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Education in India

India has had a long, interesting history of education and has been a major seat of learning for centuries. Its current state presents a much varied picture. While the country has some of the best Universities (IITs, IISc, IIMs, AIIMS) in the world, it is also dealing with challenges in its primary education and strives to reach 100% literacy. Universal Primary Education, with its challenges of keeping poorer children in school and maintaining quality in rural regions, has been a difficult to achieve (Kerala has been the only state to reach this goal so far). All levels of education, from primary to higher education, are heavily subsidized by the Indian government.


The system is divided into preprimary, primary, middle (or intermediate), secondary (or high school), and higher levels. Preprimary is usually composed of Lower Kindergarten and Higher Kindergarten, where primary reading and writing skills are developed. Primary school includes children of ages six to eleven, organized into classes one through five. Middle school pupils aged eleven through fourteen are organized into classes six through eight, and high school students ages fourteen through seventeen are enrolled in classes nine through twelve. Higher Education in India provides an opportunity to specialize in a field and includes technical schools (such as the Indian Institutes of Technology), colleges, and universities.

In India, the main types of schools are those controlled by:

  • The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) board
  • The Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) board
  • The state government
  • International schools: These schools mimic the schools in the West in pattern and syllabi and mainly comprise of immigrants and of children of richer Indians that can afford it. 

Elementary Education

During the eighth five-year plan, the target of "universalizing" elementary education was divided into three broad parameters: Universal Access, Universal Retention and Universal Achievement i.e. making education accessible to children, making sure that they continue education and finally, achieving goals. As a result of education programs, by the end of 2000, 94% of India's rural population had primary schools within one km and 84% had upper primary schools within 3 km. Special efforts have made to enroll SC/ST and girls. The enrollment in primary and upper-primary schools has gone up considerably since the first five-year plan. So has the number of primary and upper-primary schools. In 1950-51, only 3.1 million students had enrolled for primary education. In 1997-98, this figure was 39.5 million. The number of primary and upper-primary schools was 0.223 million in 1950-51. This figure was 0.775 million in 1996-97.

In 2002/2003, an estimated 82% of children in the age group of 6-14 were enrolled in school. The Government of India aims to increase this to 100% by the end of the decade. To achieve this the Government launched Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

The strategies adopted by the Government to check drop-out rates are:

  • creating parental awareness 
  • community mobilization 
  • economic incentives 
  • Minimum Levels of Learning (MLL) 
  • District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) 
  • National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (Mid-day Meals Scheme) 
  • The 83rd Constitutional Amendment Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha to make the Right to Elementary Education a fundamental right and a fundamental duty. 
  • National Elementary Education Mission 
  • A National Committee of State Education Ministers has been set up with the Minister of Human Resource Development as the Chairperson of the committee. 
  • Media publicity and advocacy plans. 
  • Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan

Middle and secondary level education

Each major Indian city and town has plenty of government-funded high schools catering to the working classes, who form the majority of the population. Government high schools are sometimes English medium schools (this is often true in large cities) but students are usually taught in the regional language. These institutions are heavily subsidised, and so often are not able to provide the students with a thorough and well-rounded education. Study materials (such as textbooks, notebooks and stationary) are also subsidised and can be purchased by the students for almost nothing. Government schools follow the state curriculum.

There are also a number of excellent private schools providing secondary education at much more difficult standards. These schools usually either follow the national curriculum or provide an international qualification. The national boards (CBSE or ICSE) are at a much higher level than the state curriculum taught at government schools, much harder and constantly updated. Many top secondary schools offer an alternative international qualification, such as the IB program or A Levels.

Some of the well known private schools in India are:

  • La Martiniere College, Calcutta, Lucknow and Lyons (France) 
  • The Doon School, Dehra Dun 
  • The Scindia School, Gwalior (for boys) 
  • Colvin Taluqdars' College, Lucknow (for boys) 
  • Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya, Gwalior (for girls) 
  • Mahindra United World College of India, near Pune 
  • Mallya Aditi International School, Bangalore 
  • Hyderabad Public School, Hyderabad 
  • Modern School, New Delhi 
  • Delhi Public School, branches all over India 
  • N.C.Jindal Public School, New Delhi 
  • Banyan Tree School, New Delhi, Chandigarh 

Higher Education

Higher Education in India has evolved in distinct and divergent streams with each stream monitored by an apex body, indirectly controlled by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The universities, are mostly funded by the state governments. However, there are 18 important universities called Central universities, which are maintained by the Union Government and because of relatively large funding, they have an edge over the others.

In addition to these, the private sector has also aggressively emerged in higher education. The Indian Institutes of Technology are among the best in the world, on par with M.I.T and Caltech. The National Law School, Bangalore is the best in India (many of its students get Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford), and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences is consistently rated the top medical school in the country and one of the best in the world. The Institutes of Management (IIMs) are the top management institutes in India and at par with the best in the world.

History of Indian Education System

Up to the 17th century

The first millennium and the few centuries preceding it saw the flourishing of higher education at Nalanda, Takshila, Ujjain, & Vikramshila Universities. Art, Architecture, Painting, Logic, Grammar, Philosophy, Astronomy, Literature, Buddhism, Hinduism, Arthashastra (Economics & Politics), Law, and Medicine were among the subjects taught and each university specialized in a particular field of study. Takshila specialized in the study of medicine, while Ujjain laid emphasis on astronomy. Nalanda, being the biggest centre, handled all branches of knowledge, and housed up to 10,000 students at its peak.

Education under British Rule

British records show that indigenous education was widespread in the 18th century, with a school for every temple, mosque or village in most regions of the country. The subjects taught included Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Theology, Law, Astronomy, Metaphysics, Ethics, Medical Science and Religion. The schools were attended by students representative of all classes of society.

