Education in India is provided by public schools (controlled and funded by three levels: central, state and local) and private schools. Under various articles of the Indian Constitution, free and compulsory education is provided as a fundamental right to children between the ages of 6 and 14. The approximate ratio of public schools to private schools in India is 7:5.
Education in India has an ancient tradition that dates back to the Vedic Period (1500 to 500 BC). By the time European colonialists arrived, education mostly took place in traditional Hindu village schools called gurukuls, or in Muslim elementary and secondary schools called maktabs and madrasas. The British colonialists then imposed an education system based on the British system and introduced English as a language of instruction. The first institutions of higher learning in a Western sense to emerge in British India were the University of Calcutta, the University of Bombay, and the University of Madras, all founded in 1857 based on the model of British universities.
The British, sought to spread European science and literature and develop a loyal English-speaking workforce, recruited mainly from India’s upper classes, to administer its colony. They established education departments in the colony’s provinces and discriminately disbursed funds in favor of English language schools teaching British curricula. On the eve of independence in 1947, India had 17 universities and about 636 colleges teaching approximately 238,000 students. Undoubtedly, the British had altered the shape of education in India, but they left the country with a grossly unequal and elitist system—an estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of the population was illiterate at the time of independence.
The period after independence was characterized by a rapid proliferation of teaching institutions across India as the country attempted to create a modern mass education system under the leadership of its first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (in office from 1947 to 1964). India’s first constitution, adopted in 1950, called for the provision of free public and compulsory education for all children until the age of 14—an objective that still eludes the nation today, enormous progress in expanding access to education over the past 70 years notwithstanding.
India was established as a decentralized country with a federal system of government. Thus, India’s states emerged as strong actors after 1947 and autonomously administered most aspects of education in the decades after independence. However, the central government of the Indian Union began to incrementally assume greater responsibilities with the establishment of institutions like the federal Department of Education, the University Grants Commission (UGC), instituted in 1953, and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), founded in 1962. In 1976, the constitution was eventually amended to make education the shared responsibility of the federal and state governments.
Primary and Middle (lower primary (Standards I to V) and upper primary (Standards VI to VIII)) education is compulsory and free in India. Primary education begins at age 6 with Middle/Upper Primary school education ending at age 14. Schooling is offered at state-run and private schools, however, private schools often have poorer facilities and infrastructure than government schools. The regional language is the medium of instruction for most primary schools and English as a second language generally begins by grade 3.
Secondary education begins in grade 9 and lasts until grade 12. The secondary stage is broken into two, two year cycles, generally referred to as General/Lower Secondary School, or ‘Standard X’, and Upper/Senior Secondary School, or ‘Standard XII’. Education continues to be free at government schools, although private education is more common at the secondary level. Public examinations are held at the end of both cycles and grant access to grade 11 and university level study respectively. General curriculum for lower secondary school in India consists of three languages (including the regional language, an elective, and English language), Mathematics, Science and Technology, Social Sciences, Work/Pre-Vocational Education, Art, and Physical Education. Secondary schools are affiliated with Central or State boards which administer the Secondary School Certificate at the end of grade 10.
Based upon performance in the first two years of secondary school, and upon the SSC results, students may enter Senior/Upper Secondary School. Upper Secondary School offers the students a chance to select a ‘stream’ or concentration of study, offering science, commerce, and arts/humanities. Education is administered both in schools or two-year junior colleges which are often affiliated with degree granting universities or colleges. Curriculum for the Higher Secondary Certificate Examination is determined by the boards of secondary education of which there are 31. Although the HSCE is the most common Standard XII examination, the All India Senior School Certificate (CBSE), Indian School Certificate, Certificate of Vocational Education (CISCE), Senior Secondary Certification (NIOS), Intermediate Certificate and the Pre-University Certificate are also offered.
Young people who do not wish to go on to tertiary education, or who fail to complete secondary school often enroll at privately-owned vocational schools that specialize in just one or only a few courses. Unlike in the United States, vocational and technical education is not highly specialized and is rather a broad overview of knowledge applicable to employment. The curriculum offered is composed up of a language course, foundation courses, and electives, of which half of electives are practical in nature. Examinations at the end of vocational education are conducted by the All India and State Boards of Vocational Education.
India’s higher education system is highly centralized and undergoing large changes since its inception in 1947. Largely based upon the British system of education, educational policy is ever-developing.
University education is overseen by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is responsible for the development of higher education, allocating funds, and recognition of institutions in India. The National Accreditation and Assessment Council (NAAC) was established by the UGC to assess universities and college based upon an alphabetical ranking system ranging from A++ to C. The assessment and Accreditation is broadly used for understanding the Quality Status of an institution and indicates that the particular institution meets the standards of quality as set by the NAAC. Participation in the accreditation process of NAAC is voluntary.
The All-India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) was also established to oversee quality control of technical education and regulate establishment of new private professional colleges. All recognized universities are members of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), which is integral to the dissemination of information and serves as an advisor to the government, UGC, and the institutions themselves.
There are various types of tertiary institutions in India, namely Universities (Central, State, Open), Universities of National Importance, and Deemed universities. Instruction of the majority of students, almost 80%, is completed at affiliated colleges with the curriculum, examinations, and final degree being designed and granted by the university. Constituent and Autonomous colleges also exist; though less common although they do enjoy greater autonomy in regards to curriculum development and assessment.
Admission to undergraduate courses generally requires completion of the Standard XII years of schooling and admittance to university depends almost exclusively upon performance on the examination. Bachelor’s degrees in the fields of arts, science, social studies, and commerce are almost exclusively three year programs. Diploma programs exist and range from 2 – 3 years in length and are provided at polytechnics, usually in a specialized engineering or technological field, and culminating in an Advanced or Post Diploma. Professional Bachelor’s degrees, in the fields of Medicine, Architecture, Law, etc., vary from 4 – 5.5 years depending upon the discipline.
Admission to graduate (Master, Post Graduate Diplomas, MBA, etc.) programs is dependent upon completion of a bachelor’s degree (3 or 4 years, depending upon the subject) with a Second Class pass or higher. Non-university education in Management is popular in India, with many institutions offering Post Graduate Diplomas in Management, lasting 2 years and generally equivalent to an MBA. Doctoral level degrees require a minimum of two or three years and consist of research and a thesis or dissertation.
Beginning in 2015, the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) was introduced by the UGC in attempts to encourage a more interdisciplinary approach to education and offer more flexibility and choice to students. The reform also introduced a standardized assessment and grading plan based upon a 10 point scale. Since its inception, the system has faced scrutiny by students and administrators, noting that although the system promises choice and flexibility, the infrastructure of the educational system now may be too weak yet to support the overhaul.