Dodgy Development III: A DFID Education

Richard Whittell and Eshwarappa M’s study of the British Government’s Department for International Development’s presence in India continues with analysis of its support for education in the country. Interviews with academics, educationalists and teachers, and an accompanying film, show DFID-funded programmes contributing to the decline of public education in India.


FILM: A DFID Education






Professor Anil Sadgopal is the former Dean of Delhi University’s Faculty of Education, a member of various national education commissions and committees* and a founder member of the People’s Campaign for Common School System. In this wide-ranging interview, conducted in his home in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, he talks to Richard Whittell about the impact of education programmes in India funded by British aid, putting them in the context of the education reforms of the last twenty years.

Note: ‘government’ or ‘public’ school denotes state school.


Richard Whittell: The majority of the British Government’s aid to education in India is given to the Government of India’s flagship Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, or Education for All programme, which aims to bring all India’s children into school. By 2011, it will have given more than £350 million to the programme. The British Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) argues that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan “is proving to be very effective and remarkable progress is being made,” with Gordon Brown saying British aid is enabling “new opportunities for Indian girls and boys”. What has your impression of the programme been?

Professor Anil Sadgopal: Before we start talking about the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, we must first talk about the District Primary Education Programme which came before it. This was a programme partly funded by the World Bank, that started in 1994 and led to a deterioration in the concept of education and the functioning of the education system. The District Primary Education Programme was concerned with setting up what they called a multi-layered school programme.

These parallel layers of schools or educational facilities meant there was a different educational facility for a different segment of society: that means children of parents working in factories will get one quality of school, children whose parents are schoolteachers will get another quality of school, children whose parents are constables or police officers will get another quality of school, and children whose parents are industrialists or political leaders will get another quality of school.

This meant that for the majority of government schools, we had to compromise on the quality of teachers, on the quality of school infrastructure, on the pupil-teacher ratios, on the amount of money each teacher was given for creating teaching aids, on the amount of money each disabled child was given to provide for Braille or for other support systems.

So, by the time the District Primary Education Programme ended we had already diluted all kinds of our norms and standards in school education. In fact, the Government of India was embarrassed to call all these layers schools. In official terminology, even in our union budget, these are now often referred to as education facilities, not as schools.

And the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan started after this?

Yes, it was on this basis that the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was designed, becoming really operative in the Government’s 10th Five Year Plan from 2002 onwards.

The primary statement of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was to provide access to schools, alternative schools, educational guarantee centres or to back to school camps, by December 2003 (see the interview with Dr Niranjan Aradhya below for an analysis of these educational facilities). That was the basic statement. It did not say to take all children into regular schools. It has not even aimed at doing that. .

It packaged all the faults of the District Primary Education Programme and created a fresh package, with a lot of fanfare and said again, once again, that we will have gender parity at the end of the project, we will close the social disparity gaps, we will provide education to all Dalits, all tribals, all minorities and we will bring disabled children into our school system.

Nothing of the sort has happened. 52% of India’s children do not complete even eight years of education. And these are Government of India statistics**, which are not really the reality. The reality is much worse. But even the Government of India’s own statistics show that 52% of Indian children drop out before Class 8. 35% of children drop out before Class 5! Among Dalits and tribals, the drop-out rate rises to 70% before Class 8. And it’s the same for minorities and for Muslim children.

And disabled children? Forget what is going to happen to disabled children. We will stop talking about them. The whole idea in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’s original document was to bring all disabled children to regular, mainstream schools. But today no-one is talking about it, because that will mean a commitment to provide a well trained teacher who is sensitive to a disabled child, who understands sign language, and who can enable the child to use sign language and help a child with Braille education. This would mean more commitment and more finances. All these objectives are not even mentioned anywhere.

And only 5-8% of Dalits, or tribals, or minority children are able to cross Class 12. And why do I talk of Class 12? Because without having a Class 12 certificate today in our economic and social condition, you do not have access to either a job or to any kind of professional, vocational or higher education course.

So, to keep on talking about primary education, when without a Class 12 certificate you cannot get anywhere in this country is blasphemy. What will a child do with a Class 5 certificate? I keep saying to all the government people who are doing this work: if poor parents ask you why their child should go to school, how will you convince them? He or she is keen to send their child to school but they will ask you why they should do it. So that their child will become literate? After your child becomes literate, he or she will become a manual worker, and will not get even minimum wages. For this purpose you want to have five years schooling? The very purpose of schooling is lost and you give no motivation for a poor person to send a child to school. This kind of education leads a child to nowhere.

And in fact the government of India realised this, so the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which is partly funded by your government, the union budget and the 11th Five Year plan, are no more talking of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan as having an objective of reaching Class 8. They’re not even mentioning that.

They have said that the objective of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan will be to merely enrol children in upper primary schools. Enrol, no more complete education. From completing eight years of schooling by 2010, the objective has been diluted and downgraded to merely enrolling children, and I think by the next targets you won’t even find this word enrolling. This is a DFID-supported programme.

So, I do not know what Prime Minister Gordon Brown and your DFID mean when they say, “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is proving to be very effective and remarkable progress is being made”. What criteria do they use to judge progress? I do not know.

The British Government’s support for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is part of its commitment to the Millenium Development Goals; number two of which is to “ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.”

