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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 40, September 25, 2010

Decentralised Educational Planning in India: A Critique on the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan

Tuesday 28 September 2010, by Lakshmi Narayanan


The educational development in India is neither homogenous in regional spread nor neutral to social formations. It has a strong bias in favour of economically developed areas with strong infrastructural support and against the backward regions of the country. In spite of planned efforts spread over four decades, regional disparities continue to be glaring. (Moonis Raza and et al. 1990) In this background, the ongoing Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) mission considers decentralisation as a major strategy for planning and management of elementary education. Hence the present paper attempts to critically examine the approach and degree of decentralisation in educational planning under the SSA in India.

Decentralisation is “…a process or situation in which powers and responsibilities are transferred from a central authority to other, usually more local organs”. (Robertson 1993) Thus decentralisation is a form of a responsibility shifting of the state, where the decision-making will be taken at the local level. The central attempt here is to reduce the gap between the planning and implementation. But one has to understand that while the decisions taken at the state are considered as decentralised planning for the national bodies, the same decisions may be centralised for the district bodies. Hence one has also to be aware of the relativity in the terminology as it is different from the bottom-up approach.

Key Challenges at the National Level

IN India, although there is a ‘unity’ in the conception as a nation, decentralisation within the national framework of the SSA sounds paradoxical as every region of the country counts on the diversity of culture, language etc. This diversity contradicts the arguments of decentra-lisation. Hence the question arises, is it a state sponsored one against the public demand?

In India, States are standing differently in their educational achievement status. Then how can the SSA’s time frame of Universal Elementary Education (UEE) be realised? To explain further, if the SSA is an opportunity for States to develop their own vision of elementary education, as the Framework claims, how can the States fit into the broader national goals of providing useful and relevant elementary education for all by 2010? Hence this paper firmly believes that, without intra-nationalisation (by local capacity building), the country cannot effectively participate in the process of inter-nationalisation.

Thus the policy framed at the national as well as international level rarely matches with the community realities. Since there is a systemic absence of community participation in these policy formulations, most of the policies often fail. But one central point which needs to be understood is that even if decentralisation is about sharing the responsibility, it is not the absence of the national role at the local level. In this backdrop, the present paper raises the following questions: (i) Are the mandates of the national support system like the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) etc. clashing with one another? (ii) Do they have the proper coordination between them? (iii) What kinds of discourse have been created by these structures so far? (iv) Why are the external agencies proactively funding the developing countries for decentralisation? Lastly, (v) What is the academic understanding behind their role in India?

Key Challenges at the State Level

AMONG all the challenges at the State level, the one challenge the SSA is facing severely is the absence of State Institutes of Educational Management and Training (SIEMATs). Though the SIEMATs have been conceived for the noble aim of decentralisation of educational planning and management, the failure seriously haunts at the local capacity building issues at the State educational administration. In this context, although the best practices from the well- performing States can be considered to be emulated by the low-performing regions or States, the planning efforts have also to be aware of the contexts of every region. For instance, under the SSA, access may be an uphill task for Bihar, but quality may be for Tamil Nadu. This thinking should come along with the scholastic understanding of the State-specific issues and innovations. Hence how can we have the uniform goal like UEE as every State is standing differently? Can we have different goals for different States? Or why don’t we plan for the State-specific issues instead of a centralised aim like Education For All (EFA)?

The available literature doesn’t go with the decentralisation arguments. For instance, the decentralisation process in BIMARU States (Bihar Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh), with their low level of quality and capacity building-related issues, may not be successful. Consequently how can the decentralisation strategy be implemented in the backward region like BIMARU where the village community is intellectually rearward?

The paper has also projected both the backward districts in the educationally advanced States and vice versa to present a mixed picture of the issues in debate. In this context, the paper firmly believes that the discrepancies between the National and State systems like the entry norm of six years of age in some States and five years in others will also give a jolt the noble aims of the SSA.

Key Challenges at the District and Sub-district Levels

TO discuss about the key challenges at the district and sub-district levels, one can first examine the status of the DIETs (District Institutes of Educational Training) at the district level. It has been observed that there exist wide variations in the nature and effectiveness of these institutes among the States in which they were set up. In each of these States, the DIETs have developed in different ways and therefore vary in terms of infrastructure, expertise and activities.

Since 1990s the States have begun to appoint para-teachers and it therefore becomes an issue that impinge on the nature of pre-service and in-service training. In view of the changing nature of educational qualifications and training status, it is important that the teacher-training institutions need to orient themselves accordingly. The issue becomes all the more important as DIETs have been envisaged as institutions to impart training and orientation to teachers. But in many DIETs, for instance, the training which the Teacher Educators receive at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA, formerly NIEPA), Regional Institute of Education (RIE) etc. is not sufficiently utilised. The existing literature furthermore establishes the sad reality that the DIETs’ structures at the district level are gravely fragile in organisation and function. A brief literature survey of the other support structures like the State Council of Educational Research and Trainings (SCERTs), SIEMATs in addition recognised the management malfunction to work in tandem with the Block Resource Centres (BRCs) and Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs). As a result the BRCs and CRCs are not competent enough to acquire sufficient training. While the DIETs are not involved in the District Elementary Education Planning in many States, there is a lack of co-ordination between different agencies and officers. The role and functioning of the SIEMAT, for instance, is unclear. So there is a lot of confusion prevailing at the district level.

