structured approach and minima suggestions

This is the text of a note dispatched today. A more
presentable version is at

Elementary Education Bill:
structured approach and minima suggestions

(A note premised on equal access neighbourhood school
system guarantee under existing law)

Gita Dewan Verma | Planner | December 2003


On 10.12.03 Government of India put out a second draft
of a Bill to operationalise the Constitutional 86th
Amendment guarantee of free and compulsory education.
This was discussed on 15.12.03 among officials and
civil society, including those who had held on
01.11.03 a seminar around the first draft. Criticism
of the draft(s) for not being based on a common school
system was central in both discussions, albeit to
extent of what particular clauses lacked rather than
how the overall architecture might be. A news report
of 11.12.03 also had the Minister calling for
neighbourhood schools.

This note makes two suggestions ? one for structured
approach to develop overall architecture of the Bill,
the other about the minimum it must say for a common
school system ? not because of emergent consensus but
because this minimum is already guaranteed under
another Act of Parliament.

Not being educationist, lawyer or children specialist
from any other profession, I am not presuming to
suggest content. As a Planner, I consider a structured
approach suggestion my privilege and, on account of
recent work on issues become central to the
discourse, a minima suggestion my responsibility [1].
And as one tending to badly behave at seminars, a note
is what I can offer. Hence this [2].


1. Structured approach ? guiding principles / key

Guiding principles need to be set out for clarity and
also for comparative evaluation of content options.
These could be in the nature of constructs such as the
· An elementary education law must be true to the
purpose of the Constitutional provision ? ie, equal
opportunity for education and, through empowerment by
it, other Constitutional rights. The Bill must
progressively eliminate rather than pragmatically
legalise duality in education. Anything else would
amount to reducing a promise by Constitution to
compromise by law.
· A central law is needed more as trigger than as
model. There already exist provisions designed to
implement what has been a Directive Principle for 54
years. The Bill must provide a framework to supplement
rather than supplant opportunities in existing state
and municipal laws. Anything else would be contrary to
the spirit of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional
· For years resources for education have been lost to
misguided schemes, profiteering on school sites, etc.
The Bill must squarely address itself to plugging
leakages in education resources rather than seek to
somehow accommodate in residual resource space those
disadvantaged by these leakages. Anything else would
amount to condoning usurping of education resources.
· Resources for education need to be viewed in
disaggregate terms ? school sites and buildings,
teachers and teaching facilities, children's bags /
books / uniforms / mid-day meals, etc. The Bill must
ensure equitable allocation of all resources
separately. Anything else would be an exercise in
futility since a sum of inequitable parts cannot make
up an equitable whole.
· Application of planning provisions of 73rd/74th
Amendments must be guided by their hierarchical
planning logic. The Bill must set out processes to
eliminate inequities and inefficiencies in resource
allocations at all levels rather than just
'decentralise' responsibilities. Anything else would
be contrary to equity and empowerment goals of 86th
and 73rd/74th Amendments.
· Other issues impinging on elementary education must
be central to underlying principles, but might not
always be amenable to detail in a central law. The
Bill must not bind matters that are better suited to
context-specific law / schemes or whose significance
in relation to education goals could change over time.
Anything else would amount to obfuscation of its core

Key elements in the overall architecture of a Bill
need to be explicated before setting out detailed
clauses. Key elements based on principles such as the
above could be:
· Premises ? to reflect purpose as well as guiding
principles and define elements in terms of common
definitions / typologies as well as context, including
setting out what is excluded
· Role of the state in resource allocation management
? to ensure, way beyond budget allocations, that all
resources invested in education progressively
contribute to universalisation, not duality.
· Role of non-state partners ? promoted not as an end
in itself but as means to universalisation, meaning
that, as a corollary, models that contribute to
duality are progressively eliminated.
· Role of participants (children, teachers and
parents) ? facilitated through incentives and
disincentives, connected to indicators of quality in
education rather than enrolment and retention.
· Role of support providers ? thoroughly regulated to
remove flavour of favour from and ensure competence
and quality in voluntary / activist / expert inputs
from those with no direct stakes.
· Processes ? to place the above in one inclusive
framework to optimally (rather than pragmatically)
orchestrate all roles into synergistic pursuit of the
purpose and guiding principles of the legislation.