With all these things we must be aware of the context in which they are happening. India’s constitution is committed to a minimum of eight years of elementary education, but the District Primary Education Programme meant only five years of schooling. In the Jomtien Declaration – the name given to the document released in 1990 by the World Conference for Education for All, held at Jomtien in Thailand, and funded by the World Bank and UN agencies – the principles of education as enshrined in our constitution had already been diluted. The Jomtien Declaration makes no commitment to eight years of schooling. It makes no commitment to the wider goals of education, that is, to make human beings, or citizens of this country.

All these goals of education were reduced to mere literacy and skill formation in the Jomtien Document. And these very ideas are now part of the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals are a big dilution of our own constitutional commitment. And the economic survey of the Government of India in 2007/8 in fact referred to the Millennium Development Goals but did not refer to the Indian Constitution as a basis of education planning, and that is a total victory for the external agencies in this country.

Why are the Millennium Development Goals a further dilution?

The Millennium Development Goal for education talks of literacy, while our goal is education. They talk of skills, when our constitution’s goal is a democratic, socialist, egalitarian citizen. They talk of only five years of schooling, while our goal is eight years of education. They do not make any commitment to free education and they do not make any commitment to education of equitable quality, which is a very important principle today. The entire Millennium Development Goal for education revolves around literacy and skills. Therefore the Millennium Development Goals cannot be our objective; they cannot be the aim of India’s education. Creating a skilled worker who is literate may be all right for your factories, but it’s not all right for our country. As someone said, India is a nation, not a corporation.

We are a nation, so our education system has to be an education-building system, not a corporation-building system. And these things are very important. People will say this is only rhetoric, but it is not rhetoric. The whole planning is done in this way. The people designing this don’t have any right to keep talking about the Millennium Development Goals, which are such a diluted version of our constitution.

Let me quote some statements made in DFID reviews of its funding to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to you: “Numbers of out of school children in India have reduced by almost 5 million per year since 2003 across the entire country”.

What reduction are they talking of? You see, in order to prove you are succeeding – and this has been the story even before external assistance in 1993, but now it is really in high decibel – you keep counting children on registers, and if you find a number of children on registers, you say, “Ah, they are there”.

See, enrolment is not equal to attendance, attendance is not equal to learning, and learning is not automatically equal to education. All these things are important. Are these important for British schools or not, I do not know? Or you will be happy having a British child just having her name on the school register? At least in India no educationalist will say enrolment on a register is equal to education.

The UK High Commission in India claims “Drop-out rates have fallen by 4% at the primary stage and 2% points in the upper primary stage.”

See, what is the objective of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan? Is it to keep talking about the reduction of drop-out rates, or was the objective earlier, in all the original documents, even up to 2005, to enable every child in India to complete eight years of schooling? Why is Prime Minister Brown happy without the achievement of these objectives?

Eight years of schooling! Not just literacy. Schooling means geography, history, civics, political science, language education in at least two languages – which means the ability to articulate yourself; language education is not literacy, language education is about knowing your literature, knowing your culture, knowing poetry, fiction – this is what you have to know by Class 8. You have to know how to do algebra and geometry, not just be able to count. You begin to deal with ideas of sets in arithmetic. You have to know about the geography of your country, about Europe, about Africa, about Latin America. You have to be aware of the history of India’s freedom struggle. You have to know about Dr Ambedkar, the great fighter for Dalits: this is education!

And what is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan doing? It is funding non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to measure the ability to read only one sentence. As if it was an adult literacy programme and not a school education programme. In school education, your whole assessment in Class 8 or Class 5 is now reduced to reading one sentence, or doing some simple two digit multiplication. You are paying NGOs to measure this and they are coming out with results that show the situation is very bad, even with respect to these parameters. Yet Prime Minister Brown is so happy. I do not know what data he is using.

We have lost our vision of education which the Kothari Commission of 1966 tried to give. It was a vision of transforming education into a common school system. We lost that vision with the principle of market economics and the unproven assumption that private capital knows how to run schools better than the government (unproven because the majority of the private schools are run very badly; only high fee private schools are “run well”, if you accept their vision of education).

So, in our country we are now dependent upon short term, temporary schemes and projects, like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. As I told you earlier, since its inception it has undergone a change in its sets of objectives and changes in the strategies. We do not have a vision of educational transformation. We are running schemes and projects and we will never succeed.

The United Nations’ global monitoring report says that even five years of primary schooling will not be achieved in India by 2015. Forget Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’s talk of 2010. I would say the United Nations are being charitable. Look at their reports carefully and you will find that it won’t be possible for the next 30 years under the present set of schemes and projects. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is no different.

As these schemes continue it seems more and more parents are sending their children to low-fee charging private schools. We were talking to a group of parents in a fairly low income area and they were sending their children to private schools, although they said in the past everyone went to government schools. How has this trend developed?

When there has been a deterioration in the quality of the vast proportion of the government school system, it is very easy to understand that poor parents, out of desperation, will look for private schooling. And private schooling has mushroomed in India in the past ten years, precisely because the government school system has declined in quality. And our own administrators, policy makers and political leaders have no problem with it.

The Government of India has decided to promote the public-private partnership mode for developing the public education system also. The 11th Five Year plan document of the Planning Commission and the union budget both refer to public-private partnerships being the primary mode of developing school education. And this is commodification of school education. And one has known earlier of commodification of medical education and management education but commodification of school education is a new phenomenon of the last five to seven years.

