A Note on Concept and Process of District Planning in Education

By S. M .L A. Zaidi, NIEPA, New Delhi, INDIA

In a multi-level planning framework the planning exercise in India can be undertaken at national, state, district, block and village/habitation level. However m vast countries like India it is desirable to carryout the planning exercise at lower levels and this is the reason that decentralised planning has been emphasized in the country. One may notice that in India right from the inception of first five year plan in 1950-51, we have been talking of decentralised planning but still at least in the field of education, the planning process has in most of the states not percolated below the state level. It is generally felt that one of the reasons of our failure to achieve the basic goals in education. e.g. Universalisation of Elementary Education, is that the plans are formulated at higher levels, namely national and state levels which are quite distant from the grassroots realities. Thus there is a wide gap between those who plan (at higher levels) and those who implement it (at the local level). This gap can be reduced by planning at the lower levels. It is perceived that lower the level or unit of planning smaller will be the gap between planning and implementation. This is one of the strongest justification of decentralised planning. In addition to this there are many advantages of decentralised planning. These are: (i) local needs can be taken care of more effectively and efficiently at the lower levels, (ii) plans are expected to be more effective because of the homogeneity of the unit, (iii) it helps to overcome local specific problems in a better way, (iv) flow of information / data will be quick which is very crucial for planning and (v) there are more chances of successful implementation of plans as the implementers will be partner in planning process.

One of the issues in any planning process is to clearly specify the unit for initiating planning process and effect planning decision. India has debated this issue and now it is accepted that district is tie most viable unit for initiating decentralised planning. Therefore, decentralisation of educational planning in India in the present context implies district level planning in education. Serious efforts for decentralised planning have started in India about a decades back. In 1969 the Planning Commission issued guidelines for preparation of district plans. Realizing that planning machinery and competency are not yet developed at the district level efforts was redirected in the later years to strengthen state level planning process. In the early eighties a Working Group under the Chairmanship of professor C.H. Hanumantha Rao was constituted to develop guidelines for district plans. 3ased on the recommendations of this committee, the seventh five year plan adopted decentralised planning at the district level as one of the major strategies to achieve plan targets. With the recent constitutional amendment (73rd and 74111 amendments) the Panchayati Raj Institutions or their equivalent in urban areas are going to play an important role in shaping local level educational plans.

Efforts to decentralize planning and management of education in India needs to be seen in this broader context of decentralisation taking place in the country. Education in India continues to be an area dominantly funded and managed by the public authorities, While policies are formulated at the national level, educational plans are developed at national, state and sometimes even at the district levels.  Upto the mid-seventies, education continued to be an area of state subject. Although education is a concurrent subject at present, for all practical purposes, the development in this sector depends on the initiatives by the state governments.

The existing administrative structure is more centralised and hence it is lot very conducive for initiating decentralised planning. For facilitating decentralised planning it is important to ensure that the role perceptions of authorities at different levels are clearly defined. It is important to draw clear distinction between the domains of operation of the district level programmes, state level programmes and national level programmes This is very important in the Indian context because many a time a large share of the programmes which are implemented at the district level are either centrally sponsored or state sponsored schemes. In fact, what is lacking in India is that, districts ire not in a position to independently initiate any programme of their own because they do not have their own resources. They depend upon the state or central government for financial resources. Many a time the resources given from the state or national levels are specifically tailor made for certain activities. Under this arrangement, even when resources are available at the district level they may not be in a position to target on issues, which they consider to be high on their agenda. Another pre-requisite for decentralised planning in India is in the area of financial decisions. The district should have the authority to mobilize resources of its own or re-allocate the resources which are allocated to them by the state government, In this context, it is very often suggested that the allocations from the State or Central Government to the district should be on a lump-sum basis rather than on a tailor made fashion.

