Aspirational Districts Program: NITI Aayog’s Initiative for Holistic Development


To ensure inclusive and sustainable development in India, the NITI Aayog, launched the Aspirational Districts Program (A.D.P.) in 2018. The National Institution for Transforming India was created when the Modi Government assumed the  Office of the Prime Minister of India in 2014. The program aims to transform selected districts of India that have historically lagged in various development indicators, enabling them to catch up with the other developed districts and more developed regions of the country. In other words, the aim is to uplift selected districts that have lagged in socio-economic indicators, facilitating their transformation into vibrant and prosperous regions.

The A.D.P. is a unique and innovative program that has the potential to revolutionize the way development is implemented in India. The program is based on the principles of convergence, collaboration, and competition, and it has the potential to accelerate progress in the most underdeveloped districts of the country.

The present article explores the concept, scheme, parameters, indicators, methodology, current status, and other pertinent information related to the Aspirational Districts initiative in general and educational indicators used in the aspirational district program.

Concept of Aspirational Districts

The concept of Aspirational Districts revolves around identifying and empowering districts that face significant developmental challenges. Low socio-economic indicators characterize the A.D.P. district, including poverty, education, health, agriculture, and basic infrastructure. The initiative seeks to address the challenges through focused interventions, leveraging public-private partnerships, and encouraging the active participation of the local communities.

The A.D.D. Scheme & Objectives

The Aspirational Districts Program aims to achieve transformative results in selected districts across various key areas. A set of overarching objectives drives the Aspirational Districts Program, all aimed at fostering transformative change in the selected districts.

The overarching objectives of the program are as follows:

  1. Socio-economic empowerment: Enhancing the social and economic status of the local communities by providing better access to essential services, education, healthcare, and livelihood opportunities.
  2. Holistic development: Ensuring comprehensive development across all sectors, including agriculture, education, health, nutrition, basic infrastructure, and skill development.
  3. Convergence & Collaboration: Promoting synergy among government departments, agencies, and stakeholders to effectively implement developmental programs and initiatives.

How will the A.S.P. help India?

The Aspirational District Program may play a crucial role in driving the development and progress of India in several ways:

  1. Inclusive Development: The program focuses on districts that have historically faced significant socio-economic challenges and have lagged in development. By targeting these districts, the initiative aims to ensure that the benefits of growth and development reach the most marginalized sections of society, promoting inclusive and equitable development across the country.
  2. Holistic Approach: The program takes a holistic approach to development by addressing multiple sectors simultaneously, including health, education, agriculture, infrastructure, and financial inclusion.
  3. Convergence & Collaboration: The program promotes convergence and collaboration among government departments, agencies, and stakeholders. This coordination ensures the effective implementation of developmental programs, optimizes resource allocation, and leverages the expertise and knowledge of multiple stakeholders, leading to better outcomes.
  4. Strengthening Governance: The initiative emphasizes the importance of good governance at the district level. Through active involvement and capacity-building of district collectors and field-level officers, the program enhances governance practices, improves public service delivery, and strengthens local administrative systems, thereby creating a conducive environment for development.
  5. Data-Driven Decision-Making: The program relies on data-driven decision-making and real-time monitoring. By using educational indicators, the program tracks the progress and performance of districts, identifies areas requiring intervention, and enables evidence-based policy formulation. This data-driven approach enhances accountability, transparency, and efficiency in governance.
  6. Knowledge Sharing and Best Practices: The Aspirational District Program facilitates the exchange of knowledge, experiences, and best practices among districts and states. Successful models and interventions from one district can be replicated and adapted in others, accelerating progress and avoiding the reinvention of the wheel. This knowledge-sharing fosters innovation and continuous improvement.
  7. Catalyzing Local Development: The program encourages active community participation and ownership in the development process. By involving local communities, including marginalized groups and civil society organizations, the initiative empowers them to actively contribute to decision-making, planning, and implementation of projects. The bottom-up approach ensures that the development efforts are aligned with local needs and priorities.