And does that also come in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan?

No, that does not come directly under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, but that plays a part. See, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is a very circumscribed programme, only to promote inadequate schooling for poor children, producing educational facilities the government is too ashamed to even call schools. But outside the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, as the quality deteriorates within it, not only is private schooling coming up, but the government is starting different layers of high quality schooling outside Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. So Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan remains a system of deterioration and if you want to set up a better quality school, whether you are a private company or a government agency, you do it outside Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

The government is now promoting, in partnership with private agencies, school systems of different kinds across the country. The focus examples are these 6,000 model schools that the Prime Minister said would be built throughout the country. 2,500 out of 6,000 model schools are developed in the public private partnership mode, with the rest to be set up by the government in educationally backward districts. It’s very interesting. If you read between the lines, what does this say?

It says that in educationally backward districts, where private capital will have no advantage and will not try to go, there the government will take care of the high quality model schools, but in the developed districts, public lands and public assets will be handed over to private capital to make profits out of school education. That’s the message coming out; that the public-private partnership mode is a strategy for handing over public assets to private capital.

And with the public-private partnership mode coming into play, there is a loss of the sense of a right to education, or the right to other sectors, such as health or social welfare. As education is commodified you cannot demand it as a right. You are a customer. There is no more entitlement. It is a service, which can be taxed also; you will be charged if you want your children to go to a decent school.

Do I get a better bus service because I pay for it? The bus service in Bhopal is privatised. Look at the state of the buses and the way they work with the passengers. Look at the Blue Line buses of Delhi. They are probably the world’s biggest killers on the road and they get away with every murder they indulge in.

Do we get better water, do we get better electricity because they are privatised? The Delhi electricity rates have sky-rocketed. I used to live in Delhi and the quality of service was better before privatisation. When something went wrong I had a political right to go into the electricity office and demand you either do the right thing or I will do a sit-in. But today it is a corporate office; it is no more a public office.

Look at the larger system today; the central board of examination, the CBSE affiliates private schools and government schools which are run for government employees. The performance of these schools is better than the private fee charging schools. Even today, look at the statistics, you’ll find the top slot will be taken by central government schools run for their employees, not by the private schools.

So, even today the government is running a better school system. In every state in India there is a small category of model schools, which are run by the government at a very high quality level. So, it is a fallacy to claim that when schools are public they are run badly. When the government wants to run a good school system it can do it.

What effect have programmes such as Sarva Shiksha Abihyan had on teachers?

Teachers have been beaten by everyone. I work with teachers. I have trained thousands of teachers. I never found that teachers as a community or as a category of employees were less motivated than those of any other system, private or public, provided you give them the right kind of environment. The right kind of environment does not mean only money. A good environment means respect, dignity, motivation to learn, opportunity to create, to do innovative things. Our whole system, before foreign funding and after foreign funding, has been a system where teachers do not have any space for their creativity or for their innovation because the curriculum and textbooks are so restrictive. Any teacher who wishes to create or innovate will be told by the headmaster or the principal that they had better prepare children for passing examinations. This is the story before 1993 when the District Primary Education Programme came in and is still the story today.

There’s another issue with teachers. There are lots of foreign-funded research reports which talk about teachers only being present for 25% of the time. These are very selective reports. They do not investigate the issue of why teachers are de-motivated or why they are not found to be present. There are several studies today available, if one cares to look, that show that for almost one hundred days in an academic year government teachers are pulled out of the school system to either count people below the poverty line, or to count children ready for pulse polio injections, or to count sheep or count goats. And routinely once a year for several months, when there are censuses, elections and by-elections for everything from village panchayats (administrative areas) to state legislative assemblies and to parliaments, forget about a teacher being in the school. Will you do this in Britain? Will Prime Minister Brown allow a public school teacher in Britain to be absent on non-educational duties? If this is not allowed in Britain or the US, why here?

The ruling class of this country, the elite of this country, the intelligentsia today are not sending their children to government schools. Therefore the poor majority are paying for the sake of Indian democracy, which takes place because of censuses, elections and voter lists, all maintained and reviewed by our schoolteachers at the cost of children’s education.

Do any high fee charging private schools in India allow teachers to be taken off duty by the government? The answer is clearly no.

The DFID says its work in India “is valued for its expertise and innovation across sectors,” (from the DFID India assistance brochure). I was speaking to a DFID official and he was saying the money it provides allows governments to be creative in ways they otherwise wouldn’t. It allows bureaucrats the freedom to innovate, to experiment in ways that can then be up-scaled.

Bureaucrats may have freedom to innovate but this has been lost by academics and educationalists. Why do bureaucrats need the freedom to innovate? Innovation in the education system should be by schoolteachers; it is schoolteachers who should be innovating. How can a bureaucrat understand education? He or she has never studied education as a discipline, has never been trained in this field. Today’s bureaucrats will innovate only in the framework of the global market.

We have de-motivated the entire teaching community of government schools by giving the false political message that to teach is not a duty. And the government can afford to do this because the children who suffer will be poor children and not the children of the elite or those of the high-profile, upwardly mobile Indian middle-class.

