The decades of the fifties and sixties were the period of an unshaken optim-
ism shared by the developing nations of the world in the efficacy of education in
promoting development. Symbolising this belief was the opening statement of the
1964-66 Indian Education Commission Report which dramatically observed that
"The destiny of India is now being shaped in her classrooms".1 As the evidence
keeps pouring in of just what the formal education is doing and who they are
benefiting, such optimism is no longer warranted.
While this blind faith in the contribution of education to the nation and the
people as a whole has been shaken, few would hold the position that education
has not contributed to development. Though some may agree with Ivan Illich's
critique that the formal educational system has not promoted 'real' development
and in fact is responsible for many of the ills of contemporary society, few would
see the solution in his prescription that the nations of the world must abolish
schooling and spin educational webs. The fact that no country has yet launched
on such a radical programme reflects, in part, the belief that the formal educa-
tional system does have a role in promoting development. Such a view cuts across
national boundaries and ideologies. For instance, after a period of relative neglect,
China had made special efforts to revitalise its formal educational system as an
integral part of its overall modernisation agenda.
The argument no longer is whether education can or does promote develop-
ment. It does. The debate has shifted to the related issues of what is meant by
development and whose development is being promoted. As John Simmons has
Education can promote development, but it depends on how development
is defined. If it is seen as mainly economic growth, which tends to benefit
upper-income groups, then schooling has contributed to it by widening the
skills and raising the productivity of future workers. If development is defin-
ed as mainly improving the standard of living of the poorest 40 per cent of
the population, most of whom are mere illiterates or primary school drop-
outs, then presumably formal schooling has not done much for them. In
fact, the data shows that investment in education widens the gap between
rich and poor in most countries.2
In India, over the last decade similar perspectives were being increasingly
articulated. On the one hand, it was acknowledged that the formal system of
education had to its credit some impressive achievements:

"As a result of the system of education that we have developed during the
last 10 years, we have now more than 120 universities (or similar institu-
tions), 4500 affiliated colleges, 40,000 secondary schools and 6,00,000 elemen-
tary schools, 3.5 million teachers, 100 million students and an annual ex-
penditure of Rs. 25,000 million, which is next only to that on defence. It
has given us a high level trained manpower whose size is the largest in the
world and the top-levels of which are comparable to those of leading coun-
tries in the world. It is this manpower which now provides the key-personnel
in all walks of our national life, and also enables us to help several develop-
ing countries.3
The same official document — the University Grants Commission's Development
of Higher Education in India: A Policy Frame — has gone on to observe:
"Even in quantitative terms, it is mainly the upper and middle class that are
the beneficiaries of this system. Sixty per cent of the population (age 10 and
over) which is still illiterate, has obviously received none of its benefits
70 per cent of the seats in secondary schools and 80 per cent of the seats in
higher education are taken by the top 30 per cent of income groups."1
The above phenomenon illustrates the familiar phenomenon that the main
beneficiaries of growth in post-independence India have been the upper and mid-
dle classes. It is now obvious that merely expanding the formal educational sys-
tem does little for the welfare of the approximately 50 per cent of the population
who live below the poverty line. Radical changes in the educational system are
required if it is expected to contribute to the development of the impoverished
half of our nation. But while such calls for transformation are as perennial as the
rains, a certain shift in our educational priorities concretely reflected in program-
mes that have been implemented has taken place which give grounds for some
hope for at least limited improvement.
One indication of this shift is the renewed national commitment to universa-
lise elementary education and the special efforts to spread adult education. These
programmes indicate that if education is expected to contribute to improving the
quality of life of the masses, one cannot depend on the formal educational system
alone to deliver the goods. A frontal attack on the problem is necessary using
both formal and non-formal channels. In the Sixth Five Year Plan, 1978-83, both
elementary education and adult education have been viewed as essential services
for the impoverished sectors of the population and included in the Minimum
Needs Programme.
This article delineates the attempt in post-independence India to provide a
minimum basic education for its citizens. The attempt in India initially took the
form of a major government programme to provide elementary schooling facili-
ties. For a variety of factors which are discussed in the article elementary educa-
tion failed to meet the nation's objectives of providing a basic minimum educa-
tion for its future citizens. A major component of the new strategy is to include
adult education as part of the national effort to provide mass education. The