Process of Planning

At the national level planning is carried out by Planning Commission for all sectors of economy including education. However educational plans are implemented through the Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development. Similarly at the state level State Planning Boards are established to help in preparation of plans. The state educational plans are implemented through the Secretariat and Directorates of Education. The Secretariat deals mainly with policy decisions where as the Directorates are more directly involved in the implementation process. Many bigger states in India have separate secretaries for school and higher education. Similarly there are separate Directorates of Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Higher Education, Technical Education etc. When planning for education is carried out at the state level all these Directorates and Departments are consulted and thus educational plans are formulated with active involvement and consultation of these bodies.

In India the third tier in the multi-level planning framework is the district. But at this level unfortunately such clearly defined organisational arrangement for planning is not yet created. The National Policy on Education 1986 envisaged to creates District Boards of Education (DBE) to initiate and coordinate planning activities at the district level. But. Whatever be the reasons, no state in the country has so far been able to set up the District Boards of Education.

Since, there is no planning machinery to formulate district plans, planning competencies are rarely developed at the district level. At present what exists in the name of district level planning is nothing but an adjustment or manipulation with the budgetary figures that too on an incremental basis. Often, it is observed that the plans prepared at the district level are not closely scrutinized and hence planning process itself becomes rather routine and bureaucratic. The externally funded projects in primary education in India have shown that if resources are provided at the district level and power and authority are also vested with the district level authorities, then there is a possibility of developing district level plans which are more realistic and local specific.

District as a Unit of Planning

Choice of unit for planning depends upon the existing administrative structure and also the level of development of the planning machinery. Information-wise, the district is the ultimate reducible unit for which data collection machinery exists in India (Mundle: 1977). At this level, administrative structure is also fairly well developed. There is a collectorate at district level and below the state level collectorate is the most well developed administrative structure. More importantly, at district level we have r Natively better trained or trainable staff who can undertake the responsibility of developing district plans.

The efforts to make planning effective at the district level were initiated in the sixties. The Planning Commission (1969) even issued guidelines for district planning. The report of the Working Group (Planning Commission: 1984) is a restatement and re affirmation of tine tact that district is the viable unit for decentralised planning in India at the present level of development. Therefore, in the present context while one talks about decentralised planning one is talking about district level planning.

According to the Working Group definition, district planning is seen as a sub­system in the multi-level planning framework. All planning activities at the district level will be with a single planning body at the district level. This body will be in line with Planning Boards at the state level and Planning Commission at the national level. The report stresses that the planning function will not be fragmented among numerous departments and agencies. In other words, planning at the district level will be integrated and it will dovetail with plans at the lower and higher spatial units.

The developments in the field of education in terms of decentralisation are perhaps more positive. Following the Working Group Report the National Policy on Education (1986) and the Programme of Action envisaged setting up of District Board of Education to facilitate educational planning at the district level. The Working Group on Elementary Education set up in the context of the eighth five year plan (Planning Commission: 1989) noted that there are educationally advanced districts in educationally backward states and there are educationally backward districts even in educationally advanced states. Hence, the Working Group argued for keeping district as the unit for developing realistic decentralised planning in education.  The NDC Committee on literacy and elementary education (Planning Commission: 1992a) and the eighth five year plan (Planning Commission: 1992b) categorized the districts for purposes of planning education into three: i) high literacy districts where enrolment is universal and retention rates are high and hence the emphasis needs to be on quality improvement programmes: ii) Total Literacy Campaign districts where the campaign has produced an increased demand for primary education and conditions are conducive to increase the pace of expansion of primary education: and in) low literacy districts where provision of facilities are poor, delivery mechanisms inadequate and community awareness at very low levels.   The CABE Committee on decentralised management of education (Government of India: 1993) emphasised the need for integrating educational planning and management efforts with the Panchayat Raj institutions.

