The Ministry of Human Resource Development released the draft National Education Policy, 2016 in July this year.[1]  The Ministry was receiving comments on the draft policy until the end of September 2016.  In this context, we provide an overview of the proposed framework in the draft Policy to address challenges in the education sector. The country’s education policy was last revised in 1992.  It outlined equitable access to quality education, with a common educational structure of 10+2+3 years.  The draft Policy 2016 aims to create an education system which ensures quality education and learning opportunities for all.  The focus areas of intervention of the draft Policy are: (i) access and participation, (ii) quality of education, (iii) curriculum and examination reforms, (iv) teacher development and management and (v) skill development and employability.  Through these key interventions, the draft Policy provides a framework for the development of education in the country over the next few years.  We discuss the key areas of intervention below.

Access and participation Figure 1 (1)Presently in the country, enrolment at pre-school levels for children between the ages of 3- 5 years is low.  38% of children in this age bracket are enrolled in pre-school education in government anganwadi centres, while 27% of the children are not attending any (either government or private) pre-school.[2]  In contrast, the enrolment rate in primary education, which is class 1-5, is almost 100%.  However, this reduces to 91% in classes 6-8 and 78% in classes 9-12.[3]  The trend of lower enrolment rates is seen in higher education (college and university level), where it is at 24%.[4]  Due to low enrolment rates after class 5, transition of students from one level to the next is a major challenge.  Figure 1 shows the enrolment rates across different education levels. With regard to improving participation of children in pre-school education, the draft Policy aims to start a program for children in the pre-school age group which will be implemented in coordination with the Ministry of Women and Child Development.  It also aims to strengthen pre-school education in anganwadis by developing learning materials and training anganwadi workers.  Presently, the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 applies to elementary education only.  To improve access to education, the draft Policy suggests bringing secondary education under the ambit of the RTE Act.  However, a strategy to increase enrolment across different levels of education has not been specified. Quality of education Figure 2 (1)A large number of children leave school before passing class eight.  In 2013-14, the proportion of students who dropped out from classes 1-8 was 36% and from classes 1-10 was 47%.3  Figure 2 shows the proportion of students who exited the school system in classes 1-8 in 2008-09 and 2013-14. Among the population of children who stay in school, the quality or level of learning is low.  The Economic Survey 2015-16 noted that the proportion of class 3 children able to solve simple two-digit subtraction problems fell from 26% in 2013 to 25% in 2014.  Similarly, the percentage of class two children who cannot recognize numbers up to 9 increased from 11.3% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2014.[5] To address the issue of learning levels in school going children, the draft Policy proposes that norms for learning outcomes should be developed and applied uniformly to both private and government schools.  In addition, it also recommends that the existing no-detention policy (promoting all students of a class to the next class, regardless of academic performance) till class 8  be amended and limited to class 5.  At the upper primary stage (class six onward), the system of detention should be restored. Curriculum and examination reforms It has been noted that the current curriculum followed in schools does not help students acquire relevant skills which are essential to become employable.  The draft Policy highlights that the assessment practices in the education system focus on rote learning and testing the students’ ability to reproduce content knowledge, rather than on understanding. The draft Policy aims to restructure the present assessment system to ensure a more comprehensive evaluation of students, and plans to include learning outcomes that relate to both scholastic and co-scholastic domains.  In order to reduce failure rates in class 10, the Policy proposes to conduct examination for the subjects of mathematics, science and English in class 10 at two levels.  The two levels will be part A (at a higher level) and part B (at a lower level).  Students who wish to opt for a vocational stream or courses for which mathematics, science and English are not compulsory may opt for part B level examination. Teacher development and management It has been observed that the current teacher education and training programs are inadequate in imparting the requisite skills to teachers.  The mismatch between institutional capacity to train teachers and required supply in schools results in a shortage of qualified teachers.  At the level of classes 9-12, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan prescribes a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:30.[6]  However, some states have a higher teacher-pupil ratio: Chhattisgarh (1:45), Bihar (1:57) and Jharkhand (1:68).3  In various central universities, the total number of sanctioned teaching posts is 16,339, of which 37% are lying vacant.[7] The draft Policy recommends that state governments should set up independent teacher recruitment commissions to facilitate transparent, merit based recruitment of principals, teachers, and other academic staff.  For teacher development, a Teacher Education University should be set up at the national level to focus on teacher education and faculty development.  In addition, the draft Policy also states that all teacher education institutes must have mandatory accreditation.  To ensure effective teacher management, periodic assessment of teachers in government and private schools should be carried out and linked to their future promotions and increments. Skill development and employability It has been noted that the current institutional arrangements to support technical and vocational education programs for population below 25 years of age is inadequate.  The social acceptability of vocational education is also low.  Presently, over 62% of the population in the country is in the working age-group (15-59 years).[8]  Only 10% of this workforce (7.4 crore) is trained, which includes about 3% who are formally trained and 7% who are informally trained.[9]  In developed countries, skilled workforce is between 60-90% of the total workforce.[10] The draft Policy proposes to integrate skill development programs in 25% of schools and higher education institutions in the country.  This is in line with the National Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Policy that was released by the government in 2015. The draft Policy 2016 focuses on important aspects that have not been addressed in previous policies such as: (i) curriculum and examination reforms, and (ii) teacher development .  Although the Policy sets a framework for improving education in the country,  the various implementation strategies that will be put in place to achieve the education outcomes envisaged by it remains to be seen. For an analysis on some education indicators such as enrolment of students, drop-out rates, availability of teachers and share of government and private schools, please see our Vital Stats on the ‘overview of the education sector’ here. [1] Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016, Ministry of Human Resource Development, [2] Rapid Survey on Children, 2013-14, Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India, [3] Secondary education in India, U-DISE 2014-15, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, [4] All India Survey on Higher Education 2014-15, [5] Economic Survey 2015-16, Volume-2, [6] Overview,  Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, Ministry of Human Resource Development, [7] “265th Report: Demands for Grants (Demand No. 60) of the Department of Higher Education”, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, April 2013, 2015, [8] “Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship: Key Achievements and Success Stories in 2015”, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Press Information Bureau, December 15, 2015. [9] Draft Report of the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Skill Development, NITI Aayog, September 2015, [10] Economic Survey 2014-15, Volume  2,