article traces the evolution of this development and outlines the new strategy to
promote a genuine mass system of education.
Mass Elementary Education in India
One of the perceived imperatives of nation-building in the modern world
has been a commitment to mass elementary education. The ideology of universal
elementary education has come to stay. At various stages of their development
during the last two centuries nations have enjoined on themselves the task of
providing universal elementary education for their future citizens. This has gene-
rally taken the form of legal provisions stipulating a minimum number of years
of compulsory attendance in schools. The period of compulsory schooling and
the extent to which compulsion has been enforced has varied. Developed nations
have, as a result of various factors, stipulated longer periods of compulsion, in-
cluding secondary education, than developing countries. What is more important
is that the former have been more successful in enforcing universal compulsory
schooling laws than the latter.
As has been the international experience, India too has accepted the ideo-
logy of universal elementary education. It has been almost three decades since
this ideology was conferred legitimacy by the Constitution. Article 45 of the
Directive Principles in the constitution states that:
The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the
commencement of this constitution for free and compulsory education for all
children until they complete the age of fourteen years.
Evolution of the Ideology of Universal Elementary Education
Prior to the establishment of colonial rule, there was a fairly large network
of indigenous schools in India. These however progressively deteriorated in the
face of competition from the primary schools established in the nineteenth century
under British administration, and lack of government patronage. The progress of
mass primary education during this phase of colonial rule was limited. A variety
of factors contributed to this including the general poverty of the nation, the lack
of interest in promoting mass primary education, limited finances and the neglect
of indigenous schools.
Proposals to introduce compulsory education in the nineteenth century were
turned down by the colonial authorities as being premature, Utopian and too
costly. The fact that, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, England and
various other countries had introduced compulsory educational measures influenc-
ed Indian nationalist opinion to agitate for similar measures. Amongst its earliest
and staunchest advocates was Gokhale, who with other leaders like Vithalbhai
Patel and the Maharaja Sayajirao of Baroda, moulded both public and govern-
ment opinion. Moved by Vithalbhai Patel, the first successful bill on compulsory
education came into law in 1918. Various states followed suit and introduced
compulsory primary education laws. Article 45 of the Directive Principles of the

Indian Constitution was the culmination of this earlier struggle, and reflected
the acceptances in principle on the part of the new Indian state to ensure a mini-
mum education for all its future citizens.
This legal provision for compulsory elementary education does not mention
either the lower-age limit or the duration of schooling. In the evolution of the
ideology of universal elementary education in pre-independence the age-group
6-14 years came to be identified as the period of compulsory elementary schooling.
Though never explicitly stated in the Constitution, eight years of free and full-time
compulsory education for all the children of the age-group 6-14 years was the
task set before the nation to complete by 1960.
It should be noted that the early pioneers like Gokhale and Vithalbhai Patel
had argued for the introduction of compulsory and universal primary education.5
This primary stage of instruction varied from four to five years beginning nor-
mally with six years as the lower age limit. The longer period of universal ele-
mentary education — eight years of full-time education for the age-group 6-14
years — was accepted later in the forties since it was perceived as necessary to
meet the economic, socio-political and pedagogical objectives of the Gandhian
Scheme of Basic education. As argued by the Zakir Husain Committee, it was
explained as follows:
Moreover we have chosen the 7-14 age-range because we consider it absolu-
tely essential to keep the child at school until he is fourteen, in order to
ensure that he will receive the essential modicum of social and civic training —
which for psychological reasons is not possible earlier — in order to become
a better citizen, that his literacy training will be thorough enough to make
any lapse into illiteracy impossible, and he will acquire sufficient skill in
his basic craft to practise it successfully if he adopts it as his vocation.6
The first Indian plan of educational development — the Report of Post-War
Educational Development in India — popularly known as the Sargent Report —
published in 1944 endorsed the scheme of Basic education and raised the number
of years of full-time and free compulsory schooling to eight years for the age-
group 6-14 years.7 This formed the essential feature of postindependence ele-
mentary educational policy which taking its cues from the Constitution expected
that this task would be completed by 1960.
It should be noted that the goal of eight years of Basic education was far
more ambitious and radically different from its colonial counterpart. Elementary
education for the first time was attempted to be pressed directly into the service
and development of the nation. In Gandhiji's view, Basic education was the
spearhead of a silent social revolution. By providing for an ambitious curriculum
which correlated craftwork, academic subjects and community activities, it ex-
pected to effect not mere incremental change but a radical transformation at the
individual and societal level. This was a far cry from the goals of the traditional
model which were more modest and which by and large was confined to an ele-
mentary knowledge of the 3R's.

