Classification of secondary education in India: A policy conundrum

In India, the 10+2+3 system of education has now become near universal. Though some states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Orissa continue to have junior colleges where students can pursue their pre-university education post 10th standard,  the eleventh and twelfth classes have been merged with the school in the rest of the country.

Prof. Nurul Hasan, who was the union education minister when the ‘new pattern’ of education finally came into force, observed that the implementation of the reform was long overdue.  Prevailing at that point of time were four different systems of education:

1)    Kerala alone, of all the states, had a 10+2+3 pattern.

2)    Uttar Pradesh followed a 10+2+2 pattern: 10 years of school, followed by 2 years of intermediate college and two years for the first degree.

3)    Delhi and Madhya Pradesh had a 11+3 pattern: eleven years of school plus a three year course for the first degree.

4)    A 10/11/even 12+1+3 pattern was followed in the other states, with 10 to 12 years of school followed by a year of pre-university prior to the first degree.

I find it curious that the policy makers have been grappling with this problem of classifying the year/ years that mark the transition from school to college for more than a century and a quarter!  Let me just take you on a historical journey of India’s educational policy-making with regard to structuring secondary education.

In 1882, the HUNTER COMMISSION submitted its report.  I start with the Hunter Commission Report because in the two decades after the submission of the report, there was a major expansion in secondary education in India.  A fundamental recommendation of the Hunter Commission was that there must be two avenues available to the students in high school.  One stream would prepare them to enter the university and the other stream would be of a practical nature, intended for youth with non-academic inclinations who wished instead to pursue commercial ventures. For the first time, secondary education came to be considered in terms of vocational and academic education.

The recommendations of the UNIVERSITY EDUCATION COMMISSION 1902 [GOKHALE COMMISSION], brought secondary education under the ambit of the university as the commission recommended that the University Boards of Secondary Education be made responsible for conducting examinations at the school final stage.

THE CALCUTTA UNIVERSITY COMMISSION 1917 [MICHAEL SADLER COMMISSION] felt that the dividing line between the University and Secondary courses is more properly to be drawn at the Intermediate examination than at the Matriculation stage. It recommended the creation of a new type of institution, called the intermediate college, which would provide for instruction in Arts, Science, Medicine, Engineering, Teaching etc.; these colleges could either be run as independent institutions or could be attached to selected high schools.    A Board of Secondary and Intermediate Education was to be established and entrusted with the administration and control of Secondary Education.

The GOVERNMENT OF INDIA ACT, 1919, decided to make education mainly a provincial and a transferred subject and to limit the ‘control’ of the Central Govern- ment over it to the minimum. This fundamental decision changed the character of the Government of India from that of an executive to an advisory authority ; and consequently, the Secretariat Procedure Committee set up to implement the Government of India Act, 1919, observed that, in future, the executive authority of the Government of India would be mainly exercised through moral persuasion and recommended that, “in place of giving executive orders, it should tend more and more to become a centre of the best information, research and advice”.

THE SAPRU COMMITTEE, in 1934, recommended the abolition of the Intermediate stage.  School now was to consist of eleven years, five years of primary classes and six years of secondary classes.  The secondary classes were to be sub-divided into lower secondary and higher secondary.  Students would have the option of branching out into vocational training after the lower secondary stage if they were not interested in pursuing a degree.

The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), at its first meeting held in 1935, recommended a revised school organisation with a primary stage of four years, a lower secondary stage of four years and a higher secondary stage of three years.

In 1937, WOOD and ABBOTT suggested a complete hierarchy of vocational institutions parallel with the hierarchy of institutions imparting a general education.  Their recommendation gave rise to polytechnics and agricultural high schools at the post lower secondary stage.

The WARDHA COMMITTEE, 1938, fully endorsed the Wood-Abbott Report though it considered pre-collegiate education in terms of Basic Schools, not making any distinction in nomenclature between primary and secondary classes.

Sir John Sargeant’s report regarding POST-WAR EDUCATION IN INDIA introduced the terms Junior Basic and Senior Basic for primary and middle schools respectively.  The report made a distinction between the academic and non-academic streams at the middle school stage, when the student would be eleven years old.  The academic stream would lead to a high school education of six years and the non-academic stream would make available a variety of courses to prepare pupils for entry into industrial and commercial occupations over a period of five years.  However, the Committee was conscious that there could be late bloomers and recommended that facilities be created for the transfer of suitable children from the Senior Basic (Middle) to the High School at some later stage, particularly, where they showed definite signs of late development of scholarly aptitude.

