DPEP: Logic and Logistics

By N. V. Varghese, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), New Delhi – 110016 (India) in Journal of Educational Planning and Administration (JEPA), October 1994, No. 4, Volume VIII, New Delhi (India).

1. The Premise: From UEE to EFA

Universal Elementary Education (UEE) continues to be a Constitutional provision and national commitment in India. In the initial stages, the strategy was to achieve this goal by relying entirely on the formal system of education. Hence, the focus was to expand the formal schooling facilities and facilities within the schools. From the seventies onwards, India moved towards a more realistic approach of diversifying the channels of delivery and alternatives to formal schooling were initiated. To start with, this marked the beginnings of Non-formal education in India. In the late seventies, the government launched the National Adult Education Programme. By the eighties, an integrated approach to universalize education emerged which later got incorporated in the broader objective of Education for All (EFA). At present, EFA in India includes formal primary schools, alternatives to primary schools, pre-primary education and adult education. This change in perspective from UEE to EFA is in line with the changes taking place in the international scene. The Jomtien and Delhi declarations reiterate our commitment to EFA.

From Access to Achievement

India has made tremendous progress in expanding schooling facilities and in improving enrolments in the primary classes. However, the retention rates and achievement level of students continue to be stagnant at very low levels. Therefore, the attention is increasingly shifted from enrolment drives to strategies to improve retention and learner achievement. The National Policy on Education and the Programme of Action have underlined these very dimensions of educational development in India. Therefore, the focus seems to be shifting from equity in access to equity in achievement. This, in fact, takes into account the contextuality of educational development in India. There are many states and districts which have already achieved almost universal primary enrolment and they need to focus on programmes to improve the retention rates and levels of learner achievement. The idea of having uniform priorities universally applicable to all the situations need to be replaced by policies and programmes which are area specific. A more flexible approach to incorporate these dimensions is essential in this context.

Shift in Targeting

India started with the overall objective of expanding the primary education system. With the emergence of disparities in the process of development, the effort was to target the efforts. In the subsequent periods, our efforts were focussed on the ward regions, disadvantaged groups and girls in general. At the present level of development, it is realized that what is to be achieved is more difficult than what is already achieved. Even in terms of access, the groups and regions left out at present are the most deprived groups. The traditional strategies may not succeed in bringing them to schools or to its alternatives. Identifying such groups and localities is in itself a difficult but unavoidable task. This necessitates disaggregated target setting and detailed micro-planning exercises. At present, district forms the lowest viable spatial unit for initiating and implementing decentralized planning in India.

Educational efforts at the district level are channeled through different agencies and departments. Although such differentiation may be an administrative convenience it creates hurdles to the beneficiaries, creates difficulties in implementing the programmes, and in assessing the achievements made. Therefore, what is advocated is an set of integrated approach to develop education in any given district. It envisages a total coverage of the geographical area for any intervention strategies. In the given circumstances, the notion of targeting is concretized in terms of analyzing and understanding the district level disparities and disparities within a district. One may visualize any district plan as a set of inter- related micro-planning exercise.

Experience from Externally Funded Project

India has already implemented many externally funded projects at the primary level of education. Many of these projects have however focussed on a limited number of related dimensions than on any sector as a whole. We have gained rich experience in planning and managing such externally funded projects. The Bihar Education Project is funded by UNICEF, Lok Jumbish project by SIDA, Andhra Pradesh Primary Education Project by ODA, Shikshakarmi Project by SIDA and the Mahila Samakhya project by Dutch are examples of such external funded projects. The Uttar Pradesh Primary Education Project by the IDA, perhaps, takes into account many of the essential processes and dimensions of a district based educational plan. The experiences drawn from planning and managing many of these projects have been very helpful to draw district specific plans in India. The positive external funding possibilities provided yet another opportunity to experiment district planning in education. Needless to add, the funding agencies with their rich experience in planning educational projects in other countries helped in developing similar programmes in India.