2. Minima ? existing provisions flowing from Delhi
Development Act, 1957

An obvious starting point of any discussion on
legislating a common school system is the equal access
neighbourhood schools schema of Delhi Master Plan
drawn up under Delhi Development Act, 1957, an Act of
Parliament. In this the principle of equal access is
intrinsic to overall aim of 'balanced and integrated
development to take care of present and future growth'
and equity purpose of land policy of large-scale
acquisition and is expanded through provisions such as
for 25% low-income housing provision in each
residential area of 1 lakh population, making urban
villages integral part of new schemes, etc. And the
concept of neighbourhood facilities is intrinsic to
overall principle of hierarchy of city structure: "The
housing cluster is built around the nursery school and
the tot lot. The primary school, the high school, the
Community centre and the District centre are the order
of the functional tiers around which the community
structure is built up".

For equal access for all local children within such
balanced and integrated development lease conditions
require neighbourhood schools to provide 25% free
seats (consistent with 25% EWS housing provision in a
community) and not to refuse admission to any local
student. A key instrument for ensuring equal access
neighbourhood schools are provisions governing land
resource allocations ? 1 nursery school of 0.08
hectares for a housing cluster (2500 population) so as
to be within 5-minute walking distance, 1 primary
school of 0.4 hectares for a neighbourhood (15,000
population) so as to be within 10-minute walking
distance, etc ? that provide for all (and only) local

Land use allocation is also the starting point of
serial violations. On sites meant for smaller schools,
bigger schools are set up, leading to excess that
local demand cannot sustain. Citywide market tapping
allows city-level fee charging. In a vicious cycle,
high fees are justified with facilities, even
luxuries, not matching local demand and lease
conditions for local enrolment are thrown to the
winds. The poor among local students are worst
affected by exclusion due to commercialization as
lease conditions for free seats are flouted with
impunity. At the tail end of these resource-hogging
serial violations are violations in schools not on
planned sites (including government schools set up
prior to planned schemes) that serve those excluded
and end up having enrolment in excess of standards and
space short of standards and often incapable of
absorbing investments for durable improvements, with
resultant environment hardly conducive to quality
learning or teaching and lying at the root of most
problems including those relating to enrolment and

It is not possible for the state to provide free and
compulsory education for all children and, at the same
time, allow education resources to be hogged for
exclusive benefit of a few. A Bill premised on the
pursuit of this impossibility will serve to abandon
rather than implement the 86th Amendment. By the same
logic, a demand for a common school system made only
on behalf of the poor is flawed since seggregationist
approaches cannot serve integrationist purposes and
also reduces to pursuit of impossibility unless the
corollary demand to end duality in education is made
equally forcefully. Both the Bill and its critique
must acknowledge that a common school system is not a
demand at par with demands apropos girl child,
disabled child, working child, poor child, women?s
reservations in decentralized processes, etc. It is
the demand for a framework to accommodate all else,
without which the little pieces being pushed into law
will have nowhere to fit. Instead of attempting
ab-initio piece-meal solution-seeking from amidst a
chaotic collection of universal paradigms of topical
currency, those serious about a common school system
would do well to consider improving upon, or at least
safeguarding, minima already provided by comprehensive
and holistic framework-setting schema such as laid out
in Delhi Master Plan approved by Parliament.


Since 2000 I am consultant to citizens' groups (in
bastis, urban villages and flats) seeking
implementation of equal access neighbourhood schools
under Delhi Master Plan, for which a joint petition
has now been filed in High Court. In 1999 I put
together for groups in slums in Indore a critique (in
form of a booklet and an exhibition) of schemes to
close existing schools and open community-hall schools
in slums and utilize school sites for revenue
generation. In 1996-1997 as senior consultant on the
(commissioned) impact study of city-wide slum
upgrading in Vizag, Vijaywada and Indore I reported
that non-formal education was not working. There are
references to all this and more in my book Slumming
India, published by Penguin India in 2002.

I am sending this note to Joint Secretary (HRD-EE) and
to Chairperson of GoI Task Force for Improvement in
the System of Education, and also to organisers of the
discussions of 01.11.03 and 15.12.03. I am also
posting this on the web on a dedicated list at: [common school
system based elementary education law: space for
suggestions premised on already existing law, such as
equal access neighbourhood school provisions of Delhi
Master Plan]. If others use the list for serious and
focussed discussion I will also post on it more
detailed notes, work mentioned, updates on continuing
engagements, etc.

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