A REPORT OF THE BOARD OF SECONDARY EDUCATION 1948, that is a year after Independence,  felt that the course of study that preceded the University education should cover 12 years. With regard to the distribution of these 12 years of study, the Committee concluded that the period should be divided into 5 years Junior Basic+3 years Senior Basic for those who will finish their education at this stage.  Those who would continue to college would have five years of Junior Basic+3 years pre-Secondary+ 4 years Secondary education. The last 4 years could again be sub-divided into 3+1 or 2+2, if any particular Province so wished. It was the general feeling of the committee that the last 4 years should cover the 2 years Intermediate course also, but it was not decided whether the Intermediate classes should form a part of the High School or that of the degree College.

The UNIVERSITY EDUCATION COMMISSION 1948 [RADHAKRISHNAN COMMISSION]  concerned itself with the student’s education after 12 years of the study at School and Intermediate College, but nevertheless commented that it was unfortunate that neither the public nor the Government had realised the importance of Intermediate colleges in the Indian educational system.  “Our Secondary Education remains the weakest link in our educational machinery and needs urgent reforms,” remarked the Commission.

THE SECONDARY EDUCATION COMMISSION OF  1952 (or the MUDALIAR COMMISSION),  recommended the following new organisational structure for Secondary education after the 4 or 5 years of Primary or Junior Basic education. I quote verbatim from the report to illustrate the extent of confusion that prevailed due to the proliferation of terms and systems:

“(i) A Middle or Junior Secondary or Senior Basic stage which should cover a period of 3 years;

(ii) A Higher Secondary stage which should cover a period of four years.

“Turning to the Intermediate colleges, we feel that there should be a gradual change in their structure to fit in with the proposed scheme of Higher Secondary education of four years, followed by the degree course of three years.

“In the case of colleges which provide a four-year course, two for the intermediate and two for the degree, we would recommend the organisation of a three-year degree course, with a pre-University course of one year for students who pass out of the High schools so that they may have a year’s special training before they join the University.”

The Conference of Vice-Chancellors (1962), the All India Council for Secondary Education (1963), the Conference of State Education Ministers (1964)–all recommended a 12-year course of schooling before admission to a 3-year degree course.

THE EDUCATION COMMISSION OF INDIA 1966 (KOTHARI COMMISSION) emphasised that in any well designed National system of education, secondary education must have one of two specific objectives:

(1) to prepare a student for the University, or

(2) to prepare a student for some vocation in life.

Realising that the total period of education and the duration of its different stages have a direct bearing on the quality of education imparted for achieving the goal, the Kothari Commission recommended:-

(1) Broadly uniform pattern of education;

(2) Extension in the total period of schooling to bring about a general rise in the standards of attainment; and

(3) Vocationalisation of education.

Based on the recommendations of the Kothari Commission, the Government of India issued a National Policy statement in 1968.  The policy statement also stated that it would be advantageous to have a broadly uniform educational structure in all parts of the country. The ultimate objective should be to adopt the 10+2+3 pattern, it said.

The conference of Education Secretaries and Directors of Public Instruction held in 1972 passed a resolution recommending the adoption of a uniform pattern of school and College classes under the 10+2+3 pattern.

The recommendations of the Conference of the Education Secretaries and Directors of Public Instruction were endorsed by CABE in its 36th session held later that year.

Almost simultaneously the Government of India, Ministry of Education and Social Welfare appointed a National Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. P. D. Shukla, with the following terms of reference:

(1) To suggest practical steps to be taken for-the implementation of the uniform pattern of 10+2+3 for the school and college classes in all States and Union Territories of the country, and

(2) To estimate the cost of implementing the programme.

As I said in the beginning, the 10+2+3 pattern has now been adopted across the country.  However, the REPORT OF THE CABE COMMITTEE ON POLICY, 1991, noted that the management structures for secondary education are not uniform. In some states the +2 stage is still outside of the school system, as I mentioned. Besides, though the 10+2+3 system has become near universal, there are differences among the States in the break up of the first ten years of schooling. The CABE committee advocated that efforts should be made to bring about uniformity in the management structure for secondary education in all the States.  I don’t think much has changed in the two decades since.




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