Methodology of Planning for Education

Dr. S. M. I. Zaidi
Professor and Head
Department of Educational Planning
NUEPA, New Delhi – 110016 (INDIA)

Planning is a process of intervention by the market forces or for seeking alternative solutions to those provided by the market. When market fails the state is requested to intervene. There are many examples of such state interventions to perfect the market forces. Many a time state intervention can also be seen as an alternative to market forces. This generally happens in centrally planned economies and in such case all major decisions regarding the economy are based on planning process and are arrived at by the planning bodies.

Planning is also seen as an exercise of optimization of resources. It attempts to maximise output within the given resources and ensures that the benefits are distributed more equitably among various sections of population. Since planning activities attempt to indicate what is to be taken up first and what is to be taken up at a later stage, it is also seen as an exercise in prioritizing the activities to be undertaken. Though priorities of a plan are decided by the planning bodies, the prioritization is a part of planning process itself.

Planning can be defined as “a process of taking decisions for future actions in order to achieve pre-determined objectives by optimum utilization of available resources in a limited time frame”. Thus a pre-condition for planning is the existence of certain objectives which need to be achieved and constraints in this respect are time and resources. Here resources include all the three types of resources namely physical (or material), financial and human resources. It is said that we plan because we have limited resources and we have to achieve our objectives within the constraint of these limited resources.

The term “planning” is very frequently used in daily life and every person without exception does some planning at individual level when one has to accomplish some task. Households plan for meeting the requirements of the family within the income available and thus plan for monthly expenditure. When planning is undertaken at the individual or household level decision for future actions are taken by individuals. However, if planning is to be undertaken for a system e.g. planning for education, the important issues to be addressed are : who (and at what level) will decide about the goals, objectives, allocation of resources and time frame which are important and essential components of planning. At the systems level these decisions are taken at various hierarchical units. This concept of availability of various hierarchical units for planning is called the multi-level planning framework. It means the existence of hierarchy of levels of planning with clearly defined territorial jurisdiction. Under this framework planning is possible at national, state (provincial), district, sub-district and village level. However in India planning particularly in the field of education is carried out at the national, state and in a limited way at the district level only.

In the field of education in any country there can be a possibility of developing plans at various levels. Specifically in the big countries and even in medium sized countries the planning is undertaken at more than one level, that is, at various hierarchical administrative units. In many countries the hierarchical units available for planning are national, provincial, district, sub-district and village levels. It may therefore be noted that planning for education can possibly be undertaken at these levels. Undertaking the planning at lower levels along with the higher units is refereed to as decentralized planning.

However, if we consider the methodology of planning for education it may be made clear that the methodology or the steps involved in planning remain the same whether plans are formulated at higher level or at the lower level. In order plan for education there are certain steps that are involved. These are as follows.

  • Diagnosis of the Educational Situation
  • Target Setting
  • Intervention Strategies and Activities
  • Costing and Budget Preparation
  • Implementation and Monitoring Mechanism
  • Negotiations, Appraisal and Approval

Diagnosis of Educational Situation

The first step in developing a plan for education is to diagnose the educational situation. A diagnosis of the education system is an important and initial step towards developing plan. Diagnosis forms an important step in understanding the system itself. Diagnosis in planning is a process of making a realistic assessment regarding what and how much has already been achieved till now.

Diagnosis in the context of educational planning is an effort to make a fair assessment of achievements and constraints. It is very likely that what is achieved may be less than what was expected as per the targets set in the earlier plan. There may be various reasons for this under achievement. The diagnosis exercise attempts to identify these constraints so that they are removed while implementing the next plan. It may also be found that sometimes the under achievement of the targets may be due to various constraints imposed on the educational system from within or outside. It may often be difficult to analyse what happens to education system without reference to what happens at the household level or at the immediate environment in which the schools are functioning. For example, for knowing the reasons of non-enrolment of children one may have to analyze not only school related factors but also education related factors that operate in the social and economic realm of the society.

The diagnosis of educational situation can be done at various levels e.g. at the national, provincial, district, sub-district, village and school level. However, the nature and content of analysis and the indicators used for analyzing the situation may vary between levels. At the higher levels like national and provincial level the analysis of present situation in education may mostly be quantitative and focusing more on input variables whereas at the lower levels e.g. at the village or school levels focus may be more on the qualitative dimension and process variables.