In April 2020, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that nearly 2.5 crore jobs could be lost worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.  Further, it observed that more than 40 crore informal workers in India may get pushed into deeper poverty due to the pandemic.  In this blog post, we discuss the effect of COVID-19 on unemployment in urban areas as per the quarterly Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report released last week, and highlight some of the measures taken by the central government with regard to unemployment.

Methodology for estimating unemployment in PLFS reports

The National Statistics Office (NSO) released its latest quarterly PLFS report for the October-December 2020 quarter.  The PLFS reports give estimates of labour force indicators including Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR), Unemployment Rate, and distribution of workers across industries.  The reports are released on a quarterly as well as annual basis.  The quarterly reports cover only urban areas whereas the annual report covers both urban and rural areas.  The latest annual report is available for the July 2019-June 2020 period.

The quarterly PLFS reports provide estimates based on the Current Weekly Activity Status (CWS).  The CWS of a person is the activity status obtained during a reference period of seven days preceding the date of the survey.  As per CWS status, a person is considered as unemployed in a week if he did not work even for at least one hour on any day during the reference week but sought or was available for work.  In contrast, the headline numbers on employment-unemployment in the annual PLFS reports are reported based on the usual activity status.  Usual activity status relates to the activity status of a person during the reference period of the last 365 days preceding the date of the survey.

Unemployment rate remains notably higher than the pre-COVID period 

To contain the spread of COVID-19, a nationwide lockdown was imposed from late March till May 2020.   During the lockdown, severe restrictions were placed on the movement of individuals and economic activities were significantly halted barring the activities related to essential goods and services.  Unemployment rate in urban areas rose to 20.9% during the April-June quarter of 2020, more than double the unemployment rate in the same quarter the previous year (8.9%).  Unemployment rate refers to the percentage of unemployed persons in the labour force.  Labour force includes persons who are either employed or unemployed but seeking work.  The lockdown restrictions were gradually relaxed during the subsequent months.   Unemployment rate also saw a decrease as compared to the levels seen in the April-June quarter of 2020.  During the October-December quarter of 2020 (latest data available), unemployment rate had reduced to 10.3%.  However, it was notably higher than the unemployment rate in the same quarter last year (7.9%).