Decentralisation of educational planning and management is an important reform measure initiated during the 1980s. It is widely accepted that district is the lowest viable unit for initiating decentralised planning in India. Therefore, the National Policy on Education 1986 and the subsequent Programme of Action emphasised on district level planning in education in India. The Programme of Action (NPE-1992) resolved under its Para 7.4.6 "Further efforts would be made to develop district specific projects with specific activities, clearly defined responsibilities, definite time schedule and specific targets. Each district project will be prepared within the major strategy framework and will be tailored to the specific needs and possibilities in the district. Apart from effective UEE, the goal of each project will include the reduction of existing disparities in educational access, the provision of alternative systems of comparative standards to the disadvantaged groups, a substantial improvement in the quality of schooling facilities, obtaining a genuine community involvement in the running of schools, and building up local level capacity to ensure effective decentralization of educational planning. This is to say, the overall goal of the project would be reconstruction of primary education as a whole in selected districts instead of piecemeal implementation of schemes. An integrated approach is more likely to achieve synergies among different programme components".

As mentioned above it was envisaged in the NPE 1986 that District Boards of Education (DBE) will be constituted in all the districts to co-ordinate educational planning activities. However, the DBEs were not established at the district level. The Total Literacy Campaigns (TLCs) were district-based programmes which were introduced in a decentralised mode and implemented through a participatory approach. TLC was a significant step towards localizing educational decision making process. The next major programme which focused on district level educational planning was the DPEP.Although decentralisation of educational planning was recognized as 2 necessary step towards improving primary education, the idea was not translated into an operational practice due to various reasons. Firstly, even when district level educational planning was emphasised, the resource decisions continued to be centralized at the state level leaving very little scope for the districts to fix their own targets and mobilize the necessary resources to achieve the targets. Secondly, there existed no organisational mechanism to facilitate district planning in education. The chief educational functionary at the district level is the District Education Officer (DEO) who could get very little time to prepare and develop district level educational plans.   In the absence of any organisational arrangements, like the DBE envisaged in the Programme of Action, the possibilities of decentralised planning at the district level seemed a distant dream. Thirdly, planning competencies were poorly developed at the district level. In other words, these three factors, tamely, centralized resource decisions, absence of organisational arrangements and poorly developed planning competencies among educational functionaries at the district level acted as major constraints in promoting district planning as an operational practice in education (Varghese, 1996).

The focus in the planning exercise during the last 2 decades and even before has been on achieving the goal of Universal Elementary Education. In order to meet this goal in late 80s and 90s some pi-ejects and programmes were launched in various states of the country. Some such important projects/programmes are: Andhra Pradesh Primary Education Project (APPEP), Bihar Education Project (BEP) and Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Project (UPBEP). On the basis of experiences in these projects Government of India launched a nation-wide programme on primary education named as District Primary Education Programme (DPEP). This programme launched in 1994-95 in 42 districts of 7 states now covers 219 districts of 15 major states of the country. Tie DPEP is perhaps the first major programme after TLC programme which focused o i district level educational planning. Thus the decentralised planning of education at the district level became a reality in India with launching of DPEP. Recently the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme conceived by Government of India is to be launched in selected districts in its first phase. However it has been decided by the Government that the SSA will cover all the districts of the country by toe end of Ninth Plan. Thus it is heartening to note that by the end of Ninth Plan district planning in education will be undertaken in all the districts of the country.

Process of District Planning

At the district level while planning for education the emphasis remains on school education in general and the elementary/primary education in particular. In India the experience under educational projects and programmes are mainly with regard to planning for universal primary education (UPE). Even the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme also has focused on Universahzation of Elementary Education. Planning exercise for education at the district level with special reference to elementary education has the steps like diagnosis of educational situation, setting targets, identifying problems and issues, evolving strategies, translating strategies into programmes, activities and tasks, estimating financial requirements and developing implementation schedule.  These steps under the planning process are explained as follows:

