Policies Governing Adult and Continuing Education in Five Year Plans - An Overview
V.P. Matheswaran
R. Daphne    
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The concept of adult education has been undergoing several but significant changes over the years. It continues to evolve as new groups of people in need are identified, new educational objectives are discovered, new methods and techniques of delivery of services become available.

There were no innovative developments in the field of Indian adult education during the 19th century. The main thrust of adult education revolved around basic literacy. Up to the end of World War I, there had been very little progress in the sphere of adult education in India, which was confined to night schools in metropolitan cities. The interest and involvement of eminent Indian leaders in literacy, however, drew the attention of masses towards the gravity of the problem. During the early decades of twentieth century the colonial rulers adopted the policy of promoting adult education as a non-Governmental activity and focused on elementary education as an effective means of achieving literacy. Such a policy was not very conducive for the emergence of adult education as a distinct field of activity. However, certain international developments during 1920s & 1930s aided the growth of adult education in India.

There was a considerable degree of awareness of the importance of adult education in the pre-independence period though efforts at adult education during this period were modest. This led to the gradual emergence of the view at the policy level that the state must shoulder the primary responsibility in this regard. The strategy followed immediately after Independence and in successive Five-Year Plans to provide education to the masses made a distinction between Universalisation of Elementary Education (UEE) and Adult Education.

First Five Year Plan (1951 to 1956)

Eradication of illiteracy has been one of the major national concerns of the Government of India since independence. During the first Five Year Plan, the programme of Social Education, inclusive of literacy, was introduced as part of the Community Development Programme (1952). A new implementation machinery comprising male and female Social Education Organisers at grass-roots level and a Chief Social Education organiser at the project level was created. A comprehensive training support was provided through the establishment of Social Education Organisers’ Training Centres (SEOTCs). Model community centres, rural libraries, Janata Colleges, youth clubs, mahila mandals and folk schools were encouraged.

Second Five Year Plan (1956 to 1961)

The Government of India established a Council for Rural Higher Education for promoting the provision of graduate-level manpower through the scheme of Rural Institutes. These gave fillip to rural development including literacy programmes. A Standing Committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) on Social Education was constituted in 1956. A National Fundamental Education Centre was started to provide high-level training facilities and undertake researches related to adult education. Efforts of varied types were made by the States for the spread of literacy. Among these, the Gram Shikshan Mohim initiated in Satara District of Maharashtra in 1959 was one of the successful mass campaigns. It achieved a good deal of success but suffered from the lack of follow-up due to financial constraints and sore of its good work was lost as a consequence.

In spite of these varied initiatives the programme of adult literacy did not take much headway. The Community Development Programme got weakened and was soon abandoned. It was assumed that adult literacy would automatically become universal as soon as the universal and compulsory elementary education became a reality. The literacy rate in India, therefore, increased only from 18.37 per cent in 1951 to 24.02 per cent in 1961.


Third Five Year Plan (1961 to 1966)

As sufficient progress was not achieved in promoting adult literacy, the problem was studied afresh with a view to working out means for the rapid expansion of adult literacy. Programmes of the Ministry of Education provided for further development of the National Fundamental Education Centre as a part of the National Institute of Education, production of literature for neo-literates, assistance for voluntary organisations in the field of social education and expansion of library facilities. The main provisions for social education were made under the community development programme.

The Education Commission had observed that “literacy if it is to be worthwhile, must be functional”. The launching of the inter-ministerial project of Farmers’ Training and Functional Literacy in 1967-68 aimed at popularisation of high yielding varieties of seeds through adult education was a step in this direction. The programme covered 144 districts where nearly 8640 classes were organised for about 2.6 lakh farmer-adults by 1977-78. But in this programme, the clientele remained selective and several largely illiterate groups viz. artisans, landless labour, SCs, STs, and women got neglected.

Fourth Five Year Plan (1969-1974)

Adult education, centering largely on functional literacy, was conceived in two stages. The first stage was to be in the form of a mass movement, largely dependent on mobilisation of local resources, both personnel and financial. Students and teachers were to be an important asset in this movement, wherein popular leadership would be provided by voluntary organisations and the panchayats. The second stage was to include a regular and systematic education of those who are identified at the first stage as being capable with suitable follow-up. The entire programme should be financed jointly by the State and the local community. Programmes of adult education were to be developed in industrial and commercial undertakings, public and private, and by voluntary organisations. They should, also form an important part of the programme of national or social service for students. All Departments of Government should participate in the programme in a suitable manner, the technical guidance being provided by the Education Department. A State Board of Adult Education was to be set up to coordinate these different programmes.