By addressing the development challenges in the selected districts, the Aspirational District Program aims to impact India’s overall socio-economic landscape positively. It contributes to reducing regional disparities, improving human development indicators, boosting economic growth, and fostering an inclusive and sustainable future for the nation.

Parameters & Indicators

NITI Aayog has identified three broad parameters to evaluate the progress of the Aspirational Districts. These parameters encompass key developmental sectors and indicators:

  1. Health & Nutrition: Maternal and child health, vaccination coverage, nutritional status, institutional deliveries, and the availability of healthcare infrastructure.
  2. Education: School infrastructure, access to quality education, learning outcomes, enrolment, retention rates, and initiatives promoting digital literacy; and
  3. Agriculture & Water Resources: Crop productivity, irrigation facilities, agricultural practices, availability of credit, and the adoption of technology for agriculture.

The aspirational district program uses a set of 59 indicators to track progress across the 112 districts, grouped into five thematic areas: Health Education, Agriculture, and Water Resources Infrastructure Financial Inclusion. Infant mortality rate, Maternal mortality rate, School enrolment rate, Literacy rate, Crop yield, Irrigation coverage, Road density, Bank account penetration, etc., are some indicators used in A.S.P.

Methodology & Implementation

As mentioned above, the selection of Aspirational Districts is based on a data-driven approach. Initially, 101 districts were identified across 28 states based on their composite index score, considering the above parameters and indicators. These districts were designated “aspirational” due to their relatively lower development levels. NITI Aayog works closely with the respective state governments, district administrations, and local communities to ensure effective implementation. The initiative encourages collaboration between district collectors, field-level officers, and experts from various sectors. It emphasizes technology, real-time data monitoring, and evidence-based decision-making.

NITI Aayog collaborates closely with state governments, district administrations, and local communities to ensure effective implementation. The initiative encourages participation and ownership from district collectors, field-level officers, and experts from various sectors. It emphasizes technology, real-time data monitoring, evidence-based decision-making, and regular stakeholder consultations.

Program Implementation

The A.D.P. is being implemented through a three-tier structure:

  • The national level is headed by NITI Aayog, which provides overall guidance and coordination.
  • The state level is headed by a state nodal officer responsible for ensuring the convergence of schemes and collaboration between central and state governments; and
  • Districts in India are headed by the District Collector/District Magistrate, who is responsible for implementing the program at the district level.

The following government departments and agencies are engaged in A.S.P. education:

  • Ministry of Education: The Ministry of Education is the nodal agency for the A.S.P. education program. The Ministry is responsible for providing financial assistance to districts, developing and implementing training modules for teachers, and monitoring the program’s progress.
  • Department of School Education & Literacy: The Department of School Education & Literacy of the Ministry of Education implements the A.S.P. education program at the state level. The Department is responsible for providing technical support to districts, coordinating with other government departments, and monitoring the program’s progress.
  • District Education Offices: The District Education Offices are responsible for implementing the A.S.P. education program at the district level. The District Education Offices are responsible for identifying and addressing the challenges faced by schools in the district and for ensuring that the program is implemented effectively.

The following are the arrangements at the district and state levels:

  • District Management Teams: The District Management Teams (D.M.T.s) are responsible for implementing the A.S.P. education program at the district level. The D.M.T.s are representatives from the District Education Office, the District Collectorate, and other relevant government departments.
  • State Steering Groups: The State Steering Groups (S.S.G.s) are responsible for implementing the A.S.P. education program at the state level. The S.S.G.s are representatives from the Department of School Education and Literacy, the state government, and other relevant government departments.

The A.S.P. education program is a collaborative effort between the central government, the state governments, and the district administration. The program ensures that all children in the aspirational districts have access to quality education.