Universal Elementary Education Progress and Problems
By 1960 when all children in the age group 6-14 years were expected to be
enrolled in schools, the nation was far from accomplishing this task. Target
dates for universalising elementary education have since then been constantly
revised. There has recently been a general consensus revealed in both official and
quasi-official documents that it can and should be achieved by the end of this
While on the quantitative front progress has been discouraging, the situation
as far as the qualitative aspects was no less disappointing. It had been expected
that by 1960 all elementary age children would be studying in Basic schools. By
1960, the vast majority of students and schools were still following the traditional
pattern. The schools which were started or converted to the Basic Pattern were
offering an education which was generally not very different in quality from the
traditional pattern.8 This phase of Basic education was brought to a close by the
1964-66 Education Commission which pronounced its epitaph — "No single stage
of education need be designated as Basic education".9 It however heralded in its
new reincarnation work-experience which incorporated and updated the funda-
mental principles of Basic education. It was replaced with Socially Useful Pro-
ductive Work which is expected to be more in consonance with the fundamental
tenets and goals of Basic education, and is its most recent reincarnation.
Why has India not been able to universalise elementary education even two
decades after the year it was expected to accomplish this task? What has been
the achievements of elementary education in the last three decades of indepen-
dence? An answer to these and other issues related to the progress and pros-
pects of elementary education will be attempted.
Provision of Elementary School Facilities
One of the impressive achievements of elementary education has been the
provision of school facilities. By 1974, the Third All India Educational Survey
revealed that almost 93 per cent of the rural population was served by a primary
section or school within their habitation or within a walking distance of 1.5 kilo-
metres.10 Middle schools or sections served 86.91 per cent of the rural popula-
tion either within their habitations or upto a distance of 5 kilometres walking
distance from their residence.11 According to the Third All India Educational
Survey, the total number of recognised primary and middle sections in India were
5,30,867 and 1,19,798 respectively.12
Despite the tremendous effort to establish schooling facilities, even the ne-
cessary but not sufficient condition to universalise elementary education — the
provision of an elementary school within easy reach of children — has not been
fulfilled. There are many rural habitations which do not have easy access to either
a primary or middle school. Almost 20 per cent or about 1.9 lakhs of the rural
habitations in the country in 1974 did not have a primary section within 1.5 kilo-
metres walking distance.13 The corresponding figures for habitations which do
not have a middle school within five kilometres is almost the same."

There are considerable inter-state disparities in the lack of provision of faci-
lities. In Himachal Pradesh, over 45 per cent of the rural habitations in which
about 21 per cent of the population reside did not have a primary school within
1.5 kilometres walking distance in 1974. In Haryana, on the other hand, only
one per cent of the rural population did not have such provision.15 Similarly,
about 40 per cent of the villages in Madhya Pradesh in which about 28 per cent
of the rural population reside did not have access to middle school facilities
within a walking distance of 5 kilometres. The corresponding figures for Kerala
were about 6 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.16
One cannot conceive of universalising elementary education unless children
have easy access to schools. There are no easy solutions to this problem in a
country where there are many competing demands on the nation's scarce resour-
ces, and the funds devoted to education are limited. The problem also is further
complicated by the fact that provision of facilities to those habitations which
do not have them will not appreciably increase enrolment. More than 99 per cent
of the approximately 2 lakh habitations which do not have a primary school
within walking distance of 1.5 kilometres has a population of 500 or less.17 The
corresponding figure for similar small sized rural habitations which do not have
a middle school within walking distance of 5 kilometres is approximately 83 per
Between 1950-51 and 1975-76, the increase in the number of children en-
rolled has been considerable. In 1950-51, the number of children enrolled in Stds.
I-VIII was about 223 lakhs while the enrolment in 1975-76 was 817 lakhs. While
the enrolment has more than tripled, in 1975-76 the proportion of children in the
age group 6-14 years in Stds. I-VIII to the total child population in India of the
same age-group was only 54-7 per cent.* The breakdown for Stds. I-V for the
age-group 6-11 years was 62.6 per cent and for the age-group 11-14 years in
Stds. VI-VIII was 21.7 per cent.19
Though almost half the students in the age-group 6-14 years are not enrolled
in school, policies to universalise elementary education to be effective have to be
aimed at specific groups and certain regions of the country. At an all-India level,
the enrolment is lower in rural areas than in towns and cities. The Third All-
India Educational Survey enrolment ratio for the age-group 6-11 in Stds. I-V
was 63.2 per cent and the age-group 11-14 in Stds. VI-VIII was 22.1 per cent.
While the corresponding urban enrolment ratios were 70.8 per cent and 43.9 per
cent, the equivalent rural figures were 61.1 per cent and 16.9 per cent.20
The enrolment varies also from state to state, and these disparities can be
considerable. For instance, Bihar enrols only 40.3 per cent of the children in
the age-group 6-11 years in Stds. I-V and 12.4 per cent of the children in the
* This is a slight underestimate of the proportion of children who are enrolled at all levels
of education in the age-group 6-14 years. It pertains only to the elementary stage of
institution and does not take into account the proportionately very small number of
children within this age-group who are in pre-primary standards or in high school.