Fifth Five Year Plan (1974 to 1979)

The Central Advisory Board of Education at its meetings held in 1974 and 1975 lent strong support to non-formal education programmes for adults with emphasis on functionality dimension. The scheme of Functional Literacy for Adult Women (FLAW) started in 1975-76 aimed at enabling illiterate adult women to acquire functional skills along with literacy to promote better awareness of health, hygiene, and child care.

Till date overriding priority was given to primary education on the assumption that the expansion of primary education would automatically take care of problems of illiteracy. It was only in 1977-78 that the government decided to accord due weightage to adult education along with the programme of Universalisation of Elementary Education (UEE), and the National Adult Education Programme (NAEP) was launched on 2 October, 1978. For the first time, Adult Education was put on the educational agenda of the nation and thereby made central to the development approach that was pursued. However, the NAEP was not very successful because it was traditional, honorarium-based, hierarchical and government–funded and controlled.

Sixth Five Year Plan (1980 to 1985)

This plan emphasised minimum essential education to all adults, irrespective of their age, sex and residence. This was to be achieved by flexibility, inter–sectoral cooperation and inter-agency coordination. These efforts were to be supported by post–literacy, continuing education through a network of rural libraries as well as instructional programs conducted through mass communication media.

Non-Formal Education for adults, particularly in the productive age-group 15-35 years, was to receive priority in the sixth plan, in view of its potential for immediate impact in raising the level of productivity in the economy.

The programme was designed giving priority to a lot of weaker sections like women, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and agricultural laborers as well as slum dwellers.

Seventh Five Year Plan (1985 to 1990)

Eradication of adult illiteracy and the development of a programme of continuing adult education was a major thrust in the seventh plan. During this plan period, the Planning Commission’s objective was to address the needs of 90 million people, ages 15–35, in the Adult Education Program. The network of libraries was to play a role in the development of literature for neoliterates. Library systems were to be strengthened with specific attention given to improvement of facilities at the national–level institutions. The strategy to achieve the goal was through a mass movement involving social institutions, voluntary organisations, students, teachers, employers and the community.


Eighth Five Year Plan (1992–1997)

Universalisation of elementary education, eradication of illiteracy in the 15-35-year age group, and strengthening of vocational education in relation to emerging needs in urban and rural settings were the major thrusts of the plan. These goals were to be achieved by using formal, non–formal, and open channels of learning. The plan stated that in those states with an advanced library system, rural libraries should become the focal points for post–literacy and continuing education programs.

Book promotion was also emphasised in this plan, to be promoted by the organisation of a National Center for Children’s Literature, which should produce 3,000 titles annually. Important books were to be translated into the various Indian languages, and books for neoliterates published. Publishers and voluntary agencies were to be given assistance, and the school library program, undertaken as part of the “Operation Blackboard” scheme of the National Policy on Education - 1986, was to continue.

Ninth Five Year (1997 to 2002)

The emphasis during the Ninth Plan was on restoring the lost momentum of the adult education programme and making it more effective by clarifying the administrative and financing roles of the Centre, the states, Zilla Saksharata Samities (ZSS), Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), other local bodies and non-government organisations (NGOs). Therefore, the focus was on decentralised and disaggregated planning and implementation of literacy, post-literacy and continuing education programmes. The proposed measures to do this were devolution of power from the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA) to the State Literacy Mission Authority (SLMA) for financial sanction to projects under the Total Literacy Campaign (TLC) and Post Literacy Campaign (PLC) and empowerment of PRIs and urban local bodies to achieve universal literacy. Other steps included increasing the range and depth of NGOs involvement in literacy campaigns; meeting the special needs of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) and reducing rural-urban and male-female disparities in literacy through the campaign mode.

The National Literacy Mission (NLM) programme was revamped in 1999 to remove some lacunae. While increasing the scope of the programme, the parameters and norms of financial assistance of schemes under NLM were substantially enhanced.

