The 'Post-Jomtien' Phenomenon of
Indian Elementary Education

Janaki Rajan

Article 45 under the Directive Principles of the Constitution of India reads as follows:

'The state shall provide within a period of ten years, free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14 years.' This goal was expected to be reached by 1960.

The government's own data of 1990 shows that half the children and two-thirds of the girls are out of school. Child labour is reliably estimated to be around 20 million.

It is against this backdrop that the Indian government policy shifts in education of the last 15 years and the various forces influencing these shifts need to be evaluated.

The National Policy on Education, 1986, heralds the beginning of a systematic and progressive dilution of the commitment to the constitutional obligation in ways hitherto not in evidence. The policy, for the first time, admitted to the enormity of the task of universalization of elementary education, and the actual number of children in school. In stark variation to Article 45, the policy admits that it cannot reach out to all the children through the formal system and proposes a parallel non-formal stream of education for those children who, due to their economic condition cannot go to school. This decision, far from mitigating the problem of child labour, actually condones it. The policy also bifurcates elementary education into primary (5 years) and upper primary (3 years).

Since the World Conference of Education for All (EFA) held in Jomtien, Thailand, in March 1990, these early indicators begin to take on a clearer focus. During the post-Jomtien phase, the commitment to ensure eight years of elementary education for all children has been reduced, for all practical purposes, to five years of primary education, delinking it from the upper primary stage to the extent that the term elementary is replaced with primary in virtually all programme documents.

India's ratification of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1992 re-affirms the commitment to make primary (not elementary) education compulsory and available free for all.

The District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), funded by the World Bank and a consortium of the European Community, restricted to five years of schooling, is being promoted as a dominant strategy for universalization of elementary education.

In 1995, five leading agencies of the United Nations (UNICEF, UNDP, ILO, UNESCO and UNFPA) initiated a collabourative effort to provide programme support in a coordinated manner, to the on-going efforts of the government of India towards universalization of elementary education with $20 million aid. The programme, titled UNSCOPE will operate specially in areas with low female literacy, low female participation in school and high fertility areas.

In the wake of CRC, the National Literacy Mission has begun to include the out-of-school children in the 9-14 age group in its programmes. As a result of this, the state can claim fulfilment of educational responsibility of its children, if a child attends 2 years of an adult literacy class, without ever having stepped into school. This makes literacy, a dimension of education, a national goal synonymous with education itself.

In 1990, the central government introduced the scheme of Minimum Levels of Learning (MLL) in the primary school programme. Some of the features of MLL are:

division of primary education into 'cognitive' and 'non-cognitive' domains.

defining MLL for environmental studies, language and mathematics for class I-V.

vocabulary control and use of 'appropriate' language in formal and informal situations.

subdivision of language skills leading to a labourious exercise of deciphering printed symbols for factual communication.

acquisition of language competencies without any reference to mother tongue at the primary stage.

The NPE (1986), DPEP, UNSCOPE, all make abundant references to the education of the girl child, with increasing use of terms like empowerment and change. A close look at the way in which these terms are used, however, reveals a trend more likely to result in 'looking upon women as ready receptors of demographic messages, literacy for the transmission of these and other messages from the market, and proficient wage earners without control over their mode of production, rather than of empowering them to transform their role in society as equal partners.' (Report on Education of the National Consultation on CRC, 1994, p. 70)

The two externally aided programmes, DPEP and UNSCOPE are contrasted in Table I against the vision statement of an indigenous effort for strengthening elementary education, initiated in 1995, known as Lokshala.

To seek answers, we need to look into not the policies themselves, but to related developments in the last 20 years in the areas of demographic control and the process of liberalization of the Indian economy.

Since the failure of the draconian population control of the mid- seventies, the focus of family planning has shifted almost exclusively from men to women. That this is a regression in the process of equal responsibility of men and women is carefully avoided in any governmental discourse. The large-scale failure of the condom mode of contraceptive usage has been acknowledged by policy documents since the mid-eighties, when the government was obliged to explain how, if the contraceptive usage figures were true, could these figures explain the high crude birth rates being recorded at the same time?

Family planning policies since 1990, have begun to state that education (read literacy) of girls is the best 'contraceptive'. Kerala's high female literacy figure and low birth rates are co-related directly without any reference to Kerala's long history of socio-economic development and matrilinearity. This female literacy-birth rate connection appears even more credible to population policy makers when states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, infamously called BIMARU or 'ill' by facetious writers, have not only low female literacy, but high birth rates. To those for whom being poor equals being ill, it is not hard to believe, ability to read and write will mean having less children. Thus, the case for substituting education with literacy is made. That is why rising female literacy levels, not education, is the much-treasured goal of policy makers. Is it a coincidence that the MLL competencies in environmental science has developed verbal and pictorial messages of 'small family, happy family', where the small family pictures depicts an affluent setting and the large family, a deprived one?