I would be the first to grant things did not function properly before foreign funding started. I was part of that process in which a large number of voluntary bodies intervened in the government school system in the early 1970s to help improve its quality. I was part of a group which intervened in more than three hundred schools in the Hoshengabad district of Madhya Pradesh in the 1970s to teach science through the scientific method, and to promote the scientific temper, by getting children to do experiments with their own hands. This was done in government schools in villages: thousands of children were doing experiments with their own hands in Classes 6-8 with virtually no facilities, and taught by teachers who sometimes did not have a science background. And they were teaching well, because they had freedom and had been trained to teach well.

We could create a totally different culture of learning and this was possible in government schools. That was the only programme in the country, before or after independence, before foreign funding or after foreign funding, when government schools taught science as science should be taught – through the method of science – while high charging, private schools in India were making children learn science through rote-learning.

So, we have evidence in this state of Madhya Pradesh that government schools can perform better.

Many of the DFID’s staff in India are Indian and it makes a big thing of working with local experts and civil society. Doesn’t that give its work more legitimacy?

But who is it working with? In the 1970s and 80s there was a large body of academics and scientists who felt it was a duty to intervene in school education and bring about improvements. They were doing it free of charge. Now this sense of duty has been transformed into consultancy. The same body of people have become consultants, or they have started an NGO, because by becoming an NGO you will get funding out of assessing Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or another funded programme. This NGO term was not here in India until 1991. Until then we were known as voluntary bodies. If a group of people felt empowered to do something for society they would decide, register and organise a body then they would start working. Whatever they did was their own mission. Today, almost all NGOs are fund-driven and the sources of funds decide what you will do.

I have been in the field of education for the last 35 years and I’ve seen how this feeling of the right to intervene in education is not there in NGOs any more, or with academics or intellectuals. In Madhya Pradesh, a large body of NGOs, which in the year 2000 were doing work for women’s empowerment, because they were led by women, in 2001 suddenly got funding for poverty alleviation, under the Poorest Areas Civil Society programme, which is also funded by the DFID. After three or four years they were funded through the programme, then they suddenly become HIV AIDS agencies. They are now fighting AIDS.

The manufacturing of consent takes different shapes. One of the shapes it takes, is even before you start your groundwork in India, you take some senior most officials of the government and take them on a foreign trip, to Washington DC or to London or to some international conference, or to Brazil, or to Nigeria. You start funding research on a large scale. Foreign funded research is today a big thing in Indian social sciences and in education also. Assessing Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is a big business. Many NGOs have come up just to assess Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and many have come up to measure literacy. Many will come up to measure skills. And there’s one more sector opening up: the latest thing is to assess disabled children in order to decide whether they are fit to come into regular schooling or not. So assessment of disability is going to be the new market now and a lot of foreign funds will come in.

This is happening all over India. Intellectuals hold certain views not because they worked them out themselves but because they are being funded by the World Bank or by some other funding agency, and this is truly a disastrous phenomenon. You cannot relate to intellectuals as equals because they are being funded by someone. The whole discourse has fragmented between those larger bodies of people who are funded and those who are not. And this is very frightening.

I’ve seen this happening in front of my eyes. In Hoshengabad we worked free of cost. We never expected even a penny. We paid for our travel by train and bus out of our pockets. We felt we owed it to the country and the society. When foreign funding started in school education in the 1990s people were offered a daily honorarium, to begin with of Rs1,000 (£15) and within a few years it was upgraded to Rs3,000. By 2002-3, many of them were getting Rs5,000 a day, for just travelling to a place and being around for 2-3 hours with school teachers. The British public may not understand, it will be lost in the conversion rates, but for us, where minimum wages are still Rs 60-80 (£1.20) a day, getting Rs1,000 a day in addition to your salary is a large amount of money.

They do precisely what they are asked to do when they take this consultancy. And I have first hand reports from such friends who have been consultants that they knew that the reports they submitted as part of this were so damning to the foreign-funded programme that they would not be accepted and so doctoring the report becomes part of the process. The World Bank funded District Primary Education Programme had review missions. Half the people would be from western countries, half from India. They would go on these honorariums to villages but they would come back to the state capital, stay in five-star hotels and write a report that more often than not would be doctored by the organisers. And I asked my friends, who are honest people, who I have known a long time, why did you not object, why did you allow it to be doctored? And they said, “Easy money will not come again and if we keep objecting, our names will be written off the rolls of consultants.” It has happened to the best of our people. Lost to our whole civil society, to our whole intellectual world.

The British Government will have spent more than £2 billion in India by 2015, which is a lot of money, but I was surprised to read that all of the aid it gives only amounts to less than 0.06% of India’s Gross Domestic Product? Does India need this money?

I’ll read out some statistics for you to illustrate this point. I think it’s very important to clarify a misunderstanding about the quantum of financial assistance which India has been receiving from all the external funding agencies, not just the DFID.

As a percentage of the total central plan – the plan money for new projects, new development initiatives, to be funded by the central government – the total external assistance – that given by all foreign countries plus development agencies like the World Bank – will amount to only 1.3%. That means that when the government gives almost Rs99 it has collected from taxes, customs and so on, external assistance will add only one more. The question is can the government not also afford to provide one additional Rupee?

Why do we need this money? Why do we need to take a begging bowl? Why do we need a full department tasked with dealing with external assistance? Why do we need to sign Memoranda of Understanding full of conditions and which are kept secret, more secret than our defence documents? Even the Right to Information Act cannot get you the MoU between the Government of India and another government giving external assistance.