age-group 11-14 years in Stds. VI-VIII. Kerala, on the other end of the spectrum,
is much closer to the goal of universalising elementary education. The corres-
ponding figures are 95.5 per cent and 68 per cent.21 The 1977 Working Group
on Universalisation of Elementary Education has observed that nearly 74 per
cent of the non-enrolled children are in eight States: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar,
Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West
Enrolment of the Weaker Sections
The groups identified as belonging to the 'weaker' sections of Indian society
include women, scheduled castes and tribes. These groups have been identified in
recent years as requiring special attention in terms of provision of elementary
education. As the following figures reveal, in proportion to their counterparts,
girls, scheduled caste and tribe children are prominent among those who do not
for one reason or the other complete their elementary education.
In terms of their proportion to the total enrolments in Stds. I-V and Stds.
VI-VIII, the third All-India Educational survey reveals that girls only constitute
37.7 per cent and 30.8 per cent respective of the total enrolment.23 Girls are often
either not enrolled or withdrawn from school before completing the primary or
elementary stage of instruction. The 1977 Working Group on Universalisation of
Elementary Education has estimated that about two-thirds of the non-enrolled
children are girls.24
The same is the case with scheduled caste and tribe students. In terms of
their overall numbers in the general population both, especially the latter, are
proportionately under-represented in the children enrolled in school. In Stds. I-V
and Stds. VI-VIII, scheduled caste students constitute 13.2 per cent and 8.8 per
cent of the total enrolment. The corresponding figures for scheduled tribe
students are 5.8 per cent and 3.0 per cent respectively.25
The pattern of enrolment in our elementary schools indicate that the pro-
blem is not of initial enrolment. Since over 90 per cent of the rural population
has access to primary school facilities and periodic mass enrolment drives are
undertaken, most children of the relevant age-group are enrolled in Std. I. The
problem is that due to a variety of factors, many dropout before completing a
few years of instruction. India has not been able to universalise elementary edu-
cation because our elementary schools are unable to return their enrolled students.
The 1977 Working Group on Universalisation of Elementary Education has
delineated the dimensions of this problem:
Another factor which complicates the task and makes it difficult is the large
proportion of dropouts. Out of every 100 children that enter class I, only
about 40 complete class V, and only about 25 complete class VIII. The
high proportion of dropouts has remained almost unchanged during the post-
independence period and the problem has become quite intractable.26
The major factors accounting for this dropout is poverty and the structural

limitations of our schools. Our schools require full-time attendance. Most urban
and rural parents however require their children's services at home or at work
and thus cannot afford to keep their children in school for the entire school day
for eight years of continuous instruction. Girls are often expected to help out in
domestic work. Children also directly or indirectly are expected to supplement
meagre family incomes by working or freeing adults to work. One estimate of
working children is about 70 per cent of the total number of children.27 Conse-
quently, many children are withdrawn in the early years of primary instruction
before attaining an elementary level of literacy.
The fact that, for the poor in our country, schooling is not 'free' — the op-
portunity costs of education-principally accounts for the poor enrolment of the
scheduled castes and tribes. As indicated earlier, they are under-represented in
our elementary schools. These groups have been given considerable special bene-
fits to promote their education: pre-matriculation scholarship, free text-books,
free tuition fees, etc. This has been of considerable help to quite a few young
scheduled caste and tribe students to pursue their education. For the large majo-
rity of them, however, the constraints of poverty have effectively reduced their
ability to use these incentives and complete even elementary education.
While most states have attempted to provide free elementary education, the
direct costs of education are still quite considerable. Though scheduled caste and
tribe students pay little or nothing for their education, this is not the case with
other students. While generally tuition fees are either not charged or are negligi-
ble in most of our elementary schools, parents still in the majority of cases have
to pay for textbooks and uniforms. These act as a disincentive for many poor
parents to continue their children's education.
While economic reasons principally account for poor enrolment, there are
also other factors at work. Poor illiterate parents do not always insist or ensure
that their children attend schools regularly. They also cannot help their children
at home with their school work. Thus many poor children are unable to keep
up with what is taught, fail and drop out of school. Cultural factors are notice-
ably at work in the case of girls whose education is not given the same priority
as boys, and are prematurely withdrawn from school.
Our elementary schools are also responsible for the fact that they are unable
to retain their students. Working on a full-time basis, they are structurally biased
against the majority of our population who at the present stage of development
cannot afford to send their children to full-time schools. Moreover in rural areas,
school holidays do not take into account special periods during the year such
as sowing and harvesting when children's services are especially needed.
While the government has made considerable efforts to provide schools and
teachers to man them, the physical conditions of many of these institutions are
substandard. Only about half of the nation's primary schools are housed in pucka
buildings and as many as 27,707 primary schools have no building at all and
claim to be running "in open space".28 The provision of furniture, equipment,
small libraries, and even blackboards are far from adequate. These conditions
result from an attempt to expand schooling on shrinking budgets. During the last
three decades of independence, the non-teacher expenditures has progressively