TLC Experience

The total literacy campaigns initiated by the end of the eighties and beginnings of the nineties was one of the few exercises undertaken in India with total participation of the community in planning and managing an educational programme. The success of TLCs gives a hope and a confidence to initiate such people-centred programmes in future. The experience drawn from planning and managing TLCs have become a valuable input in the process of conceptualizing and preparing plans at the district level.

2. DPEP: The Perspective: The Objectives

DPEP is a programme conceptualized and evolved on the basis of varied experiences the country possesses and supplemented by the experiences of various international agencies directly involved in the funding of primary education projects in the developing countries. Over a period of time, the sources of funding got diversified and the approaches to plan primary education and to the DPEP became more specific concrete and unified. However, DPEP is not an effort to develop uniform plans. In fact, this goes against the very premise of the programme. DPEP considers that what is to be done at the district level need to be decided by those at the district level itself. It is envisaged as a centrally sponsored scheme with flexible parameters (Department of Education: 1994). These parameters are meant to ensure that the plan is within the framework of national concerns and priorities.

The objectives of the programme are: i) to provide access to all children to primary education through formal primary schools or its equivalent through alternatives; ii) to reduce overall dropouts at the primary level less than 10 percent; iii) to increase achievement levels by 25 percentage points over and above the measured baseline levels; iv) to reduce disparities of all types to less than 5 percent. (Department of Education: 1993).

The focus of each plan may vary depending upon the level of development of primary education in the selected district. In some districts, the priority may be more on access; in certain cases the focus may be on retention; and in still other cases the focus may be on achievement. Only a close scrutiny of the districts in a moe disaggregated fashion can provide us a clue regarding the areas of emphasis.

The criteria to identify districts under the programme are : i) educationally ward districts with female literacy below the national average; and ii) districts where TLCs have been successful leading to enhanced demand for primary education (Department of Education: 1993). It is quite possible that these two categories of districts can be from the same state. The priorities and planning concerns may be different in these two category of the districts.

The problematic of multilevel planning in general and district planning in particular lies in the satellite imagery view i.e. looking at the people and their problems from above (Misra: 1991). The common practice of decentralized planning in India confirms to this pattern. The usual practice is preparing plans for the district at the state level. The district plans are generally seen as a process of regionalisation of national and state plans. And the effort invariably is to work out the implementation implications of the state plan.

The DPEP is an attempt to initiate a process of planning from below. The framework of the programme envisages initiating and completing the process of planning first at the district level. The state level intervention strategies and plans are meant to facilitate the successful implementation of the district plans. It can be seen that looking at linkages between state and district plans in this framework changes the relative roles to be played by agencies at different levels. This process of planning ensures that state plans cannot be prepared unless and until the district plans are complete and the state level plans are nothing but efforts to achieve district level targets.

Planning Competencies

One of the reasons for the failure of decentralized efforts to develop operational plans at the district level in India is the lack of planning competencies at the district level. DPEP envisages the planning responsibility to be undertaken entirely by the people at the district level. This necessitates developing planning competencies at the district level. The best way to develop competencies is to initiate planning exercise in a realistic fashion. The planning methodologies are simplified and are easily understandable by the people at the district level.

The national and state resource organizations help in developing planning competencies. This help was of two kinds: (i) in developing basic framework for planning education at the district level; and (ii) organizing programmes to train the local level people. In the context of DPEP, NIEPA developed a document detailing the methodology of district planning (Varghese: 1993) and organized and participated in several workshops. But they do not directly and actively intervene in the planning exercise. The experience in the last one-year has shown that such competencies can be developed at the local level itself.

While the broad parameters are decided through a consultative process, the districts have the full freedom to put targets, to evolve strategies and to schedule activities. In short the planning exercise takes into account local requirements and prioritizes them and thus it becomes an exercise in developing local level competencies in planning. Moreover, financial outlays are ensured to achieve the thus set targets.

The district plans under the DPEP envisage first to achieve the horizontal integration of the district level programmes and then to vertically integrate them with the state level and national level initiatives. This helps in ensuring local autonomy, competency and administrative capability. The process of capacity building is a part and parcel of the planning exercise.

