Inclusive Educational Growth Strategy: Learning from Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu possibly has the highest number of educational institutions in India, right from the kindergarten level to the doctorate level. The spread of various educational institutions in both the Government and private sector is significant. Understanding the experience will throw light on educational strategies that can be possibly adopted throughout India.


When the Congress party was defeated in Tamil Nadu, the growth of the regional parties like the DMK and the AIADMK started. Together, these two parties have ushered in a massive educational reform and have increased literacy levels to the highest. They have also ensured that almost everyone gets to study at least up to the school final level. The State Government has also evolved certain strategies to keep the higher education needs of working personnel at a very high level.

The particular emphasis on social justice has meant that the various sections of society have studied; across castes and communities, the educational level is so high. The presence of a substantially significant number of quality educational institutions gives the Corporate companies too many choices and they do not look beyond Tamil Nadu, for most of their manpower needs. This revolution is an on-going one and cannot be so easily explained in just one article. Yet, this article will seek to discuss a) The Reservation Policy b) The widespread growth of educational institutions c) Market-driven competition in higher education d) The Rapid spread of distance education, and e) The Revolution through the Tamil language.

The Reservation Policy

Tamil Nadu is the only state in India, where a whopping 69% reservation policy is applicable. In the year 1971, the DMK Government of Mr, Karunanidhi hiked the reservation for the Backward ClassesBCs) from 25% to 31%; the MGR Government further hiked this reservation for BCs from 31% to 69%. Hence, 69% of reservations had the BCs getting 26.5, the Most Backward Classes getting 26.5%, the Most Backward Classes ( the denotified communities) getting 20%, and the BC Muslims getting 3.5%. The Scheduled Castes have 18% reservation and the Scheduled Tribes have 1% reservation. Though an Act adopted in the Tamil Nadu State Assembly in 1993, the Jayalalitha Government made this a law, and the then President of India, Mr. Shankar Dayal Sharma gave his assent to it in July 1994. Furthermore, the Jayalalitha Government applied pressure to bring in a Constitutional Amendment and this enabled the Tamil Nadu Act to be included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. This legal protection still remains. The case against the enhanced 69% reservation is still pending in the Supreme Court, as the reservation elsewhere in the country is still capped at 50%.

Implicit in this policy is a major social objective of making every single family have at least one graduate. The first graduates in every family are also given some concessions in terms of fees; there are many engineering colleges where someone donates some money and students are given free food and sometimes even free hostel accommodation. While this 69% reservation policy is questionable, it has effectively answered questions such as should a servant maid's son also become another servant maid, or should he become a graduate? The answer is always in the affirmative and the seeds of a massive educational reform have been sown decades ago. The revolution is still on.

The Widespread growth of educational institutions

Today, the remotest of villages have a Government school not farther than four kilometres from it. The school has facilities to study up to the plus two levels. Even here, there are systematic efforts to ensure that the Government colleges are not so far away; the bus pass in the State Government transport corporations is free. The Government school children are now supported by many Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and efforts are being made to increase the scope of these activities.

The spread of arts and science colleges run by the Government can become a sociological study for any scholar. Every effort is being made to provide good education and there are so many Universities in cities, each of which is separated by just a three-hour drive or less and well connected by buses.

Tiruchirapalli is just less than five hours by the fastest train from Chennai. It is the seat of the Bharathidasan University. Go down further South, for another three hours, and at Madurai, the third-largest city of Tamil Nadu, there is the Madurai-Kamaraj University

Another three hours drive from here, and at Tirunelveli, there is the Manonmaniyam Sundaranar University. There are a substantially large number of colleges near the cities and remote areas as well. These arts and science colleges and the engineering colleges, affiliated to the Anna University provide quality education and hence most parents prefer their children to study in the nearby colleges. Distance is never an issue, as bus transport is highly successful in connecting various parts of the State's remote areas as well.

There are polytechnic colleges, and these are governed by the Directorate of Technical Education. There are so many houses in so many nearby towns. Since the population of Tamil Nadu has not increased at all, the polytechnics that are good in quality, attract the best quality students. The Diploma holders, who study for three years, can even take up a job, and then quit to join a good engineering college in the second year, through the lateral entry scheme. There is also another advantage for the B.Sc degree holders. Even they can enter the second year of the engineering course.

To give one example, the town of Gudiyatham, near Vellore in North Tamil Nadu, which is famous for its small-scale match industries and a thriving agricultural sector has a good quality polytechnic called the Rajagopal Polytechnic, The students of this college get placed in reputed organizations throughout India.

Market-driven competition in higher education

When the students who seek admission to specific courses in college ins are just about sufficient, there is naturally a tough competition between the existing players in the colleges. This competition includes all higher education institutions. It is a massive struggle for survival and growth.

The growth of institutions is in tune with market requirements. Those institutions that are market-driven, reinvest fees borrowed from students and keep on improving the standards of education from strength to strength.

Similarly, after new courses like Master's Degree in Investment Management, Finance and Control and Social Work with a specialization in HR, the colleges have become very competitive. The job-orientation has increased even at the undergraduate level, with the introduction of courses in Microbiology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, and so on. The Bachelor's Degree in Visual Communication first started in the early eighties in the world-class Loyola College, Chennai is now offered in every city in a large number of arts and science colleges and in the semi-urban areas as well.

Hence, there will be a few institutions that cannot survive in engineering education. They are either being taken up by bigger players or being converted into arts and science colleges. For the several innovative thoughts and ideas contained in the new education policy, the State and even private Universities are very well poised. The SRM University and VIT University, are well equipped to start the liberal arts courses as well.

Another sector that has experienced massive growth is the private school sector. Those parents who are well off and have the resources, admit their children to such high-quality schools, most of which follow the CBSE pattern of education. This phenomenon is not just restricted to the big cities. It has spread to even relatively small towns like Namakkal, which is now a district headquarter town. The growth of secondary towns has given a fillip to the rapid growth and development of CBSE schools in towns like Karur, Namakkal, Nagercoil, Tirunelveli, and so on.

The rapid spread of distance education

This has already been discussed in a few articles of mine on distance education. What is most important is the systematic growth of distance education in every University, and the sheer range of courses offered is simply so diverse that many students from across India, make it a point to register for good courses run by the Directorate of Distance Education of the largest Univesity in this regard -- the Annamalai University.

The Revolution through the Tamil language

Though English is an international language and is the language of commerce that enables any student to go far ahead in life, there is always a need to teach any subject through the mother tongue. Tamil Nadu is one state that has always recognized the need to connect to millions of students at the school and college level through the Tamil medium. There are many courses like economics and commerce that are offered through the Tamil medium.

Students from villages who know only Tamil, always study through the Tamil medium. This has enabled an entire generation of students to become graduates. These graduates have been gainfully employed in the State Government and even in several schools, where they can conveniently teach through the Tamil medium. The State Government has made Tamil the most important language of administration.


The Educational Revolution has been brought about through a well-planned strategy that has travelled through all the steps discussed above. Its main plank is social justice. It is a massive experiment to change the lives of millions of citizens. That the education revolution is now growing by leaps and bounds is one factor that will give it a big fillip in the years to come.

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