shrunk till it now accounts for less than ten per cent of the annual recurring ex-
penditure on elementary education. This has meant that in 1975-76, India was
spending annually only about one rupee per primary school pupil and two rupees
per middle school pupil on equipment and appliances.29
Moreover, even when elementary schools are provided with certain minimum
facilities, there are many institutions where the environment can hardly be said
to be conducive to learning. Authoritarian and unimaginative methods of teaching
dreary and overcrowded classrooms are the rule rather than the exception. Few
schools can really claim to engage the attention and develop the personalities of
their students. There is evidence to indicate that Indian children are not learning
as much as their international counterparts, and that there are serious deficiencies
in their acquisition and application of skills in the 3R's.30
The New Strategy
It has been realised for some time that the post-independence strategy of
providing schooling facilities but only on a full-time basis was proving to be in-
creasingly ineffectual. As the 1977 Working Group on Universalisation of Elemen-
tary Education has observed:
At present our motto is either full-time education or no education at all.
This does not suit the hard realities of life because most children (about 70
per cent of the total) have to work in or outside the family and are therefore,
compelled to dropout on the ground that they cannot attend on a whole-time
basis. They could receive education on a part-time basis, but our system
does not provide such education.31
The major change in post-independence elementary educational policy has
been to acknowledge the deficiencies in the existing formal system of elementary
education, and to recognise the need for complementary structures. What is cur-
rently visualised and being implemented in the last five years in various parts of
the country are non-formal part-time courses of instruction organised around the
convenience and needs of young learners. The Draft Five Year Plan, 1978-83, has
enunciated the new strategy:
The rule will be that every child in the age-group 6-14 shall attend school,
on a full-time basis if possible, and on a part-time basis, if necessary for
those who cannot, mainly for economic reasons, attend full-time education.
This will reduce drop-outs and wastage very greatly.32
Both formal and non-formal channels of education are expected to further the
goal of universalising elementary education. If the latter is provided the necessary
infrastructure and funds, the role of elementary education in the development of
the country will be considerably strengthened.
While these steps are to be welcomed the common problem, that India and
many other developing countries face, is that since most children do not com-

plete elementary education, they assume adult roles without acquiring some of
the basic knowledge considered to be necessary to perform them effectively. In
India, until fairly recently, this type of relevant education for adults has been
neglected. It is increasingly realised that it has been a serious error to depend
almost entirely on the formal elementary educational system, and extensive efforts
are now being made to implement adult education programme throughout the
Adult Education
Adult education, understood as imparting certain basic knowledge, is an im-
portant educational process. It is assumed that with this basic knowledge imparted
through adult education an individual is enabled to lead a better human life —
to be more efficient in his economic pursuits, more successful in his social rela-
tionships, and better equipped to exercise his rights and perform his duties.
Adult education is education of adults. But it is not the mere age of the lear-
ner that characterises adult education. If one goes by simple age of the learners,
generally those in higher (university) education are adults. But university educa-
tion is not adult education; nor are the learners in university education considered
adult learners. A learner in adult education, as we understand here, is an adult
(as different from child) who, having missed the education which he should have
had as a child, is placed in a situation of disadvantage as a result of it. Basically,
therefore, an adult learner is a person who is seeking to acquire certain basic
knowledge in order to overcome this disadvantage. Thus, some of the essential
contents of adult education are the same as those of elementary education for
Adult education is different from what is called incidental education, which
is the life-long learning process undergone by both adults and children. As against
incidental education, adult education is a teaching-learning process that has cer-
tain formally defined structure. At the same time it is education outside the for-
mal school system. It is not incidental in so far as it has certain formally defined
structures regarding teacher, contents and method of teaching. It is non-formal
or outside the formal system, in the sense that its 'form' or structure regarding
teacher, method, and contents is different from that of education in the school
As a non-formal educational programme adult education deviates from
elementary school education in its definition of the method of imparting know-
ledge — its timing, duration and pedagogy. Adult education attempts to suit edu-
cation to the needs and convenience of the adults. Hence the timing and duration
of the programme are to be determined by the local needs. Thus, adult education
programmes are generally held at night for men and in the afternoon for women.
Care is taken to see that the educational programme does not collide with the
economic pursuits and household responsibilities of the adults. Similarly, as far
as the teacher is concerned it is not the educational qualification (as emphasized
in the formal system) that is critical in adult education, but the competence and
commitment of the person to function as a teacher of adults. He may or may