The NLM had covered 96.64 million persons under various adult literacy schemes up to December 2001. Out of 593 districts in the country, 160 districts were covered under TLC, 264 under PLC (including 30 under the Rural Functional Literacy Programme) and 152 under the Continuing Education Programme. NLM was then engaged in the task of imparting functional literacy to persons in the 15-35 age group and had set a medium-term goal for itself to achieve a sustainable threshold literacy level of 75 per cent by 2005.

Literary Scenario as per 2001 census

The literacy rate in the country had increased from 18.33% in 1951 to 65.38% in 2001. Thus in five decades, the literacy % had grown by 47.05% or by an average of 9.41%. According to 2001 census, male literacy was 75.85% and female literacy was 54.16%.

Tenth Five Year Plan (2002 to 2007)

In the field of adult education, the National Literacy Mission was in place with clear focus and medium-term goals. The Tenth Plan targets for adult education were:

To achieve full literacy, i.e., a sustainable threshold level of 75 per cent by 2005.
To cover all left-over districts by 2003- 2004.
To remove residual illiteracy in the existing districts by 2004-05.
To complete Post Literacy Campaign in all districts.
To launch Continuing Education Programmes in 100 districts by the end of the Plan period.


Illiteracy is largely a problem of social groups among whom literacy rates are low and who also suffer from other handicaps which make it difficult for them to participate in the adult education programme. It is, therefore, most important to ensure greater participation of these groups in future adult education programmes. This requires a focused attention to their needs and problems and to the adoption of specific measures to suit their requirements. The focus in the Tenth Plan was to shift to residual illiteracy and cater to difficult segments of the population. This means that all the left-over districts and the left-over harder-to reach groups were to be targeted specifically.

THE PATH AHEAD - A firm view needs to be taken on the content and the reach of the Adult Literacy pogramme. Through the schemes of continuing education and distance education it has to be ensured that all the neo-literates do not lapse into illiteracy. Equally important will be the need to enhance the opportunities for their vocational training to enable them to earn a living after they have achieved literacy.

Eleventh Five year Plan (2007 to 2012)

The 11th Plan outlay for Adult Education, fixed at 1.5 billion dollars, represents a very significant enhancement over the combined outlays of 715 million dollars for the 8th, 9th and 10th Plan periods. India’s 11th Five Year Plan incorporates the notion of lifelong education. This inclusion has facilitated a very significant reassessment of the programme: from the earlier sequential and fragmented approach of basic literacy The National Literacy Mission is developing a series of instruments/ models to facilitate this process.

There are areas in the country – educationally deprived and isolated – where volunteers may not be available within the village for teaching, because the overall levels of education within that village or area may be very low. These areas would be provided specially trained instructors, from outside the community. The instructors will be especially chosen for their sensitivity to issues of gender and caste equality, and their commitment to constitutional values of democracy and secularism. In India, a second chance would be provided to young adults and adolescents who lost the opportunity for formal schooling. It has been observed that wherever positive stimulation has been provided, adolescents have, undoubtedly, done us proud.

The following are to be ensured in the new approach to Continuing and Lifelong Education as contemplated in the 11th Five year Plan:

That literacy is combined with skills for the enhancement of livelihood security and purchasing power provided for rural people under India’s new legislation, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act,
That literacy is synergised with the determinants of good health, namely nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and safe drinking water under the National Rural Health Mission,
That literacy is incorporated with political empowerment, particularly of women elected to local self governments,
That literacy reinforces and augments India’s nation-wide campaign for Right to Information and through that process leads to an informed citizenry, crucial to any democracy.
And that literacy is intrinsically linked with universalisation of elementary education of equitable quality, so that the fresh flow of illiteracy is arrested.


Through the instrument of literacy and education for all, let us work together to ensure that the societies remain enriched by the best traditions of their own heritage and yet remain open to the light of science and progressive thought and that our societies are freed from poverty, from prejudice, from oppression, discrimination, inequality and violence.



  1. Shah S.Y. (1999), An Encyclopedia of Indian Adult Education, Published by National Literacy Mission, Directorate of Adult Education, Ministry of HRD, New Delhi.
  2. http://planningcommission.gov.in