And in addition to these statistics I have statistics I have worked out to do with education. All externally aided projects in India, which include World Bank, EU, Canadian, Australian, as well as British aid, all this put together in 2001-2, which are the dates for which figures were made available to me, constituted 0.058% of GDP. Let me repeat this: 0.058%. Similarly, as a percentage of total expenditure on education from 2001-2, the external assistance constituted only 1.5%.

So the question which arises from all these figures I have been reading out to you, or which should arise in any thinking person’s mind, is: why is India asking for this money? What is India’s need for this pittance of assistance, and what is the need of the British government, or the British public, to extend this small pittance of assistance? And the only plausible answer is that this small pittance, this minuscule proportion of assistance we receive from foreign countries, gives each of these countries a handle on policy formulation in India. With this small handle they can then manipulate policies, not just in education for which they have given money, but also by sending their experts, their powerful lobbyists and negotiators along with the educationalists to lobby for other fields also, to open doors for the mining industry, sales of land or genetically modified foods, which are a big issue in India already. All these sectors that are now being opened up for global capital require lobbyists, expertise of various kinds, negotiators, and they’ll all come along as a ”bonus” with education assistance.

And this is only using education as a means of getting into the Indian economy and Indian policy-making. That is why this small minuscule proportion is given by them and precisely for the same reason it is taken by the Indian leadership and officials because they are also going along with the market economy and global capital investment in Indian resources.

But, never the less, isn’t it a good thing, given the problems in the education system, to give even a little assistance?

But you must consider the financial context in which it is being given. In 1991, when our government announced its new economic policy and decided to open the doors of its economy to the whole world, it asked for more loans and grants from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They placed their conditions. This was called a structural adjustment programme. One of the conditions under this programme was to reduce expenditure on the social sector; education and health and also social welfare. In return for this reduction the government was promised by the World Bank that it would open a programme of social assistance in which some money would be given as loans and grants in compensation for the reduction of resources in this field. And this is precisely what was done from 1991 onwards.

In 1986, when our new policy was approved by the parliament, one of the things that was approved was a commitment to increase expenditure in education at such a pace that it would rise to at least 6% of GDP by 1996. If you look at the graph showing expenditure as a percentage of GDP you will find that after the ‘86 policy, under new democratic pressure, it started rising rapidly (before foreign funding came in). From 1986 to 1990 it rose from about 3.5% to 4.01%. After 1991 it started falling and continued to fall. It went on falling until it again reached the level of 3.5%, the same level that was achieved in 1986.

And all that you hear today about increased funding for school education, one has to analyse it very carefully. It increased in the funding of the central government’s plan. This cannot be matched by state government plans and since the state government provides more than 80% of the funds for education, it means an increase in a fifth of the sector will not be felt in the other four-fifths of the sector.

All in all, we are at 3.5% again of GDP, whereas if we had followed the calculations of the 1986 policy we would have reached 6% in 1996. We rose slightly and again started falling. In the last 20 years there has been a cumulative gap of investment. People do not know or talk about this. Funding agencies probably know but they do not want to talk about it. A cumulative gap has been building up in twenty years that means there are [fewer] schools than we need, [fewer] classrooms, [fewer] laboratories and teaching aids, [fewer] new teachers, [fewer] teacher training institutions, less of everything we need for the improvement of quality. The cumulative gap translated into resources and infrastructure has been growing.

So, today even if we somehow rise from 3.5% of GDP to 6%, which is highly unlikely, that is not going to be enough. We have to first fill up the cumulative gap and provide all the things which should have been provided in the last 20 years, and then make it 6% of GDP – and that’s a basic maintenance level. And, we are nowhere even planning to do that.

So, whether it’s the DFID, Canadian aid, US aid, Swiss aid, Australian aid, a UN agency or the World Bank, they all have a common framework which has emerged out of the Jomtien Declaration of 1990 and now the Millennium Development Goals. The DFID doesn’t have any other policy but to fall within this framework. It is not asking the right questions.

You can try and pose these questions but they will immediately evade them. They have decided that free education of equitable quality is not their goal. It was the goal of Dr Ambedkar in our constitution, but it is not the goal that the DFID will support. And they have partners in the government – in the planning commission, in the central government, in the civil service and the political leadership.

And today, no political party is interested in these issues. The idea of the fundamental right to education is neither important to the leadership of our various political parties, nor is it important to funding agencies like the DFID.

See, education is about the mind. It’s about values. It’s about our attitudes to society and to fellow beings. This is probably the most critical sector because by changing our minds and our value system and our attitudes, we change our vision of future India. Would you allow such a critical area of your country to be affected by another country? You wouldn’t. You’ll hold onto British values and the British vision of education strongly. Of course you should! And if anything else is happening in other countries you’ll learn, but that will be your choice, to learn from other countries.

Please allow us to build our own vision of education and don’t try to manipulate our minds and our values and our attitudes as per your market paradigm or any other paradigm. We’ll do our own homework properly. If we can fight our battle to save the Narmada valley from big dams, if we can fight battles to save our cultivable, fertile lands from special economic zones, we can also fight our battles to save our schools from both Indian private capital and foreign private capital and base them on the Indian constitution. We can do this. We were already in the process when this minuscule of foreign funding entered India.

But the DFID makes much of its partnership with the Government of India and is keen to stress everything it does is in tandem with it. It claims that its legitimacy to work in India comes from the fact that it works with the government and is therefore part of the democratic system.