not be a degree holder. But he should be interested in adult teaching and capable
of imparting the knowledge the illiterate and uneducated adults are in need of.
Although much of the basic contents of adult education are those of elemen-
tary education for children, their elaborations differ. In elementary education for
children the focus is on inculcation of literacy, although preparation for assuming
adult roles in the future is not excluded. In the case of adult education traditional
literacy continues to be an objective. At the same time the focus is on enabling
the adult to perform his adult roles better. That is why the adult education is
often called functional education.
Historical Perspective
Adult education in India is not entirely a recent programme. Even during the
British rule there were adult education programmes. Night schools were available
for illiterate adults in the British presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Bengal.
Adult education classes were in operation in some of the princely states too.
After independence, together with the efforts for national development, adult
education programmes too were initiated. Social education for educating the illi-
terate adults was started* as the educational counterpart of community develop-
ment programmes and land reforms. Government and various voluntary agencies
with and without financial assistance from the government took up the massive
task of adult education. Among the voluntary efforts mention may be made of
the Literacy House, Lucknow, founded by Dr. (Mrs.) Welthy Fisher in 1953 to
initiate action-oriented programmes of adult education. Farmers' Functional Lite-
racy Programme, started in 1967-68, was a significant innovation in adult educa-
tion on the part of the government. The objective of this programme was to help
the illiterate farmers not only to acquire literacy but also to increase their pro-
ductive potential in agriculture. This was an adult education programme for the
rural areas. It had its counterpart in the urban areas, called Polyvalent Adult
Education Centres. These centres were vocation-cum-general education program-
mes for urban workers with the objective of increasing their educational standards
and productivity. Both the programmes had their focus on economic efficiency
of the individual.
In 1975-76 another major adult education programme was launched by the
government for the illiterates of the 15-25 years age group under the name of
"Non-Formal Education". In contrast with the Farmers' Functional Literacy
Programme and the Polyvalent Adult Education Centres, programmes under
Non-formal Education were mostly confined to routine literacy. They also suffer-
ed from inadequate funds and poor supervision.
The above programmes had very little impact on adult illiteracy in India. In
fact, during the first five Five Year Plans no serious effort was made for adult
education. It was believed that universal elementary education of children in the
age-group of 6-14 years would in course of time wipe out illiteracy in India. But
failure to enrol many of the children in schools and large scale drop-out among
those enrolled have frustrated the hope placed in elementary education. Thus a
vigorous movement for mass education of adults was launched on October 2,

1978 under the name of National Adult Education Programme (NAEP).
The NAEP has set the target of educating 65 million illiterates in the age
group of 15-35 years within five years. It has been planned and launched as a
developmental programme at the national level. The immediate function of the
NAEP is to educate adults. But its ultimate function is the transformation of the
individual and societal change. The Government "Outline" visualizes the NAEP
"as a means to bring about a fundamental change in the process of socio-economic
development; from a situation in which the poor remain passive spectators at the
fringe of the development activity to being enabled to be at its centre, and as
active participants". As far as the individual is concerned, the NAEP is designed
to raise one's social status, increase one's productive potentiality, enhance one's
self-knowledge, and thus enable one to lead a better human life. A total trans-
formation of the individual is envisaged through the NAEP. It is intended to
uplift the illiterate adult. As far as the society is concerned, the NAEP is designed
to bring about a radical change within the society by uplifting the weakest, poorest
and lowliest sections of the society.
Contents of Adult Education in India
Historically, the focus of adult education in India has been gradually changing.
In the beginning adult education was aimed at inculcating traditional literacy;
later on in the sixties and the seventies it was thought that adult education should
improve the productive potential of the individual. In the latest adult education
programme in India a third dimension has been added — enhancing the adult's
self-awareness and his knowledge about his social environment. Adult education
today, therefore, is conceived not as a routine educational programme for making
the illiterate adults literate, but as an educational process that is meant to trans-
form the individual. Thus the recently introduced NAEP in India mentions func-
tionality and social awareness as the two foci of adult education in addition to
literacy. It is clearly stated in the Government "Outline" on the NAEP that the
"learning process involves emphasis on literacy, but not that only; it also stresses
the importance of functional upgradation and of raising the level of awareness
regarding their predicament among the poor and the illiterate".
There is no ambiguity or confusion regarding what constitutes traditional lite-
racy. It consists of the skills of the three R's — reading, writing and arithmetic.
This is the aspect of adult education that brings it closest to elementary educa-
tion of children. It is accepted that every adult today should possess the skills of
literacy. It is also accepted that an adult today requires, besides literacy. know-
ledge which he is not likely to acquire through simply living in the society (or
through incidental education). Functionality and social awareness, as enunciated
in the NAEP, represent this area of knowledge.
There has not been clear-cut definition of functionality and social awareness.
At times no distinction is made between the two. Both functionality and social
awareness are concerned with knowledge necessary to live successfully in one's
socio-economic environment. Those who conceptually make the distinction bet-
ween functionality and social awareness, understand by the former, knowledge

