ISRO’s successful launch of Chandrayaan 3 demonstrates the benefits of a rural-oriented decentralised educational policy

chandrayaan 3


Shri Dharmendra Pradhan

Union Education Minister

Dear Shri Pradhan,

ISRO’s successful low-cost high-precision landing of its Chandrayaan 3 rover on the south pole of the lunar surface has brought global praise for India’s technological abilities. ISRO’s Chairman, Shri S. Somanath, his highly talented team and all those who have visualised and nurtured ISRO since its inception in 1962 deserve the nation’s accolades and gratitude.

The successful landing of Chandrayan rover on the hitherto unexplored location on the moon has catapulted ISRO, an entirely public sector entity, to be among the few “global champions” in space technology, making light of NITI Ayog’s idea of “supporting a small number of (private sector) global champions among India’s businesses, so that they could achieve the scale and scope needed to drive Indian economic growth (

In this connection, I invite your attention to my letter of August 25, 2023, addressed to the Union Finance Minister ( pointing out how budgetary resources spent on public institutions like ISRO can yield huge benefits to the country on several fronts.

I recall your own response to Chandrayan’s success as follows:

As we all celebrate India’s lunar triumph, Odisha’s connection with #Chandrayaan3 adds an extra ounce of pride in the heart of every Odia. Several critical components for the Chandrayaan-3 mission have been developed and manufactured at CTTC, Bhubaneswar. Applaud the expertise and skills of the technicians as well as the world-class manufacturing facilities at CTTC. The success of Chandrayaan-3 will bring more spotlight and opportunities for the centre” (

The credit for drawing technical inputs from local institutions across the country, like the Central Tool Room & Training Centre (CTTC), Bhubaneswar, based entirely on local talent, should go to ISRO, which has consciously cast its net wide to involve as much indigenous talent as possible in missions such as Chandrayan which have received world-wide acclaim. That explains the phenomenally low cost of the successive ISRO missions.

Chandrayaan 3 is indeed a cost-efficient mission, costing the nation hardly Rs 600 Crores. Of course, the value of the inputs and the commitment provided to it by ISRO’s highly motivated scientists, engineers and other employees is immeasurable. Looking back at the way ISRO has evolved over the last six decades, it has succeeded in reaching the frontiers of space technology and, in that process, has simultaneously generated a wide range of technologies applicable to several other important sectors of the economy. ISRO transferred over 400 technologies to around 235 industries spanning several crucial sectors such as electronics, computer-based systems, chemicals, special materials, telecommunications, satellite navigation, optical instrumentation and so on which have wide applications in education, health, defence, and several other strategic sectors” (”

As a public sector institution, in its effort to indigenise its projects to the maximum extent possible, ISRO has obtained technological inputs of a high standard from several CPSEs, many government-sponsored institutions like the CTTCs, several innovative small enterprises and some specialised private companies. This has become possible as a result of ISRO itself being an institution in the public sector, guided more by a genuine social purpose than by commercial motives.

Chapter 3.2 of the Annual Report (2022-23) of the Department of Space, which provides details of ISRO’s personnel, indicates that its 25,000+ employees including its scientific/ technical personnel are drawn from diverse sections of society, as is the case with all similar organisations in the public sector, which unlike those in the private sector, respect the welfare mandate that the Directive Principles of the Constitution and the other related Articles, require the State to fulfil.

It is all the more significant that the majority of those who have successfully contributed to the Chandrayan mission are not from premier academic institutions, as revealed in a reply reported to have been provided by ISRO in response to an application under the RTI Act (

it has been revealed through an application filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act that ISRO has been able to attract and retain very few graduates from the premier institutes like IIT or NIIT. The reply to the RTI application filed shows that only 2% of employees of ISRO are graduates from IITs or NITs…… The recruitment system in ISRO doesn’t differentiate between an IIT graduate from that of one from another engineering college”

Many candidates recruited by ISRO had their initial education in public institutions funded by and supervised by the States, spread over both rural and urban areas, in contrast with private education institutions which charge exorbitant fees that discriminate against students from disadvantaged sections.

From the point of view of formulating the national policy on education, the manner in which ISRO has recruited its personnel and their academic and socio-economic background, as in the case of other public sector entities, should provide valuable lessons. While the high fees charged by private educational institutions, as pointed out above, tend to discriminate against disadvantaged sections of society, those funded by the government charge fees affordable from the point of view of even the lowest among low-income families, with comparable, if not better, quality of education. Therefore, instead of indiscriminately promoting the idea of privatisation of education, as is the case now, both the Centre and the States should consciously promote education in the public sector, and enhance expenditure on preschool, primary, secondary and higher educational institutions, which constitute the backbone of India’s educational system.

The committee set up by the government under the chairmanship of Dr. K Kasturirangan (former Chairman of ISRO) to recommend a long-term policy on educational reforms has pointed out the need to enhance public spending on education in the following words.

Unfortunately, public expenditure on education in India has not come close to the recommended level of 6% of GDP, as envisaged by the 1968 Policy, reiterated in the Policy of 1986, and which was further reaffirmed in the 1992 review of the Policy. The current public (Government – Centre and States) expenditure on education in India has been around 4.43% of GDP”

The latest national policy on education approved by the government, though based primarily on the Kasturirangan Committee’s report, does not accord enough importance to increasing reliance on public educational institutions in preference to private institutions. As recommended by the Committee, it is imperative that the Centre and the States increase their budgetary expenditure on education subject to the following essential requirements;

  1. Considering the vast diversity that exists in India in terms of language, culture, regional disparities, socio-economic status of different sections of the society and so on, a decentralised approach to education is essential, especially at the preschool, elementary and secondary stages The latest education policy has some regressive components that tend to enlarge the role of the Centre and increase its oversight on education, which need to be corrected
  2. Instead of imposing its approach to education through Centrally Sponsored Schemes under Article 282 of the Constitution outside the purview of the Finance Commission, the Centre should devolve a greater share of the divisible pool of its revenues to the States to enable the latter to utilise those funds to make good the shortfall of 1.6% of GDP by formulating education approaches relevant to their respective needs. While enhancing public spending on education is desirable, it is the quality of expenditure that matters.
  3. There are many grassroots activists/ NGOs (e.g. [email protected]) working against the odds in remote backward areas, in close interaction with the local communities, gaining their trust, who have come up with far-reaching innovations in teaching that address local concerns much more effectively than centrally imposed pedagogic approaches. Some NGOs have developed highly effective ways to teach mathematics and science to rural children (e.g. [email protected]) The concerned Central/ State departments should evolve a system to look for, identify and tap into the experience of such individuals/ NGOs in order to get a clearer appreciation and take advantage of the enormous grassroots level talent that exists in India.
  4. While Para 4.2 of the 2020 National Education Policy (NEP2020) no doubt recommends that “the Foundational Stage [in two parts, that is, 3 years of Anganwadi/pre-school + 2 years in primary school in Grades 1-2; both together covering ages 3-8] will consist of five years of flexible, multilevel, play/activity-based learning and the curriculum and pedagogy of ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education to be developed by NCERT)”, it does not explicitly require the education system at that stage to sensitise the children to the basic problems faced by the society and ensure that the education system facilitates bringing about social changes necessary for building an equitable, secular society, without which India cannot achieve the desired socio-economic progress.

While the successful Chandrayan mission undoubtedly constitutes a tribute to India’s grassroots-level education system, I hope that your Ministry will also analyse the factors that have contributed to it and bring about improvements in the existing education system so as to facilitate India’s progress on all fronts in an inclusive manner.


Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to the Government of India

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