The level of disaggregation of information required for analysis also varies between various levels. Foe example, an analysis of educational situation at national level may focus more on inter-state disparities in educational progress; a diagnosis at the state level may focus on inter-district differences. At the lowest level i.e. village level the focus may be on the disparities between households and families.

The diagnosis can be purely quantitative or can also be qualitative. However, it involves a systematic and empirical analysis of the educational situation. For this there is a need of developing a reliable data base for initiating the planning exercise. The quantitative analysis is more important while diagnosing the educational situation at the national or provincial level. Even at the local level quantitative information provides more objectivity to analyze the educational situation.

To understand the educational situation one may have to analyze education related factors which may have direct bearing on education. Hence an analysis of immediate external environment may be quite helpful in order to understand the educational process that is taking shape in schools and their immediate surroundings. Focus on such education related dimensions is more important to identify constraints.

In planning for education the diagnosis exercise may focus on various factors. These may be related to factors pertaining to inputs to the education system; factors pertaining to the functioning of the system and factors pertaining to the efficiency and outcomes of the educational process. While considering the inputs important elements to be considered include provisions of facilities and infra-structure, enrollment, teachers etc. As far as functioning of the system is concerned the elements to be taken into account include administration of education at the system level, managing the educational process at the institutional and classroom level. For analyzing the quality and outcomes of the education system the efficiency of education and the pass percentage and graduation rate etc. are important.

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. 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 education plan the targets may be set for access, enrolment, retention and achievement level of children. However it is desirable to undertake the target setting exercise in a disaggregated manner. Secondly in a medium and long term plan 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 developing countries. These disparities may be in enrolment, retention or even in achievement also. One of the important objectives in the education 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 different ethnic groups that are educationally backward. Over a period of time the gap between boys and girls and between various ethnic groups and others may be reduced. The target of reducing this gap may depend upon the gaps between these categories in the base year of the plan.

Several demographic and enrolment indicators can be used in setting enrolment targets. These are growth rate of population; growth rate of school age population or share of school age population to total population; share of girls in total child population; share of under age and over age children in total enrolment at a given level of education; Net Enrolment Ratio; growth rate of enrolment in the preceding year; and Net Intake Rate (NIR).

It is important to note that plan targets for all major interventions need to be set at the lower level administrative unit. For example, in the national plan state (i.e. province) wise targets may be set or while planning at the state level district wise targets need to be set. Further the plan targets should be expressed both in terms of absolute figures as well as in terms of performance indicators, where ever applicable.

Intervention Strategies and Activities

After setting the targets the next step in planning is to evolve strategies to achieve the targets and therefore evolving intervention strategies to achieve the targets is another important aspect of plan formulation. The effort may be to highlight the interventions that will help to overcome the problems and constraints identified in the plan so as to ensure that the targets set are achieved. However, it is to be noted that the strategies evolved will have to address the identified problems and issues. While evolving the strategies important points to keep in view are: (i) in a decentralized 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 schools’. However one of the activities under the strategy of opening new school may be ‘construction of school building’. But the 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; (ix) actual construction work; (x) monitoring and supervision of construction work and (xi) finishing and furnishing of school building.

Next step in plan formulation is the sequencing and phasing of 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 Budget Preparation

An important step in the plan formulation exercise is the costing and estimation of financial requirements to implement the plan. Translating the physical inputs into financial requirements is essential for funding purpose. All the activities and tasks identified, which have financial implication, are to be costed properly and budgeted adequately. 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 heads.

While estimating the financial requirements for the Education Plan the recurring costs estimation may be on items such as salaries, training, maintenance of building, equipment, furniture, infrastructure, travel 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.

While estimating the cost requirements for the plan it is of utmost importance to keep in view the financial parameters fixed by the higher level decision making bodies with regard to Education Plans to be formulated at the lower levels. The costing of the plan must adhere to the ceilings on various items and other financial parameters prescribed by the approving body which may be the national (i.e. central) government and/or the provincial government.

Implementation Schedule and Monitoring Mechanism

One of the important stages in planning exercise is detailing out the implementation plan. When planning at the lower levels, e.g. district level planning, implementation is part and parcel of planning activities. A plan document is incomplete if it does not contain detailed plan for implementation of the programmes and projects that the plan contains. It thereby means that planning for implementation should be inbuilt in the plan document. A failure in the achievement of plan targets in the education sector is generally attributed to the lack of detailed planning for implementation. Planning for implementation facilitates the process of implementation of programmes and projects by providing a sound mechanism of monitoring in the form of implementation schedule and it also increases the efficiency of the system by minimizing the costs of implementation of a given programme or project.