Diagnosis of Educational Situation

In the context of educational planning 'diagnosis is an effort to make a fair assessment of achievements and constraints and thus diagnosis tells us 'where we are' at present on various items. While diagnosing educational situation at the district level one may concentrate on inter-block disparities. The 'diagnosis' as a step in planning process may not only be restricted to educational indicators, it may however concentrate on education related factors also which operate more in social and economic realm. This is because educational development is not independent of developments taking place outside the educational sector. The diagnosis can be both quantitative as well as qualitative. A diagnosis of the system can be attempted based on either opinions or impressions or on research and empirical analysis.  While opinions and perceptions of the actors in education are important since they provide valuable insights into the problem, a diagnosis of this type may be less objective and hence less reliable for the purpose of educational planning. Therefore diagnosis involves a systematic and empirical analysis of education al situation. This involves collection information, and developing a reliable data base in education for the purpose of initiating the planning exercise. (Varghese 1997).

While making diagnosis it is important to take into account all factors of education related to the inputs into the system, functioning of the system and factors related to efficiency and outcomes of the educational process. The inputs factors may have elements like availability of schooling facilities, physical infrastructure in schools, teaching-learning materials, students enrolment in various grades, availability and distribution of teachers, teachers specialization and their age distribution and information of school finances etc. The diagnosis of input: factors may mean analysing the information on these items. The process factors of education may include elements like factors leading to teaching-learning process, availability of educational managers like headmaster, inspectors, information on management of schools, policies and practices of students evaluation, classroom teaching process, inspection and supervision of schools, educational administrative structure. Analysis of these items actually may be diagnosis of process factors of education. The efficiency and outcome factors include wastage and stagnation in schools, the number and quality of pass outs, achievement level of students, internal efficiency of education system. Diagnosis of efficiency and outcomes means analysis of these factors.

Identification of Problems/Issues

An important step in planning process is to identify me problems and issues related to elementary education if the concern is UEE. There can be various sources for identifying these issues.  These are diagnosis of educational scenario, participatory exercises undertaken at district block, village level, studies conducted and surveys undertaken. However there can be two models of planning process for developing district plan of education. These can be termed as top-down model and bottom-up model. In a top-down model the formulation of the district plan is done on this basis of inputs from studies, surveys, participatory meeting at various levels. Thus having these participatory exercises in which all stakeholders are involved identifies the grass root level problems. The :op down model of district educational planning process is comparatively less time consuming. Such an approach was adopted in District Primary Education Programme for developing district plans. In the bottom-up model of district educational planning process, the district plans are formulated on the basis of block plans which are made by integrating and consolidating the village and habitation plans.   Thus the process starts at the village/habitation level and the first step is to formulate village/habitation plans 'or all the villages/habitations of the district.  The second step is the consolidation of these village/habitation plans to formulate block level plans and finally consolidating the block plans to formulate the district plan. This model, though ideally very proper, but is more time consuming as the exercise of formulating village/habitation plans for hundreds and thousands of villages/habitation of the districts may sometimes even take years.

Target Setting

Targets are translation of objectives in clearly defined quantitative terms. What the plan intends to achieve during the plan period when specified in quantitative terms is known as target setting. Targets are statements which state clearly and unambiguously what is to be achieved and are in measurable terms and have definite time frame, in order to develop district elementary education plan the targets may be set for access, enrolment, retention and achievement levels of children. However it is desirable to undertake the target setting exercise in a disaggregated manner which means that in d: strict plan document the targets should be set block-wise. This is important because different blocks have different levels of e.g. enrolment or retention and so targets for these bloc< may also be different. Secondly in a perspective plan of 5 to 7 years the targets should be set in a phased manner which means that targets should not only be set for the total plan period but should also be set for all intervening years. This may not only help to see the progress of implementation of the plan on year to year basis but may also facilitate in reviewing the implementation strategies and perhaps revising the targets for the coming years.

