2010, the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011, is also in the pipeline. Along with a number of deceptively ambitious propositions, some of the bills aim at ensuring a hassle-free opening of India's education sector to market forces.

Primary education, publicly taken care of even in the staunch capitalist countries, has not been spared here. An age-old perception underscored by the NKC that "a vibrant, good quality and universally accessible government school system is the basic foundation upon which the schooling system in the country must rest" and their strong recommendation for "a substantial increase in central government allocation", remain largely unheeded. Nor does the document have any reference of–let alone a desire for adhering to–the Common School System recommended more than sixty years back and routinely parroted thereafter by almost every committee or commission. The idea towards establishing an egalitarian social order, has been bade an insidious adieu. Insidious but inescapable. This way exploitation of the laggard part of India will go on interminably. Fatefully though, there is a renowned scholar at the top of the Commission!

Table 2: GER for Secondary and HS Education by Social Groups (%)
SCs                    STs            Non-SCs/STs  Overall
Secondary Level
Boys                                             71.19                54 24               67.02         66.65
Girls                                            63.50               44 22               58.97         58,45
Total                                            67 58                49 41                63 13          62 71
HS Level                                       
Boys                                            37.42                31.36                39.17          38.31
Girls                                            33.48                22.32               34.39          33.31
Total                                            35.60                26.91                36.88         35.92

Table 3: Growth of Higher Educational Institutions in the 11th Plan

--------------------------------------------Central Govt.   ---  State Govt.  -------  Private
Degree Awarding Institutions          152 (87)          316 (227)                  191 (73)
Colleges                                            69 (58)               13024 (9000)         19930 (12112)
Diploma Institutions                              —               3207 (1867)           9541 (5960)

Total     ---------------------------------221 (145)         16547 (11094)  29662 (18145)

Table 4 : Enrolment in Higher Education (lakh)

Year                                      Central Govt.     State Govt.        Private         ODL

2006-07                                       3.0                    60 3                  75.1            274
2011-12 (Estimated)                 56                   84 0                 128.2          42.0
2016-17 (Target)                   12.0                  110.4                   185.0         52.0


Frontier, Autumn Number
Vol. 46, No. 13-16, Oct 6 - Nov 2, 2013

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