Therefore, as institutional capacity building is one of the broad strategies of the SSA, even after six years the discussed institutions like the SIEMATs and DIETs are yet to be revamped. This failure can also be seen as the background factor for the unsuccessful attempts of the decentralisation efforts. Apart from this, under this project mode, systemic strains like the personality clashes between the District Educational Officers, who are from the educational structure, and the District Project Coordinators, who are from the project (say SSA), are emerging and need to be solved. In this backdrop, politics gives way to the illiterates to become the presidents of the panchayats. Hence there are some stray incidents of outsourcing to the Principals/ Head Masters to take the educational initiatives in their name. Although planning at the national level is aspiring for the international commitments, is our entire district planning matching those commitments? Or, are all the districts sharing the same vision of UEE by 2010 which the nation prioritises in its vision document? In addition, the weak capacity level of Village Education Committees (VECs) defeats the very purpose the Constitution posed on them as their duties and responsibilities. Along with this, the data from the village will be more contextual to reflect the reality. But once we aggregate these with block, district, State and national levels, the regional variations will be faulty in the name of plans.


TO conclude, the shifts from the traditional linear approaches to ‘step planning’ models towards a more qualitative view of a ‘total process-planning’ model give birth to the current discourse like community participation. Until communities can be trusted and supported to share in the responsibility of organising staffing and servicing their own schools, the quantity and, more critically, the quality of primary education will suffer. Devolution of power is a step which centralised adminis-trations are often unwilling to contemplate. (Hawes 1983) But one has to understand the temporal limitation of this discourse as it has been questioned by Andre Beteille (2007). To quote him,

“………we need to take a hard look at what we call the community in India. It may turn out that, instead of being the perfect solution, the community is part of the problem. Many well-informed and knowledgeable persons, who are fully aware of the deep divisions and inequalities-of class, of caste and of gender-in Indian society as a whole, somehow manage to persuade themselves that the Indian community is free from those divisions and inequalities. This utopian vision of the community does not fit the actual reality of the Indian village very well.”1 (Emphasis added)

For these reasons, it is important to understand that the process of decentralisation transfers some of the powers from the Central to the lower level authorities, though not all. Hence, the communication between the Centre and its peripheries should flourish, as the peripheries ‘contextual’ understanding shall be understood by the Centre and the Centre’s research and academic findings should be addressed to the peripheries. Then only will the spirit of decentralisation be successful.


1. Ayyar, Vaidyanatha R.V. (January 2005), “What Lessons Can DPEP Offer?”, Journal of Educational Planning and Administration, Volume XIX, No. 1, pp. 49-65.

2. Beteille, Andre (July 2007), “The School and the Community”, Journal of Educational Planning and Administration, Volume XXI, No. 3, pp. 191-201.

3. Das, Amarendra (2007), “How Far Have We come in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan?” EPW, January 6, 2007, pp. 21-23.

4. Department of Elementary Education and Literacy (year not known), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan: Framework for Implementation, MHRD, New Delhi.

5. Kainth, Gursharan Singh (2006), “A Mission Approach to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan”, EPW, July 29, 2006, pp. 3288-3291.

6. Kothari, Uma and Martin Minogue (2002), Development Theory and Practice: Critical Perspectives, Palgrave.

7. J. Mitra, Sanjay and Shashi Kant Verma (June 1997), “Why Governments Devolve: A Study Using Data from Indian States”, Development Discussion Paper No. 586, Harvard Institute for International Development.

8. PROBE Team, (1999), Public Report on Basic Education in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

9. Raina, Vinod (2002), “Decentralisation of Education”, In R.Govinda (ed.) (2002), India Education Report: A Profile of Basic Education, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, pp.111-120.

10. Raza, Moonis and et al. (1990), School Education in India: The Regional Dimension, NIEPA, New Delhi.

11. Robertson, David (1993), “The Penguin Dictionary of Politics”, Penguin Books, England.

12. Varghese, N.V. (January, 1997), “Educational Planning at the District Level: Meaning and Scope” in Varghese, N.V. (ed.) (January 1997), Modules on District Planning in Education, NIEPA, New Delhi.

13. Zajda, Joseph (2002), “Education And Policy: Changing Paradigms And Issues”, International Review of Education, 48(1/2), pp. 67-91.


1. Beteille, Andre (July 2007), “The School and the Community”, Journal of Educational Planning and Administration, Volume XXI, No. 3, p. 198.

The author belongs to the Department of Foundations of Education, National University of Educational Planning and Administrator (NUEPA), New Delhi. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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