And if the government is not extending the universal right to education, and education of equitable quality, to all children, still the DFID will support the government? If that is the way that the DFID is going to work out its role, we don’t need the DFID. In any case their contribution is such a miniscule contribution. Even if they pull out entirely it will make no difference to us. We have enough money in this country, to do the wrong thing or the right things. Either way we’ve got enough money. If the entire external assistance pulls out, it will mean maybe 0.2% of the entire funding being reduced. What difference does it make? It makes no difference to us.

But it makes a difference to the funding agencies. By having this access to these various programmes, they can sit in the decision making fora. They can make sure that merely literacy and skills development remains the objective of India’s education system. If any political leader or any education planner wishes to shift from these goals, they’ll face a foreign representative telling them not to do this.

And they have very intelligent arguments. I have faced these people. They say let’s at least get the literacy first, we’ll get the rest later. Let’s at least get five years of primary education, we’ll get the rest later. For the last fifteen years I have been hearing agencies telling us this!

So, one expects [that] an agency like the DFID, as it comes from Britain, has benefited from the great liberal tradition of Britain, from which we have also learnt. If it has emerged from the British liberal tradition, why is it supporting an inferior quality education programme? Why is it supporting a multi-layered school education programme? Why is it not telling our government, go back to your constitution and follow it?

Because the DFID is part of the global market system. Its objective is not education. Its objective is to develop the global market. And for the global market you require private capital in school education and private control of school education. The DFID is there to ensure that all this happens.

I think the public in Britain, the ordinary people of Britain, should ask their government, “Why are you funding such a low quality programme in India out of the public exchequer?” And to an extent which is such a miniscule proportion of the total spending, ridiculously miniscule, that even if the DFID is not there, India has got enough resources to continue. I’ve always argued, getting some small succour from an alien source like this weakens the political resolve of the country.

I’ll make an appeal to the British public, by asking a question: would you allow this to be done in your country by the Indian Government? If your answer is no then please use all your resources and all your liberal political traditions to build public pressure on your government to stop DFID, and through the British Government to persuade the US Government, to get out of India from the education sector. Leave us to fight our own battles.

We know how to run Indian democracy. We also have people who have studied education as a serious discipline. We have also learned from Ivan Ilych and from several liberal innovative schools of Britain, and we keep reading those books for our inspiration. We have also learned from Gandhi, from Rabindranath Tagore. We know what good education means. We know that.

Please let us fight our own battles in our own country in our own way. That is my appeal to the British public.
* Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, New Delhi (2001-06); Member, National Commission on Teachers (1983-84); Member, National Policy on Education-1986 Review Committee (1990); Member, Central Advisory Board of Education (2004-06); Member, National Steering Committee of National Curriculum Framework-2005 (2004-05); Chairperson, National Focus Group on ‘Work and Education’, NCERT (2004-05); Member, Common School System Commission, Bihar (2006-07)

** As of 2008


Dr Niranjan Aradhya is Programme Head of the Centre for Child and the Law at the National Law School of India. Here, he talks to Richard Whittell about his research on the progress of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.RW: The Department for International Development says the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has been a success and is making great strides in getting all children into school. What has your research shown?

NA: The first goal of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was to bring all children back into school by the end of 2003. But, if you take Karnataka as an example, even today they are conducting a child census to identify how many children are outside the school. According to their official figures, there are about 70,000 children who are outside the school, but this is only an official figure, whereas the non-governmental organisations, or the people who are working in the field, estimate that a minimum of 800,000 children are outside school, and that is in one state alone. India has twenty-five states so one can easily imagine the number.

If you compare what is happening at the practical level and what the reports say, you will find there is a big gap. We should not get carried away by all these figures on enrolment and all.

Take for example my own panchayat (administrative area). We have our own extension project through the Centre for Child and the Law, where we directly work with people.

There are 26 habitations, in which there are 15 schools. Out of these 15 schools, 11 are lower primary, that is from Class 1 to Class 4, and the remaining four are higher primary schools. When the state conducted the child census to identify the children outside school, it said there were only four children. But when we did the survey, we found nearly 32 children who were out of school. So, look at the gap: four vs thirty-two!

This is a very clear case from my own panchayat. There are about 5,675 such panchayats and if this is the difference one can easily imagine what the number of children who are outside school will be.

But this is not really a numbers game. What is really worrying is that there is absolutely no political will, there is no whole-hearted vision to bring all children back to school. But when you look at the reports – probably the reports sent to all your agencies – they say all children in India are going back to school. It’s a myth, it’s a lie.

What kind of education has the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan provided for the children who are going to school?

When we conducted this survey we asked if the children would be willing to go back. Every child and every parent said they would be willing to send back their children if the government ensured quality education for them. So, I think probably the demand part, the aspiration part – the aspirations of both parents and children for quality education – is very much there. There is no truth when people say, “Oh, they are not sending their children because they are not interested.” This is an utter lie. There is a demand. But our schools should function. What we need is a functional school, where it can at least ensure quality education to all children.

The second goal of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was to provide quality education, but if you look at the performance of children and the kind of quality that is being imparted in schools, it is in no way very positive. The parents who are sending their children to school are not very happy about the kind of education that is being given. There are many reasons: attitude, infrastructure, teacher performance, for example.