Figure 1: Unemployment rate in urban areas across all age groups as per current weekly activity status (Figures in %)


Note: PLFS includes data for transgenders among males.
Sources: Quarterly Periodic Labour Force Survey Reports, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation; PRS.

Recovery post-national lockdown uneven in case of females

Pre-COVID-19 trends suggest that the female unemployment rate has generally been higher than the male unemployment rate in the country (7.3% vs 9.8% during the October-December quarter of 2019, respectively).  Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this gap seems to have widened.   During the October-December quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate for females was 13.1%, as compared to 9.5% for males.

The Standing Committee on Labour (April 2021) also noted that the pandemic led to large-scale unemployment for female workers, in both organised and unorganised sectors.  It recommended: (i) increasing government procurement from women-led enterprises, (ii) training women in new technologies, (iii) providing women with access to capital, and (iv) investing in childcare and linked infrastructure.

Labour force participation

Persons dropping in and out of the labour force may also influence the unemployment rate.  At a given point of time, there may be persons who are below the legal working age or may drop out of the labour force due to various socio-economic reasons, for instance, to pursue education.  At the same time, there may also be discouraged workers who, while willing and able to be employed, have ceased to seek work.  Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is the indicator that denotes the percentage of the population which is part of the labour force.  The LFPR saw only marginal changes throughout 2019 and 2020.  During the April-June quarter (where COVID-19 restrictions were the most stringent), the LFPR was 35.9%, which was lower than same in the corresponding quarter in 2019 (36.2%).  Note that female LFPR in India is significantly lower than male LFPR (16.6% and 56.7%, respectively, in the October-December quarter of 2019).

Figure 2: LFPR in urban areas across all groups as per current weekly activity status (Figures in %)


Note: PLFS includes data for transgenders among males.
Sources: Quarterly Periodic Labour Force Survey Reports, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation; PRS.

Measures taken by the government for workers

The Standing Committee on Labour in its report released in August 2021 noted that 90% of workers in India are from the informal sector.  These workers include: (i) migrant workers, (ii) contract labourers, (iii) construction workers, and (iv) street vendors.  The Committee observed that these workers were worst impacted by the pandemic due to seasonality of employment and lack of employer-employee relationship in unorganised sectors.  The Committee recommended central and state governments to: (i) encourage entrepreneurial opportunities, (ii) attract investment in traditional manufacturing sectors and developing industrial clusters, (iii) strengthen social security measures, (iv) maintain a database of workers in the informal sector, and (v) promote vocational training.  It took note of the various steps taken by the central government to support workers and address the challenges and threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic (applicable to urban areas): 

  • Under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), the central government contributed both 12% employer’s share and 12% employee’s share under Employees Provident Fund (EPF).  Between March and August 2020, a total of Rs 2,567 crore was credited in EPF accounts of 38.85 lakhs eligible employees through 2.63 lakh establishments.
  • The Aatmanirbhar Bharat Rozgar Yojna (ABRY) Scheme was launched with effect from October 2020 to incentivise employers for the creation of new employment along with social security benefits and restoration of loss of employment during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Further, statutory provident fund contribution of both employers and employees was reduced to 10% each from the existing 12% for all establishments covered by EPF Organisation for three months.  As of June 30, 2021, an amount of Rs 950 crore has been disbursed under ABRY to around 22 lakh beneficiaries.
  • The unemployment benefit under the Atal Beemit Vyakti Kalyan Yojana (launched in July 2018) was enhanced from 25% to 50% of the average earning for insured workers who have lost employment due to COVID-19.
  • Under the Prime Minister’s Street Vendor’s Aatma Nirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) scheme, the central government provided an initial working capital of up to Rs 10,000 to street vendors.  As of June 28, 2021, 25 lakh loan applications have been sanctioned and Rs 2,130 crore disbursed to 21.57 lakh beneficiaries.

The central and state governments have also taken various other measures, such as increasing spending on infrastructure creation and enabling access to cheaper lending for businesses, to sustain economic activity and boost employment generation.