The district plans are drawn for a period of 6 to 7 years with detailed schedules and activities for each year. The allocations are made each year based on the performance in the previous year and evaluation of the proposals for the coming year.

Participatory Process of Planning

The district level plans are developed by those people who are the direct beneficiaries of the programme. This necessitates a consultative process to arrive at areas of convergence to set priorities. The consultative process under the DPEP is not confined to any committee approach. On the other hand, the emphasis is on consulting the public. The local level bodies like the panchayat, parent-teacher associations, teacher unions village education committees, educational functionaries at the local level are to be consulted to evolve a plan that can be owned by the local people.

Participation in the planning process takes place at different levels. First, participation by the different departments involved with the delivery of educational and related services in a district. Second participation by the people who have to own and operationalize the programme. This has taken place in a very successful fashion in many of the districts. This consultative process has indeed raised the expectation levels of people from the programme and has created urgency in implementing the programme.

The major thrust of the plans is not only to develop education but also to create conditions for initiating development efforts at the local level. DPEP, in this sense, is an exercise in expanding capabilities of people to enable them to take responsibilities of their own development within the broad contours drawn by the national and state priorities. The necessary shift is from the sophisticated process of model building to a simple and down to earth expression of felt needs in a systematic way. This liberates the plans and planning process from the bureaucratic controls technocratic approach. The TLC experience in the participatory process may be an asset to redefine the roles of different actors in the process.

3. DPEP: The Logistics

Studies as the Basis to Evolve Strategies

Each district is expected to undertake and complete studies specific to the areas, which are to be emphasized in the plans. Such district studies help evolving strategies, which are applicable in the specific context of the district. The problems of the district may vary. Some of them can be resolved at the district level while others require interventions at the state level. The basis for evolving such intervention strategies is the studies. In the previous year all the DPEP districts have initiated several studies in the areas of learner achievement, teacher motivations, problems specific to deprived groups, textbook and curriculum issues, gender issues and state finances. These studies have come out with a number of intervention strategies to improve the efficiency of the system. The district plans are expected to incorporate these findings while detailing out the annual plans.

Planning and Classroom Practices

DPEP envisages linking district plans with school processes and classroom practices. It is an effort to bring together the pedagogical necessities and broader educational concerns. The ultimate objective is to improve the school processes and outcomes.

To many a planner, the operational efficiency of the units (schools) is an assumption and hence the action lies outside the classrooms. The conventional educational planner never enters into the classrooms and the typical pedagogue never gets out of the classrooms. While the vision of the former is to wide and broad to be understood and appreciated by the pedagogue, the vision of the pedagogue is too narrow and myopic to be considered seriously by the planner. Resultantly, the planner is isolated from the action and the actions are isolated from the plans. To build bridge between them is difficult, if not impossible. The programme makes a serious effort to link these two sets of actors.

Improving classroom practices and school management, no doubt, form the core to the success of educational programmes. The programme envisages create local specific facilitating conditions to improve teacher competencies through frequent in-service training programmes, improving school management through training in planning and management of educational functionaries. The efforts to strengthen state level resource organizations like SCERT; district level institutions like DIET and to create new structures at block and cluster levels and management training institutions like SIEMT provide the facilitating conditions.

External Funding is an Additionality

The success of planning and implementing plans at the district level depends on the freedom to allocate and reallocate funds by the district level authorities. In India, very often, the funding decisions are decided at higher levels and hence planning at the local levels becomes an exercise in dovetailing the priorities set at the state level. The idea of untied funds is seldom effected in practice. The DPEP envisages providing a lump-sum amount at the disposal of the district to allocate as per the requirements detailed out in the plans. A maximum of Rs.40 crores (Rs. 400 million) is envisaged for each district. This amount is to be seen as indicative and the actual allocation depends on the type of programmes envisaged to be carried out in the district plans. It is to be noted that the planning exercise is not oriented to draw an expenditure plan for the amount indicated. An indication of the extent of allocation provides an opportunity to the planners to draw the plan more realistically and an encouragement and confidence that the amount will be available if plans are drawn logically and consistently.