Status & Achievements

Since its launch in January 2018, the Aspirational Districts Program has made significant strides in driving development and positive change. The program has witnessed progress in education, health, agriculture, and infrastructure. Several districts have shown improvement in indicators, while innovative and successful intervention models have emerged.

Recognizing the program’s success, the government has extended the initiative to 35 districts, bringing the total to 136 aspirational districts as of the current date. The continuous monitoring, evaluation, and course correction mechanisms embedded in the program ensure that the districts are on track toward their development goals.

Since its launch in January 2018, the Aspirational Districts Program has witnessed commendable progress in driving development and positive change. Several districts have showcased significant improvement across indicators, while innovative and successful intervention models have emerged.

Acknowledging the program’s success, the government has expanded the initiative to encompass 35 districts, resulting in 136 aspirational districts. Continuous monitoring, evaluation, and course correction mechanisms embedded within the program ensure that districts remain on track toward their development goals.

The A.D.P. is a work in progress but has already shown significant results. The districts have shown improvement across thematic areas, and the program has the potential to make a difference in the lives of millions of people in India.

List of Aspirational Districts

The list of states with Aspirational Districts is presented below:

  • Andhra Pradesh (3): Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, and Y.S.R. Kadapa
  • Arunachal Pradesh (1): Namsai
  • Assam (8): Barpeta, Darrang, Dhubri, Goalpara, Hailakandi, Baksa, Udalguri, and West Karbi Anglong
  • Bihar (12): Araria, Banka, Begusarai, Gaya, Jamui, Katihar, Khagaria, Muzaffarpur, Nawada, Purnia, Sheikhpura, and Sitamarhi
  • Chhattisgarh (10): Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Korba, Mahasamund, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon, Surguja, and Sukma
  • Gujarat (2): Dohad and Narmada
  • Haryana (1): Mewat
  • Himachal Pradesh (1): Chamba
  • Jammu and Kashmir (2): Baramulla and Kupwara
  • Jharkhand (10): Bokaro, Chatra, Garhwa, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Latehar, Lohardaga, Pakur, Palamu, and Simdega
  • Karnataka (2): Raichur and Yadgir
  • Kerala (1): Wayanad
  • Madhya Pradesh (8): Barwani, Chhatarpur, Damoh, Guna, Rajgarh, Singrauli, Vidisha, and West Nimar
  • Maharashtra (3): Nandurbar, Osmanabad, and Washim
  • Manipur (1): Chandel
  • Meghalaya (1): Ri-Bhoi
  • Mizoram (1): Mamit
  • Nagaland (1): Kiphire
  • Odisha (5): Balangir, Gajapati, Kandhamal, Dhenkanal, and Koraput
  • Punjab (2): Firozpur and Moga
  • Rajasthan (3): Dhaulpur, Karauli, and Sirohi
  • Sikkim (1): West Sikkim
  • Tripura (1): Dhalai
  • Uttar Pradesh (7): Bahraich, Chitrakoot, Fatehpur, Shrawasti, Sonbhadra, Siddharthnagar, and Chandauli
  • West Bengal (4): Dakshin Dinajpur, Maldah, Murshidabad, and Nadia

Educational Indicators used in A.S.P.

The Aspirational District Program focuses on various education indicators to assess the progress and development in the education sector. These indicators provide insights into the quality of education, access to educational resources, and learning outcomes. Here are some of the education indicators used in the program:

  1. School Infrastructure
    • Availability of functional school buildings/classrooms.
    • Access to separate functional toilets for boys & girls.
    • Availability of safe drinking water facilities.
    • Provision of electricity and other basic amenities in schools.
  2. Enrolment & Retention
    • Gross Enrollment Ratio (G.E.R.): The percentage of children of a specific age group enrolled in schools.
    • Net Enrollment Ratio (N.E.R.): The percentage of children in the relevant age group enrolled in the corresponding level of education.
    • Dropout Rate: The percentage of students who discontinue their education before completing a specific level.
  3. Learning Outcomes
    • National Achievement Survey (N.A.S.): Assessing the learning levels of students in key subjects like language, mathematics, and science.
    • Grade-Level Competency: Determining the percentage of students with the expected competencies for their respective grades.
    • Literacy Rate: The percentage of individuals who can read & write in a specific age group.
  4. Digital Literacy
    • Access to digital resources and technology in schools.
    • Availability of computer labs and internet connectivity.
    • Adoption and usage of digital learning tools.
  5. Teacher-Student Ratio and Quality
    • Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR): The number of students per teacher in schools.
    • Teacher Attendance: Tracking the regularity of teachers in attending schools.
    • Teacher Training and Professional Development: Ensuring the availability of adequate training and professional development opportunities for teachers.
  6. Educational Infrastructure in Anganwadi Centers
    • Availability of infrastructure and resources in Anganwadi centers, which provide early childhood care and education.

These education indicators help assess the progress in providing quality education, improving infrastructure, enhancing enrollment and retention rates, and enhancing the overall learning outcomes in aspirational districts. By focusing on these indicators, the program aims to bridge the educational gaps and ensure inclusive and holistic development in the education sector. The indicators are used to track progress in the education sector in the aspirational districts. The government has set targets for each indicator, and the districts are expected to achieve these targets over time. The A.D.P. also provides financial and technical assistance to the districts to help them achieve their targets.

The educational indicators used in the A.D.P. are a good measure of the progress being made in the education sector. However, it is essential to note that the indicators do not tell the whole story. Other important factors contribute to the quality of education, such as teachers’ motivation, parents’ involvement, and the availability of learning materials. The A.D.P. also needs to focus on these factors to improve the quality of education in aspirational districts.

Sources of A.S. P. Educational Indicators

The educational indicators used in the Aspirational District Program are based on various sources, including government surveys, educational assessments, official reports, and data collected by relevant educational authorities. Here are some of these sources of educational indicators:

  1. National Achievement Survey (N.A.S.): The National Council of Educational Research and Training under the Ministry of Education, Government of India. It assesses students’ national, state, and district learning outcomes.
  2. UDISE+ is an updated version of the DISE/UDISE, which provides a robust database of education-related information at the district and school levels. It includes data on infrastructure, enrollment, teachers, and other relevant parameters. None of the educational indicators of the Aspirational Districts Programme (A.D.P.) are based on UDISEPlus data. However, the data from UDISEPlus is not yet comprehensive enough to be used for the A.D.P.
  3. The Annual Status of Education Report is a household survey conducted by Pratham Education Foundation. It focuses on assessing the foundational learning levels of children in rural areas, providing valuable insights into the education system.
  4. Census Data: Census data collected by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India can also serve as a source of educational indicators. The data includes information on literacy rates, educational attainment, and demographic characteristics related to education.
  5. State & District Education Reports: State and district education departments often publish reports that provide detailed information on various educational indicators, such as enrollment rates, infrastructure facilities, teacher vacancies, and more.
  6. Surveys & Research Studies: Research studies, surveys, and evaluations conducted by educational institutions, research organizations, and non-governmental organizations also contribute to the availability of educational indicators.

These sources, among others, provide a robust foundation for collecting and analyzing educational indicators at the national, state, and district levels. They help monitor progress, identify gaps, and formulate evidence-based policies and interventions to improve educational outcomes in aspirational districts.

Challenges A.S.P. currently being Facing

The Aspirational Districts Programme (A.D.P.) is facing several challenges, including:

  • Lack of resources:The A.D.P. is a large and complex program requiring significant resources. However, the government cannot always provide the necessary resources, which can hinder the program’s progress.
  • Poor coordination:The A.D.P. involves several stakeholders, including the central government, the state governments, the district collectors, and the local communities. However, there is often poor coordination between these stakeholders, leading to delays and inefficiencies.
  • Resistance to change:The A.D.P. is a new program, and it is often met with resistance from the people who are used to the status quo; resistance can make it challenging to implement the program and achieve its goals.
  • Lack of data:The A.D.P. relies on data to track progress and make informed decisions. However, the data that is available is often incomplete or inaccurate, and this can make it difficult to assess the impact of the program.