If you look at the government school teachers recruited, at least in my state Karnataka, they are highly meritorious. People with high grades are recruited as government school teachers. But, if you look at the quality of education there is a mismatch. I think what we need to understand is that we must re-assert our faith in the teachers. Teachers should be empowered, they should be given autonomy. And each school should be given autonomy. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is creating more and more structures, more and more monitoring and supervision. It’s like we had in the British Raj, a kind of Inspector Raj. Always authoritarian, suspicious and with no faith; I don’t think these kinds of mechanisms will work.

We need to believe in the teacher. But when we talk to teachers, they tell us they are completely burdened with non-teaching work. We are employing teachers for the census or for work at the election. For all kinds of things they are employing teachers, so naturally teachers are not able to spend enough time in the classrooms.

I’ve read the project memorandum that the DFID has prepared for its funding of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It talks about providing “better teachers, more motivated teachers and improved instruction,” (from the DFID Project Memorandum, Support to Government of India for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan II, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act).

There are two different things: language and practice. The tendency of these projects now is to co-opt people’s language. But that is only on paper.

What kind of autonomy is given to teachers? I work with teachers everyday and I don’t see it. There is no freedom for a teacher to develop their own syllabus to develop a particular competence. Everything is straight from the textbook, it’s like a bible! You can’t work in that fashion, it kills creativity.

You must give freedom, you must give creativity. You must give guidelines but let the teachers evolve their own content and decide what’s important for their children. And, if you want teachers to work creatively, the teacher training being given has to be superior. Whatever training we give today is of very inferior quality. It’s not advancing creativity and helping people to creatively teach children.

Paulo Freire talks about the banking concept of education – it kills our creativity. Sarva Shiksha Ahiyan’s concept of education is not making people think creatively, it is not developing critical thinking and problem solving; those aspects are not really developed. And when that is the case you are preparing teachers to teach something through rote memorisation.

You must look at education as an overall development. It’s not just a competency product. It’s for the complete personality and at the end of it what we need to create is not just a skilled person for the market economy.

I think that is the importance of education, but these larger questions are not even being talked about and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is not at all a solution to them. It is in fact a multi-layered, fragmented programme with no vision. It is not a programme for building a national system of education. It’s not conceived on the principles of social justice and equity.

What do you mean by multi-layered education?

Creating different layers of schooling means the quality of school a child goes to will be determined by his or her social situation. For example, in many of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan schools, from Class 1-5 there are only two teachers. Two teachers have to teach around 17 subjects. How can two teachers teach 17 subjects to 5 classes?

Let me give you another example. The education guarantee scheme is a scheme under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan that provides access to school education in an ‘alternative’ approach to education. It says when there are more than ten children in an area you should give them a centre called an ‘education guarantee centre’. But they haven’t bothered to make sure there is a trained teacher there. More and more poorly paid and poorly trained para-teachers (see the interview with Abani Baral, below) are recruited; a local person who has not completed any teacher training is appointed as the teacher. So, how can you expect them to teach and give quality education? The teachers who have done all the training programmes are struggling to impart quality education, so how can we expect the para-teachers to give education of equal quality?

So this is a multi-layered structure: this kind of education for poor people and another for the rich. I don’t think we can imagine that the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is going to improve quality or produce a national system based on social justice.

Beyond the numbers of children enrolled and teachers recruited, the other statistic that is highlighted in DFID publicity for British aid for education is the number of classrooms built and improvements in infrastructure. Is this the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’s main positive contribution?

If you look at the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan reports, it says it has improved many things and a lot of infrastructure has been built. But what is lacking is vision. For example, a particular school is built for 30 children in an area, but they are only thinking of these 30 children. They are not thinking of the extra children that may come next year, so what they construct is inadequate. So they have to build another room 1km away from the school!

But you can see some good, white-washed buildings. It’s like before you get married; you put whitewash on the house to make it look nice. But if you look at the overall performance of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan it is very much confined to a superficial level. It is more about building rooms and classrooms and toilets, and things like that. No doubt that is very important, but again, there is no vision in the entire process. Take for example my own panchayat, where I can give some authentic information. Out of these fifteen schools, none of them have very functional toilets. I want to differentiate between showing a toilet on the paper and that toilet being functional. Many children are not able to use these toilets. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is giving Rs10,000 for toilet construction, but they cannot provide water so after two months the toilet is useless and the children cannot use it. They think the toilet they have constructed is functional, but after inauguration, after a week there is no water. At least provide water!

If you look at the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan from this angle I don’t think it has really done anything for quality education. Even today quality is a very big challenge in government schools and if you look at the overall performance of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, both in terms of its mission and in terms of its progress, I personally feel it’s been a colossal failure, in the sense that it has failed to achieve not only the targets, but also to bring a visible change in the school education system.

What do you think should have been done?

One suggestion is that the entire responsibility for reviewing and monitoring should be given to the community, especially parents who are sending their children back to school.

When the District Primary Education Programme was established, there were these education committees, but most of the people on them were not people who were sending their children to government schools. Most were the heads of the village, or something like that. More democratic institutions are very much necessary both in terms of monitoring and making the government school function.