Planning for implementation makes it possible to critically analyze the activities of a given educational programme and to develop an implementation schedule which can be used for monitoring the progress of implementation. There are certain steps that are necessary in planning for implementation of educational prorgammes or projects. These are; listing of activities that make up the prorgamme; thinking through each of these activities; establishing inter-relationships between these activities; establishing a network; setting activity duration; determining material, equipment and human resource needs; deciding about time duration for the programme implementation of each activity; identifying identical activities of the programme which can not be overlooked without affecting the duration of the programme implementation and resources invested in it; and thinking about organizational arrangements for carrying out programme activities.

Scheduling forms an important exercise in planning for implementation. Scheduling refers to the process of converting an educational plan into an operating time table which establishes start and completion time of all the activities of the programme/plan. There are several ways of constructing implementation schedules. However, an effective implementation plan makes use of the network based techniques such Programme Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and Critical Path Method (CPM).

PERT is a network based procedure that facilitates planning, scheduling and controlling of education programmes and projects. It provides methods for measuring actual progress of the programme against expected progress, for comparing consequences of proposed alternative strategies, for predicting future programme status and for optimizing utilization of resources.

Listing all possible activities of the programme is a key step in planning for implementation of the educational programme. The next step is to gather information about predecessors of each activity. The third step, on the basis of these information, PERT network for the programme can be developed. Fourth, once the PERT network of the programme is developed then there is a need to obtain information on the time required to complete each activity. Fifth, this is followed by three alternative time estimates (i.e. the optimistic activity time, most probable activity time, and pessimistic activity time). These three activity time estimates help the programme team to make the best guess of expected activity time. In this connection uncertainty can be expressed by providing estimates ranging from the best to the worst possible time for completing individual activities. Finally, the PERT network for the given educational programme is drawn on the basis of the above information.

Once the PERT network is drawn, the next step is to estimate critical path in the network. This is done by using both forward pass and backward pass methods. This helps to establish early start and latest finish time of each activity. Also activity slack is estimated by using early start and latest finish times. The activities having no slack are termed as critical activities and the longest path on the PERT network is identified as critical path. The time required to traverse the critical path becomes the programme implementation period. All these information, when put in a tabular form, makes the Implementation Schedule of the educational prorgamme.

Negotiations, Appraisal and Approval

The plans developed are draft plans till they are discussed and finally approved by the approving authorities. Since resources are to be allocated for implementation of plan, the negotiation process is very important. Many proposals in the plan may require financial allocation from the higher authorities. Hence the plan may become final only when they are discussed and finally approved by the authorities by approving budget and allocating funds as per requirements.

The approving authorities look into the desirability of proposals and the feasibility of implementation of the plan. This is the process of negotiation between those who formulate the plan and those who have to finally approve the plan and budget. It is generally found that some cut in the proposed resource requirement is done by the authorities and in such case the plan need to be revised in the light of discussion. Based on the resources assured by the approving authorities, plan proposals are to be prioritized. After such re-prioritization so as to establish a link between what is proposed and the extent of resources available, the plan is finalized.

In order to approve the plan the authorities, who have to approve the plan and budget, do generally like to do comprehensive review of the various aspects and components of programme proposals. It is therefore seen whether the plan is technically sound, financially viable and justified and administratively feasible. This is done with the help of a team of experts who discuss the plan proposals at length with the planning team. This process is known as the appraisal of plan. Thus an important aspect of plan negotiation is appraisal through which the opinion of the experts is sought about the soundness and feasibility of plan proposals before it is finally approved for implementation.

Negotiation is a process by which one can bargain for more resources. If the proposals made in the plan document are justified and the planning team is able to convince the authorities it is very likely that they may get more resources. However, if the plan proposals are weak and unconvincing the chances are that they may get less amount of resources. The soundness of the proposals which constitute a plan is an important consideration influencing the amount of resources allocated.

Forty Years of Arun C Mehta at NIEPA: 1980 to 2019 (e-Book)

Forty years of Arun C Mehta at NIEPA: 1980 to 2019

Times of India, New Delhi, 21st September 2021

UDISE, Interview of Prof. Arun C Mehta in Times of India, New Delhi, 21st September 2021