concerned with the economic environment, which directly goes to make a man
functional in his economic pursuits. For example: a farmer is equipped to be
more productive in farming, a low income man is made aware of the facilities
available to his from the banks, co-operatives and such institutions, an uneducat-
ed person is made aware of the benefits of saving and given the knowledge of
where and how he can save, an unemployed person is taught for self-employment,
etc. Social awareness is directly concerned with the social environment. It consti-
tutes knowledge regarding one's rights and duties, and knowledge about one's
own community — customs, practices, values, and ideologies. For example, the
adult is taught the evils of superstition, alcoholism, exploitation of the poor and
the weak, injustice, and discrimination against the lowly on the one hand, and
the values of rationality, integrity, justice and equality on the other. Social
awareness, thus, is to make the individual so exposed to the social environment
as to enable him to critically understand it and act accordingly.
The NAEP is accepted as the major adult education endeavour in India
today. The nation relies very much on the NAEP for the eradication of illiteracy
in India. The programme has been in operation for about three years. Reports
from the States say that thousands of adult education centres have been started
by various government and non-government agencies. Evaluation studies of the
NAEP conducted in some of the States in India show that the programme has
concentrated on literacy and has generally neglected the other two contents, viz.
functionality and social awareness. Concentration on literacy has been at times
the result of the assumption that, unlike functionality and social awareness, lite-
racy can be acquired only through direct teaching. At other times non-availability
of competent persons has been the reason for the neglect of functionality and
social awareness. Pre-occupation with literacy is likely to weaken the focus of
the NAEP as a movement for individual and societal transformation.
The special target groups identified in the NAEP are women and scheduled
castes/scheduled tribes. Going by the evaluation studies one can say that, while
the NAEP has been fairly successful in the enrolment of the scheduled castes and
scheduled tribes, it is yet to make the effort to mobilise women for the programme.
As the number of illiterates in India is much larger among women than among
men, the NAEP cannot claim success, unless significantly larger number of wo-
men are covered under the programme and educated.
Another significant observation made by the evaluation studies is that the
NAEP is getting increasingly bureaucratized and thereby the initial enthusiasm
and interest of the people in it are gradually fading away. Efforts must, therefore,
be made to maintain the NAEP as a movement which sustains the enthusiasm
and commitment of the various agencies and personnel involved in the programme
and not to routinize it by excessive centralisation and bureaucratization.
Adult Education for Development
Literacy, functionality and social awareness, as contents of adult education
in India today, are not ends in themselves. They are means for the individual to
function in his socio-economic environment. It is expected that a person applies