India was perhaps the only third world nation to have forbidden by law, injectible contraceptives such as Norplant, being much promoted by the west, thanks to the vigilance of a small band of women activists and the judiciary on the grounds that these devices have not been adequately tested and proven safe for the life conditions of poor women. Population growth of the third world countries is probably one of the most threatening aspects of the third world in the eyes of the 'developed' nations, and it should not come as a surprise that a major goal of all forms of aid is ultimately a decrease in population of the third world. Aid to India is no exception.

The relationship between the need for literate citizens and liberalization of economy and 'opening up' of markets is so obvious that those in the field of education appear to have entirely missed the connection. Now the policy shifts from elementary education to primary, from education to literacy, and, for those within the formal school system, from the curriculum designed to think critically to the curriculum designed to create receptors of messages, that the MLL has become clear. Who needs education for developing the critical faculty when multi-national markets have to function?

That these shifts affecting a nation of nearly 1 billion people have occurred with very little resistance must also be seen in conjunction with the fact that the external aid in the education sector is around 4.2% of the public expenditure on elementary education. Such is the power of the post-Jomtien phenomenon in Indian education.

Comparative Picture of Interventions for Universal Elementary Education 1994-1997
1. Stage of Education Primary (5 years) UPE Primary (5 years) UPE Elementary (8 years) UEE
2. Objective Imitator of Project Bilateral arrangement World Bank-GOI Bilateral arrangements UN agencies-GOI National voluntary organisation.  
locally generated.
3. Year of Commencement 1994 1997 1995
4. Duration of programme 5-7 years 5 years Until transformation takes place
5. Size of funding Rs. 2.500 crores US $45m  
6. Unit of coverage District Block Block
7. Curriculum MLL (Minimum Levels of Learning based on the view that learning equals the acquisition of competences) MLL Evolved with active participation of community, drawn from specific Geo-cultural setting including work-skills
8. Concept of Knowledge as in MLL as in MLL & UN priorities Local indigenous knowledge as the basis upon which global knowledge is understood.
9. Management Structure Parallel structures Educational Consultants India Limited, State Resource Centres, District Resource Centres, Cluster Resource Centres, State Institution of Educational Management and Training.  
In States
Parallel Programme Management Units (PMUs) (PSIUs) Through the existing structures and locally evolved people advocacy pressure groups.
10. Classroom Management Multi-grade Multi-grade Locally evolved mechanisms
11. Language of curriculum transaction No clear policy. State language No clear policy. State language Mother-tongue
12. Relationship between School-community Not clear Community to manage given programme Community to control, evolve effective management through legitimate structures.
13. Role of community recipient managers pressure group to demand and ensure quality education of their choice.
14. View of girl-child Best suited to receive population education   Empowerment to become critically-thinking individual for altering gender relations in society.
15. Perception of Article 45 of the Constitution Ignores Articles 45 Ignores Articles 45 Complete cognisance of Articles 45 in its concern for the Under 6 years, primary and upper primary years.
16. Links between different stages of education Fragmented view of ECCE & Primary School Ignores Articles 45 Integrated view of all stages of education up to class VIII and even beyond.
17. View of ECCE A means to make the child ready for primary school No reference to ECCE Envisages of Early Childhood and Care Organisation as a right of the child and early childhood development in itself a major goal of education.
18. Initiators of the project International funding agencies through bilateral arrangements e.g.: 
Rs. 2.500 Cr.
5 UN agencies - GOI 
Jan Bharat Vigyan Jatha (a nation-wide network that emerged as a historical outcome of a long-term indigenous process of advocacy and field experiment and  consultation with communities, educationists and policy makers.) 
1995 Until training school years and its relationship with the community.
19. Funding Externally funded perceived as a safety net for structure adjustment to fulfil WB-IMF objectives in education withdrawal. US $45 million (app. Rs. 165 Crore) Sub-externally funded to fulfil UN objectives in education withdrawal. Advocating re-prioritisation in favour of education within Indian economy in consonance with Constitutional obligation ongoing transformation process.
20. Post project activities      
21. Curriculum Perspectives Centralised formulation in terms of MLL " Community Based intervention in evolving geo-cultural perspective as basis of curriculum.
22. Role of work in Community Avenue as in draft Same Local indigenous knowledge providing basis for comprehending global knowledge viewing a UEE as a subset of socio-economic processes with emphasis on changes outside the school domain programme designed at changes within/outside the school domain for achieving.
23. Management Structures Ed. Cil etc. SAEMET in States " Locally evolved peoples advocacy pressure groups.
24. CR Management & Stage Multigrade as response to lack of teachers & appropriate pupil to teacher ratios " Ensuring adequate number of teachers and appropriate pupil its ratio management of classroom size perceived as a pedagogic issue.
25. Inservice training Centrally designed modules not aimed at developing teachers capacities for preparing their own curriculum. " Evolving diverse teacher-training programmes in consonance with Geo-cultural  settings with community participation.
26. Language No stated policy; restricted to state language.   Beginning with mother-tongue as medium in the earlier years with a pedagogic design for shifting to state space for other languages as medium and appropriate languages.

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