But above that, where are we going? I think now is the time to think about a common school system, which can ensure quality education, that can ensure social justice and can at least ensure comparable quality for all children. I think we should be moving towards that and towards neighbourhood schools, to see that all children can get the same quality of education. It should not be a multi-layered system. I think that’s the only way we can move forward.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is not even an inch towards this. It’s a project as part of a ‘projectised’ approach, which is not going to help us. We need a long term policy and to implement that we need a time-bound programme. And then gradually we should move towards an education system based on social justice and equity.

My research has suggested that instead of having too many schools in one place, all of different qualities, why not have a neighbourhood school? Take a geographical classification and have a well-equipped school in it, so all children can go to that school. Have one teacher for every class, one teacher for every subject.

Look at the UK, the US or the Scandanavian countries. In these countries even today the public education is very strong, though even they may be under threat. If it is possible in all these countries, why is it not possible for India?

We need a common school system very much. With the culture, religion and language in India, we need a common education system. There should be an agenda to make the public education system in favour of Indian children; to provide equitable quality for all children so it can move towards a system based on social justice and equality. Unless we make those drastic changes we’re not going to get anywhere.

And as part of this, unless we increase the internal allocation of funding for school education we are not going to get anywhere. The recommendation was for a minimum of 6% of GDP to go to education! If this had been followed it would have been a minimum of 10% by now but even now we can’t make 6%. This leads to more dependence on the external agencies and that in itself is destructive to education, in the sense that there is no political will or plan to build a national system of school education. But whether the money is from the DFID or the European Commission or whoever, this should only be an addition to the Indian funds, not a substitute for them.

Compare education funding with defence funding. Defence is the top thing while education is very low. In the last ten years, funding has again been decreasing and whatever funds we get substitute state funding rather than add to it; and I think that is a very dangerous trend.

But private education is becoming more and more popular now?

You are correct when you say there is increasing private influence in school education. This is true of everything, water, health, and so on now, although 86% of people are still getting primary education through the publicly funded system.

I agree, there are problems, but the solution isn’t more private schools. Privatisation is not going to address the dysfunctional government schools. Forget about poor people; not even the middle class want to send their children to private school, even the many low-fee charging ones that exist now. But why are they sending them? They are not getting anything out of the government schools: government schools are not able to live up to the expectations of people.

The question is how can we make government schools more functional and how can we promote quality. I went to a government school from the 1st Standard to the 10th Standard and I studied in a government college. Even now in many cases, government schools are far superior to private schools because you have wonderful land and meritorious teachers, but this is not the norm. Once you give at least some confidence to the parents, you change the entire dynamics.

Overall the rank and file of the education department should speak out to say that we are committed to providing education of equitable quality and we are prepared to dedicate our lives to that. I think that should be the new mission. That kind of approach is very important.

The DFID has funded the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan with British aid money. What do you say to people who are being told that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is a successful project?

Whatever money that comes as solidarity, that’s welcome, but funding agencies like the DFID should support the national system of education. People should not support a government completely going against the people. In that sense, the people who are contributing, while we sincerely acknowledge their help, must be very cautious.

If their aid is supporting the government to dismantle the education system, they must be conscious of that. Where there is support for the larger interests of children, that’s a very welcome thing but education cannot be seen as a charity. It is a fundamental right and the responsibility is on the state. If you think of it as charity, it’s not very positive.

There should be a mechanism so that before funding the government project they should act with civil society organisations in India and visit here. At the end of it whatever money is going to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan should reach the children. This should be the minimum criterion.
UK aid contributions are a tiny percentage of the total spending on education. Does Indian education need UK help?

When it comes to solidarity, the national system of education is a huge task.

Wherever the money comes in from, there should be no conditions on it and there must be a social auditing of it. People must have clear information on how it is being spent and what the results are. So I think we need a system which puts in place social auditing where people can make an audit of the entire expenditure, which particularly involves the parents.

In Karnataka, we have a monitoring committee which is a unique committee made by the state. These committees have the responsibility for the overall monitoring and development of the school. These committees should be further empowered to have a social auditing function. Many times at the central government level, they are not even telling people where they are getting the money.

The fundamental question is why do we have to depend on external funding to give education to our own children? I have been re-iterating that the bulk should come from this country. I think we have to reprioritise our finances and reprioritise our budget so the bulk of it goes to the education of the children for national development.


Abani Baral is a retired teacher and the secretary general of the All Orissa Federation of Teachers. Richard Whittell spoke to him in the Federation’s office in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, about the education reforms that have been funded by UK aid in the north-eastern state of Orissa.


RW: As well as working with the national government in India, the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) also works with the governments of five ‘focus’ states: Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa and now Bihar. It has been active in Orissa for more than a decade now and has put more than £100 million into programmes and projects in a wide range of sectors including education, noting that“ Orissa has the highest overall poverty ratio of any major Indian State, with almost half of the population living below the Government of India poverty line, and with literacy levels below the national average.”


What has the effect of these reforms been on education in Orissa?

AB: In 2000, the DFID and the World Bank entered Orissa in earnest, in the name of a fiscal relief and structural adjustment programme. The conditions to which the government had to agree to receive their money were set out in an aide memoire they signed with the Government in May 2000. I’ll read it to you:

“The purpose of the mission was to resume discussions with the Government of Orissa about a potential adjustment loan from the World Bank, with possible DFID co-financing, in support of a programme of fiscal adjustment and major structural reform in Orissa.

“The main conclusion of the mission is that the severe fiscal crisis facing the Government of Orissa provides an opportunit