in his life the skills of literacy, and the knowledge pertaining to functionality and
social awareness and leads a better human life. Adult education, therefore, is
not merely transmission of information; it is enabling the person to act — to read/
write/count when the occasion arises, to be more productive and to raise his
economic status, to resist evils and what is wrong, and to accept desired values.
The success of adult education, therefore, is to be measured in terms of not only
the amount of knowledge imparted, but also the kind of life that the learners have
been made capable of leading. It is assumed that without the acquisition of these
contents of adult education the illiterate adults would not be able to lead a really
human life. That is why adult education is considered to be a basic service to
illiterates and included in the Minimum Needs Programme.
In view of the fact that the vast majority of the Indian population is illite-
rate, adult education is considered an important developmental programme in
India. Often economic and political programmes meet with failure to achieve their
objectives. One of the reasons why the prospective beneficiaries fail to profit
from the developmental programmes is that they suffer from the disadvantage of
being illiterate and uneducated. How will the poor benefit from economic pro-
grammes, if they do not know how to make use of them? It has been found that
many a developmental programme in India does not reach the poorest and
weakest sections of the society, because these sections of the society lack the
education needed to have success to such programmes. Developmental agencies
have come to realize that a minimum level of education of the masses is a pre-
requisite, although not a sufficient condition, for their socio-economic develop-
ment. How is a man going to develop himself, unless he is made aware of his
situation in the society and convinced that he has to uplift himself. This self-
awareness is the first step. When a man is convinced that he needs development,
then he requires the means — the developmental programmes. At this stage it is
critical that he has the knowledge of how he can benefit from the developmental
programmes. In other words, the man who requires development, should be
convinced of it and know what means are available to achieve this objective and
how to utilize them. This is the thrust of the stress on functionality and social
awareness in adult education.
Clearly the new strategy is qualitatively very different from the initial post-
independence efforts to promote mass education. The earlier strategy relied almost
exclusively on the formal elementary educational system to provide the basic
minimum education for the nation's future citizens. The country has paid a great
price for this narrow focus. By 1971, the rate of literacy was only about 30 per
cent. More than half the number of illiterates in the world are Indians.
The new strategy of mass education has as a major objective removal of this
tremendous backlog of illiteracy. In this perspective, both adult and elementary
education are complementary programmes. But both programmes aim at going
beyond literacy and providing at least a minimum education for the nation's pre-
sent and future citizenry. The focus on non-formal channels in adult education

and to a lesser extent in elementary education is significant. It represents the first
concerted attempt in our nation's history to make education directly accessible to
the poorest sections of society. It is hoped that this commitment to mass educa-
tion will be maintained and strengthened.
1. India, Ministry of Education, Report of the Education Commission, 1964-66, New
D e l h i : 1966, p. 1.
2. Simmons, John, Can Education Promote Development? The World Bank, Policy Plan-
ning Division, September 1977, p.
3. University Grants Commission, Development of Higher Education in India: A Policy
Frame, 1978, p. 1 (New Delhi).
4. Ibid., p. 2.
5. Nurullah, S. and J. P. Naik, History of Education in India during the British Period,
Bombay: 1943, p. 429.
6. Cited in C. J. Varkey, The Wardha Scheme of Education, M a d r a s : 1939, p. 45.
7. Bureau of Education, India Post-War Educational Development in India, New Delhi:
8. India, Ministry of Education, Report of the Assessment Committee on Basic Education,
New D e l h i : 1962, pp. 4-25.
9. Report of the Education Commission, 1964-66, op. cit., p. 637.
10. National Council of Educational Research and Training, Third All-India Educational
Survey School Education, New Delhi: 1979, p. 16.
11. Ibid., p. 33.
12. Ibid., p. 27 and p. 43.
13. Ibid., p. 17.
14. Ibid., p. 36.
15. Ibid., p. 145.
16. Ibid., p. 153.
17. Ibid., p. 17.
18. Ibid., p. 36.
19. J. Kurrien, Towards Universal Elementary Education : Promise and Performance, Eco-
nomic and Political Weekly, October 3, 1981, p. 1609.
20. Third All-India Educational Survey School Education, op. cit., pp. 364-370.
21. Ibid.
22. Ministry of Education and Social Welfare. Govt. of India, Working Croup on Universa-
lisation of Elementary Education Interim Report, p. 5.
23. Third All-India Educational Survey School Education, op. cit., p. 371.
24. Working Group on Universalisation of Elementary EducationInterim Report, op.
cit., p. 5.
25. Third All-India Educational Survey School Education, op. cit., pp. 324, 333, 351 and

26. Working Group on Universalisation of Elementary Education, op. cit., p. 5.
27. Ibid., p. 9.
28. National Council of Educational Research and Training, Third All-India Educational
Survey School Buildings, New Delhi: 1979, p. 3.
29. Computed from Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, Govt. of India. Education
in India, 1975-76, New Delhi: 1979, pp. 161-162.
30. Shukla, S., Achievement of Indian Children in Mother Tongue (Hindi) and Science, in
Comparative Education Review, Vol. 8, No. 2: June 1974, p. 329; National Council
of Educational Research and Training, All India Survey of Achievement in Mathematics,
New Delhi: 1970, pp. 79, 82 and 84.
31. Working Group on Universalisation of Elementary Education, op. cit., p. 9.
32. P'anning Commission, Govt. of India, Draft Five Year Plan, 1978-83, New Delhi: 1978,
p. 220.