One of the features of DPEP is its funding source. A substantial share of the funds is drawn from the external sources. And the funding sources are getting diversified over a period of time. It is a centrally sponsored scheme and hence the sources of funding are less important for the districts. The more crucial point is a guarantee from the Union government that the funds will be made available as and when needed as per the requirements projected in the district plans.

These funds are to be seen as additionalities and are not substitutable for the existing programmes. In other words, it means that the DPEP funds are over and above the normal developmental expenditure the state and district would otherwise incurred (Department of Education: 1994). This in more concrete terms means that : i) DPEP may not fund any of the ongoing regular programmes which the state governments are supposed to fund to maintain the existing levels of efficiency of the system ; and ii) the state government is expected to maintain the budgetary provision for primary education at least at the 1991-92 level in real terms.

This has considerable implications for planning. While the district plans are drawn to achieve the goals of universal primary education, the funds under the DPEP may not be sufficient to meet all the requirements. At the same time, the districts are supposed to achieve the plan targets. The gap between what is actually required and what is actually allocated by the programme is to be funded by the state. In this sense, the DPEP funding needs to seen more as a mechanism to reduce the financial pressure on the district and state than as sufficient allocations to achieve the targets.

Other financial considerations clearly indicate the priorities within the primary education sector. The civil works cost is to be restricted to a maximum ceiling of 24% and the management cost to a maximum limit of around 6%. Therefore, the districts are left with 70% of the DPEP allocations to be devoted to programmes to improve the educational system.

Management Structure

DPEP envisages distinct management structures to facilitate better implementation of the programme, to closely monitor the activities and to facilitate faster flow of funds. These structures are envisaged at the national, state and district levels (for details see Department of Education: 1994). The focus of all these new structures is to facilitate implementation of district plans. In other words, the new structures are supportive to the district plans.

Developing a Management Information System (MIS) to collect information to monitor DPEP activities is an essential element in the programme. Similarly, the structure at the national level envisages setting up programme evaluation and research unit to facilitate studies in the area of primary education. All these structures are supposed to get merged with the existing organizational arrangements by the end of the project period. In the first phase of the programme, it is implemented only in selected districts that too in some of the states. Even in the selected states, all the districts are not covered under this programme. At present the programme covers 42 districts – 19 districts of Madhya Pradesh, 5 districts of Maharashtra, 4 districts of Assam, Haryana and Karnataka, 3 districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The planning process is complete in these districts. The programme is extended to 5 districts of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh where the planning process has been initiated. It is expected that 110 districts will be covered under this programme by the end of the Eighth Five Year Plan.

Many of the components of the programme are equally applicable to other districts, which are not now covered under this programme. More over the lessons learned from planning and implementing this programme can be extended to other districts. The efforts is to improve system level efficiency to manage the educational initiatives. Mobilization, participation and school effectiveness are cardinal elements of the programme. It envisages to revive the initiatives within the school to make it more effective. All activities are centred to promote this initiative of the schools.

Finally, DPEP is not an exercise for finding unique solutions. The effort, on the other hand, is to experiment ideas and innovations, which may have wider applicability. Its success and sustainability depend on how realistic are we in designing the programmes and how careful are we in implementing them. The focus is essentially on the process dimension. Funds provide only a necessary condition for the success. The sufficient condition is provided by our own capacity to plan and implement programmes. Even though plans are prepared at the district level, they are to be finally implemented in the schools and classrooms. How effectively this linkage is established will determine the success of the programme.


Department of Education (1993) District Primary Education Programme, New Delhi, MHRD, Department of Education.

Department of Education (1994) The National Management Agency, New Delhi, MHRD, Department of Education (Mimeo)

Misra, R.P. (1991) “On the Task of District Planning”, in B. Yugandhar and A. Mukerjee (ed.) Readings in Decentralized Planning, New Delhi, Concept, volume 1 pp. 1-12.

Varghese, N.V. (1993) A Manual for Planning Education at District Level New Delhi, NIEPA (Mimeo).