Universal Elementary Education in India: An Exploratory Study of Movements in Civil Society

  • Sudha Pai


As one of the largest democracies in the developing world and with a large population of children in poor and disadvantaged sectors and not enrolled in school, India has experienced a rising revolution of demand for education in recent years. Even after 50 years of independence, free universal elementary education (UEE) promised by the Constitution has not been achieved.1 However, during the 1990s, the issue of UEE has assumed unprecedented importance among policy makers, civil society actors and parents compared to the previous four decades in the postindependence period. This concern is reflected both in the emergence of movements and initiatives within civil society to promote UEE, as well as faster progress in basic literacy and elementary school attendance throughout the 1990s. The National Sample Survey (NSS) and the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) in 1998–9 reveal that school attendance accelerated during the 1990s compared to the earlier period in the 6–14 age group, rising to nearly 80 per cent. There was a narrowing of the gender gap as well, driven by a comparatively rapid increase in female attendance from 59 per cent to 74 per cent between 1992–3 and 1998–9 respectively in the 6–14 age group (Dreze and Sen 2002: 152–3).


Civil Society Social Movement Private School Elementary Education Gross National Product 
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© UNRISD 2005

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  • Sudha Pai

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