Education in India

Off By RetailMarketing

Education in India is primarily provided by public schools (controlled and funded by the government at three levels: federalstate and local) and private schools. Under various articles of the Indian Constitution and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, free and compulsory education is provided as a fundamental right to children aged 6 to 14. The approximate ratio of public schools to private schools in India is 7:5. Major policy initiatives in Indian education are numerous. Up until 1976, education policies and implementation were determined legally by each of India’s constitutional states. The 42nd amendment to the constitution in 1976 made education a ‘concurrent subject’. From this point on the central and state governments shared formal responsibility for funding and administration of education. In a country as large as India, now with 28 states and eight union territories, this means that the potential for variations between states in the policies, plans, programs and initiatives for elementary education is vast. Periodically, national policy frameworks are created to guide states in their creation of state-level programs and policies. State governments and local government bodies manage the majority of primary and upper primary schools and the number of government-managed elementary schools is growing. Simultaneously the number and proportion managed by private bodies is growing. In 2005-6 83.13% of schools offering elementary education (Grades 1-8) were managed by government and 16.86% of schools were under private management (excluding children in unrecognised schools, schools established under the Education Guarantee Scheme and in alternative learning centers). Of those schools managed privately, one third are ‘aided’ and two thirds are ‘unaided’. Enrolment in Grades 1-8 is shared between government and privately managed schools in the ratio 73:27. However in rural areas this ratio is higher (80:20) and in urban areas much lower (36:66).[10]

In the 2011 Census, about 73% of the population was literate, with 81% for males and 65% for females. National Statistical Commission surveyed literacy to be 77.7% in 2017–18, 84.7% for male and 70.3% for female.[11] This compares to 1981 when the respective rates were 41%, 53% and 29%. In 1951 the rates were 18%, 27% and 9%.[12] India’s improved education system is often cited as one of the main contributors to its economic development.[13] Much of the progress, especially in higher education and scientific research, has been credited to various public institutions. While enrolment in higher education has increased steadily over the past decade, reaching a Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 26.3% in 2019,[14] there still remains a significant distance to catch up with tertiary education enrolment levels of developed nations,[15] a challenge that will be necessary to overcome in order to continue to reap a demographic dividend from India’s comparatively young population.

Poorly resourced public schools which suffer from high rates of teacher absenteeism may have encouraged the rapid growth of private (unaided) schooling in India, particularly in urban areas. Private schools divide into two types: recognised and unrecognised schools. Government ‘recognition’ is an official stamp of approval and for this a private school is required to fulfil a number of conditions, though hardly any private schools that get ‘recognition’ actually fulfil all the conditions of recognition. The emergence of large numbers of unrecognised primary schools suggests that schools and parents do not take government recognition as a stamp of quality.[16]

At the primary and secondary level, India has a large private school system complementing the government run schools, with 29% of students receiving private education in the 6 to 14 age group.[17] Certain post-secondary technical schools are also private. The private education market in India had a revenue of US$450 million in 2008, but is projected to be a US$40 billion market.[18]

As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2012, 96.5% of all rural children between the ages of 6-14 were enrolled in school. This is the fourth annual survey to report enrolment above 96%. India has maintained an average enrolment ratio of 95% for students in this age group from year 2007 to 2014. As an outcome the number of students in the age group 6-14 who are not enrolled in school has come down to 2.8% in the academic year 2018 (ASER 2018).[19] Another report from 2013 stated that there were 229 million students enrolled in different accredited urban and rural schools of India, from Class I to XII, representing an increase of 2.3 million students over 2002 total enrolment, and a 19% increase in girl’s enrolment.[20] While quantitatively India is inching closer to universal education, the quality of its education has been questioned particularly in its government run school system. While more than 95 per cent of children attend primary school, just 40 per cent of Indian adolescents attend secondary school (Grades 9-12). Since 2000, the World Bank has committed over $2 billion to education in India. Some of the reasons for the poor quality include absence of around 25% of teachers every day.[21] States of India have introduced tests and education assessment system to identify and improve such schools.[22]

Although there are private schools in India, they are highly regulated in terms of what they can teach, in what form they can operate (must be a non-profit to run any accredited educational institution) and all the other aspects of operation. Hence, the differentiation of government schools and private schools can be misleading.[23] However, in a report by Geeta Gandhi Kingdon entitled: The emptying of public Schools and growth of private schools in India, it is said that For sensible education policy making, it is vital to take account of the changing trends in the size of the private and public schooling sectors in India. Ignoring these trends involves the risk of poor policies/legislation, with attendant adverse consequences for children’s life chances.