The current system of education, with its western style and content, was introduced & funded by the British in the 19th century, following recommendations by Macaulay. Traditional structures were not recognized by the British govt and have been on the decline since. Gandhi is said to have described the traditional educational system as a beautiful tree that was destroyed during the British rule.

After Independence

After independence, education became the responsibility of the states. The Central Government's only obligation was to co-ordinate in technical and higher education and specify standards. This continued till 1976, when the education became a joint responsibility of the state and the Centre.

After 1976

In 1976, education was made a joint responsibility of the states and the Centre, through a constitutional amendment. The center is represented by Ministry of Human Resource Development's Department of Education and together with the states, it is jointly responsible for the formulation of education policy and planning.

NPE 1986 and revised PoA 1992 envisioned that free and compulsory education should be provided for all children up to 14 years of age before the commencement of 21st century. Government of India made a commitment that by 2000, 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be spent on education, out of which half would be spent on the Primary education.

In November 1998, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced setting up of Vidya Vahini Network to link up universities, UGC and CSIR.

Recent developments

The Indian Education System is generally marks-based. However, some experiments have been made to do away with the marks-based system which has lead to cases of depression and suicides among students. In 2005, the Kerala government introduced a grades-based system in the hope that it will help students to move away from the cut-throat competition and rote-learning and will be able to focus on creative aspects and personality development as well.

Expenditure on Education in India

The Government expenditure on Education has greatly increased since the First five-year plan. The Government of India has highly subsidized higher education. Nearly 97% of the Central Government expenditure on elementary education goes towards the payment of teachers' salaries.


Non-Formal Education

In 1979-80, the Government of India, Department of Education launched a program of Non-Formal Education (NFE) for children of 6-14 years age group, who cannot join regular schools. These children include school drop-outs, working children, children from areas without easy access to schools etc. The initial focus of the scheme was on ten educationally backward states. Later, it was extended to urban slums, hilly, tribal and desert areas in other states as well. The program is now functional in 25 states/UTs. 100% assistance is given to voluntary organizations for running NFE centers.

Bal Bhavans

Bal Bhavans centers, which are operational all over India, aim to enhance creative and sports skills of children in the age group 5-16 years. There are various State and District Bal Bhavans, which conduct programs in fine-arts, aeromodeling, computer-education, sports, martial arts, performing arts etc. They are also equipped with libraries with books for children. New Delhi alone has 52 Bal Bhavan centers. The National Bal Bhavan is an autonomous institution under the Department of Education. It provides general guidance, training facility and transfer of information to State and District Bal Bhavans situated all over India.

Education for special sections of society


Under Non-Formal Education programme, about 40% of the centers in states and 10% of the centers in UTs are exclusively for girls. As of 2000, about 0.3 million NFE centers were catering to about 7.42 milion children, out of which about 0.12 million were exclusively for girls.

In engineering, medical and other colleges, 30% of the seats have been reserved for women.


The Government has reserved seats for SC/STs in all areas of education. Special scholarships and other incentives are provided for SC/ST candidates. Many State Governments have completely waived fees for SC/ST students. The IITs have a special coaching program for the SC/ST candiates who fail in the entrance exams marginally.

Criticism of Indian Education System

Modern education in India is often criticized for being based on rote learning. Emphasis is laid on passing exams with high percentage. Few institutes give importance to developing personality and creativity among students. Recently, the country has seen a rise in instances of student suicides due to low marks and failures, especially in metropolitan cities like Mumbai.

The expenditure spent on schools is generally very little compared to the admission fees of the students, which is in many cases not all they have to pay: the cost for the school uniform, school buses, books, miscellaneous materials supplied to students (notes, other paper), school picnic, etc. are not included in the fees. Also, items supplied by the school such as textbooks are sometimes given at a price that is higher than the retail price, even though such items are ordered in bulk.

The presence of a number of education boards (SSC, ICSE, CBSE, IB) leads to non-uniformity. A large number of SSC (State board) students complain that their ICSE and CBSE counterparts are given higher percentages, which gives them an unfair advantage during college admissions. Most colleges though account for these differences during admissions. Generally, ICSE and CBSE certificates are more sought after than SSC certificates, as they are nation wide boards. The syllabi prescribed by the various boards are accused of being archaic and some textbooks (mostly ones written for the SSC) contain many errors (add link).

The boards are recently trying to improve quality of education by increasing percentage of practical and project marks. However, critics say even this is memorized by students (or even plagiarized). This is attributed to pressure from parents who are eager to see high scores more than overall development.

Many people also criticize the reverse discrimination inherent in caste, language and religion-based reservations in education system. Many allege that only creamy layer of the weaker castes get the benefit of reservations and that forged caste certificates abound. Educational institutions also can seek religious minority (non-Hindu) or linguistic minority status. In such institutions, 50% of the seats are reserved for students belonging to a particular religion or having particular mother-tongue(s). For example, many colleges run by the Jesuits and Salesians have 50% seats reserved for Roman Catholics. In case of languages, an institution can declare itself linguistic minority only in states in which the language is not official language. For example, an engineering college can declare itself as linguistic-minority (Hindi) institution in the state of Maharashtra (where official state language is Marathi), but not in Madhya Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh (where the official state language is Hindi). These reservations have been a cause of heartburn among many. Many students with poor marks manage to get creamy admissions, while meritorious students are left out. Critics say that such reservations may eventually create rifts in the society.

The general corruption prevalent in India is also an issue in the Education system. Engineering, medical and other lucrative seats are sometimes sold for high prices and ridden with nepotism and power-play.

Student politics is also a major issue, as many institutions are run by politicians.

Ragging used to be a major problem in colleges, but tough rules and regulations have curbed it. Some state governments have made ragging a criminal offence.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_India

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