The gender and social disparities in the field of education are common features in India. These disparities may be in enrolment, retention or even in achievement also. One of the important objectives in the District plan will be to reduce these disparities. It is therefore important to set the targets on enrolment and retention separately for boys and girls as well as for Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes population. Over a period of time the gap between boys and girls and between SCs, STs and others may be reduced. The target of reducing this gap may depend upon the gaps that exists between these categories in the base year of the plan. The goal in District Elementary Education Plan is to universalize elementary education which means universal access, universal enrolment, universal retention and universal achievement. This means the ultimate target is 100 percent access, enrolment, retention and achievement. But while setting the target on these parameters it is important to look at the present status of the district on these components and then accordingly set the targets which are realistic and are achievable. An insight in this exercise of target setting can be had by looking at the progress made in the district on e.g. enrolment ratios and retention rates during past 5 to 7 years.

Intervention Strategies and Activities

Evolving intervention strategies to achieve the targets is another important step in planning process. However it is to be noted that the strategies evolved will have to address the identified problems and issues of elementary education in the district. While evolving the strategies important points to keep in view are: (i) in a decentralised planning any single strategy may not be uniformly operational or applicable in different areas and that is why probably for addressing a single problem one may have to envisage a set of strategies for a given context, (ii) Many a times a single strategy may not be enough to address an issue or a problem and there will be a need to work out multiple strategies for addressing a single problem, (iii) All the problems and issues identified during the planning exercise must be tackled and intervention strategies should be worked out accordingly and there should thus be a linkage between the problems/issues identified and the intervention strategies developed for addressing them. Translating the strategies into programmes and activities is the next step in the plan formulation. It is to be kept in view that a specific intervention strategy may require a number of programmes to make it operational and effective. However a programme may be an aggregation of various activities. It is therefore necessary to translate each and every strategy into activities and tasks. For example for improving access the strategy can be 'opening of new primary schools'. However one of the activities under the strategy of opening new primary schools may be 'construction of school building'. But th3 activity of construction of school building has many tasks that are to be undertaken. These tasks may be (i) identification of school-less habitations; (ii) identification of habitations qualifying for opening schools; (iii) listing and prioritization of habitations; (iv) deciding about the number of schools to be opened; (v) identification of habitations where schools are to be opened; (vi) deciding the location/site of the school; (vii) acquiring site/transfer of land; (viii) identification of agency for construction and supervision; (h) actual construction work; (x) monitoring and supervision of construction work and (xi) finishing and furnishing of school building. Next step in planning process is the sequencing and phasing or these activities and the tasks, it may be noted that some activities/tasks can be undertaken only in a sequential manner whereas some activities/tasks can be started simultaneously. For example, construction of school building and recruitment of teachers are the activities which can be undertaken simultaneously while actual construction of school building can not be done before deciding the site of the school, acquiring site, transfer of land and identification of agency for construction and supervision.

Costing and Financial Requirements

An important step in the district planning process is the costing and estimation of financial requirements to implement the plan. Translating the physical inputs into financial requirements is essential for funding purpose. Various steps that are involved in estimation of financial requirements are: (i) listing of all the activities to be undertaken (ii) classifying all these activities into two categories i.e. activities having cost implications and activities which do not have cost implications; (iii) classifying the activities which have cost implications into recurring and non-recurring heads; (iv) working our the average cost of recurring activities and unit cost for non-recurring activities (v) estimation of costs separately under the recurring and non-recurring leads. While estimating the financial requirements for the District Elementary Education Plan the recurring costs estimation may be on items such as salaries, training, maintenance of building, equipment, furniture, infrastructure etc.; travel and fuel costs; stationary and consumables, contingencies, rents etc. Similarly the non-recurring cost estimation may be on items such as: construction of school building, additional classrooms, toilets, compound wall, equipments, furniture; infrastructure; vehicle etc. The aggregation of costs of all the activities and tasks under various strategies will give the total financial requirements of the plan.

Allocation of resources to education is based on the budgets. Budgets are prepared annually to facilitate the resource allocation process. This implies that these activities are to be classified according to the year of beginning and completion of the activities. This may help in preparing the annual budgets. The budget should correspond to the activities indicated to be completed in that particular year

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