Despite the challenges, the A.D.P. has made progress. The districts have shown improvement across thematic areas, and the program has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of millions of people in India. A few of the things that is required to address the challenges are as follows:

  • Increased funding:The government needs to provide more funding to the A.D.P. to ensure it has the resources it needs to succeed. The Government of India has recently increased funding for the A.D.P. In 2022-23, the government allocated ₹10,000 crores for the A.D.P. This funding is being used to implement various interventions in the aspirational districts, such as improving infrastructure, providing training to teachers, and providing financial assistance to people experiencing poverty.
  • Improved coordination:The government needs to improve coordination between the stakeholders involved in the A.D.P. to ensure that the program is implemented effectively. The government has established several mechanisms to improve coordination between the A.D.P. stakeholders, including the A.D.P. National Steering Group, the A.D.P. State Steering Groups, and the A.D.P. District Management Teams. These groups meet regularly to discuss the A.D.P.’s progress and identify and address any challenges.
  • Building awareness:The government needs to build awareness about the A.D.P. among the people affected by it to reduce resistance to change. The government is building awareness about the A.D.P. through various channels, including social media, print and electronic media, and public events. This awareness-building campaign aims to reduce resistance to change and encourage people to participate in the A.D.P.
  • Improved data collection:The government is improving the quality of the data that is collected about the A.D.P. This is being done through the use of a variety of data collection tools, such as surveys, censuses, and administrative records. This improved data will help track progress and make informed decisions about the A.D.P.

In addition to the above, the government is also working to address the challenges of the A.D.P. by:

  • Empowering local communities:The government is working to empower local communities to participate in the A.D.P. and take ownership of the program, which is being done by creating village development committees to oversee the implementation of the A.D.P. in their villages.
  • Promoting innovation:The government promotes innovation in the A.D.P. by encouraging districts to experiment with new ideas and approaches. This is done by creating an innovation fund, which provides financial assistance to districts implementing innovative projects.
  • Scaling up successful interventions:The government is scaling up successful interventions from the A.D.P. to other districts. This is done by creating a knowledge management system, which collects and disseminates information about successful interventions.

These are just some of how the government of India is tackling the challenges of the Aspirational Districts Programme. The government is committed to making the A.D.P. a success and taking steps to address the program’s challenges. With these challenges addressed, the Aspirational Districts Programme can potentially be a game-changer for the development of India.

A.S.P. (Education) will help India achieve School Education for All

The A.S.P. education program can potentially help India achieve school education for all in several ways. First, the program provides financial assistance to districts to improve school infrastructure, which includes building new schools, renovating existing schools, and providing schools with required amenities such as toilets, drinking water, and electricity.

Second, the program provides training to teachers, which includes training on teaching methods, curriculum development, and assessment. The training is designed to help teachers improve their skills and knowledge and to make them more effective in the classroom.

Third, the program increases access to education for girls and children from marginalized communities, including providing scholarships to girls, providing school transportation, and setting up learning centers in remote areas.

The A.S.P. education program is still in its early stages but has already shown promising results. For example, the school enrolment rate in the aspirational districts has increased by 5%, and the pass percentage in the Class 10th and 12th examinations has also increased.

With continued support from the government and the people, the A.S.P. education program has the potential to help India achieve school education for all.

Concluding Observations

The Aspirational Districts Program, spearheaded by NITI Aayog, aims to uplift the most deprived districts in India by addressing their unique challenges and fostering sustainable development. By focusing on key parameters and indicators, leveraging collaborations, and utilizing technology, the initiative strives to bring about holistic progress in the project districts. The A.S.P. program domains also have a component on education which may help India move towards school education for all.

Education for All in India