In January 2019, India had over 900 universities and 40,000 colleges.[24] In India’s higher education system, a significant number of seats are reserved under affirmative action policies for the historically disadvantaged Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. In universities, colleges, and similar institutions affiliated to the federal government, there is a maximum 50% of reservations applicable to these disadvantaged groups, at the state level it can vary. Maharashtra had 73% reservation in 2014, which is the highest percentage of reservations in India.[25][26][27][28]

Educational stages[edit]

The new National Education Policy 2020(NEP 2020)introduced by the central government is expected to bring profound changes to education in India. The policy approved by the Union Cabinet of India on 29 July 2020, outlines the vision of India’s new education system.[31] The new policy replaces the 1986 National Policy on Education. The policy is a comprehensive framework for elementary education to higher education as well as vocational training in both rural and urban India. The policy aims to transform India’s education system by 2021.[32]

Shortly after the release of the policy, the government clarified that no one will be forced to study any particular language and that the medium of instruction will not be shifted from English to any regional language.[33] The language policy in NEP is a broad guideline and advisory in nature; and it is up to the states, institutions, and schools to decide on the implementation.[34] Education in India is a Concurrent List subject.[35]

NEP 2020 outlines the vision of India’s School education system. The new policy replaces the previous National Policy on Education, 1986. The policy is a comprehensive framework for elementary education to higher education as well as vocational training in both rural and urban India. The policy aims to transform India’s education system by 2021. As per NEP2020, the “10 + 2” structure is replaced with “5+3+3+4” model.[36][37][38] 5+3+3+4 refers to 5 foundational years, whether in an anganwadi, pre-school or balvatika. This is followed by 3 years of preparatory learning from classes 3 to 5. This is followed by a middle stage that is of 3 years in length and finally a 4 year secondary stage till class 12 or 18 years of age.[39] This model will be implemented as follows:[40][38]

Instead of exams being held every academic year, school students attend three exams, in classes 2, 5 and 8. Board exams are held for classes 10 and 12. Standards for Board exams is established by an assessment body, PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development). To make them easier, these exams would be conducted twice a year, with students being offered up to two attempts. The exam itself would have two parts, namely the objective and the descriptive.

NEP’s higher education policy proposes a 4-year multi-disciplinary bachelor’s degree in an undergraduate programme with multiple exit options. These will include professional and vocational areas and will be implemented[41]

  • A certificate after completing 1 year of study (vocational)
  • A diploma after completing 2 years of study (vocational)
  • A Bachelor’s degree after completion of a 3-year program (professional)
  • A 4-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s degree (the preferred option) (professional)
Compulsory education (India)
Foundational StagePreschool (Urban) / Anganwadi (Rural)Pre-kindergarten2-5This will cover children of ages 3–8 years.The focus of studies will be in activity-based learning.
Primary School1st grade6-7
2nd grade7-8
Preparatory Stage3rd grade8-9It will gradually introduce subjects like speaking, reading, writing, physical education, languages, art, science and mathematics.
4th grade9-10
5th grade10-11
Middle StageMiddle School6th grade11-12It will introduce students to the more abstract concepts in subjects of mathematics, sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities.
7th grade12-13
8th grade13-14
Secondary StageJunior Highschool9th grade14-15These 4 years of study are intended to inculcate multidisciplinary study, coupled with depth and critical thinking. Multiple options of subjects will be provided.
10th grade15-16
Senior Highschool11th grade16-17
12th grade17-18
Higher education(India)
College(University)Undergraduate schoolFirst year18-191-year Vocational Certificate
Second year19-202-years Vocational Diploma
Third year20-213-years Bachelor’s degree (Optional and limited)
Fourth year21-224-years multidisciplinary Bachelor’s degree (Preferred)
Fifth year22-235-years MBBS, a bachelor degree in medicine.
Graduate schoolFirst year21+(with various degrees and curricular partitions thereof)
Second year22+
Third year23+
Continuing education
Vocational school18 and up
Adult education

School education[edit]

The central board and most of the state boards uniformly follow the “10+2” pattern of education.[42]:3 In this pattern, study of 10 years is done in schools and 2 years in Junior colleges (Mumbai, Maharashtra),[42]:44 and then 3 years of study for a bachelor’s degree for college.[43] The first 10 years is further subdivided into 4 years of primary education, 6 years of High School followed by 2 years of Junior colleges.[42]:5 This pattern originated from the recommendation of the Education Commission of 1964–66.[44]

There are two types of educational institutions in India, 1) Recognized institutions – primary school, secondary school, special schools, intermediate schools, colleges and universities who follow courses as prescribed by D.P.I. , universities or boards and they are also open for inspection by these authorities , 2) Unrecognized Institutions, which do not follow conditions as said in the recognised ones.[45]

Levels of schooling[edit]

Pre-primary education[edit]

Indian Pre-Primary School children (Divine Orchids International Preschool, Jawhar)

Anganwadi centre at Velhe, Pune district, 2019

The pre-primary stage is the foundation of children’s knowledge, skills and behaviour. On completion of pre-primary education, the children are sent to the primary stage but pre-primary education in India is not a fundamental right. In rural India, pre-primary schools are rarely available in small villages. But in cities and big towns, there are many established players in the pre-primary education sector. The demand for the preschools is growing considerably in the smaller towns and cities but still, only 1% of the population under age 6 is enrolled in preschool education.

  • Play group (pre-nursery): At playschools, children are exposed to a lot of basic learning activities that help them to get independent faster and develop their self-help qualities like eating food themselves, dressing up, and maintaining cleanliness. The age limit for admission into pre-nursery is 2 to 3 years. Anganwadi is government-funded free rural childcare & Mothercare nutrition and learning program also incorporating the free Midday Meal Scheme.[60]
  • Nursery: Nursery level activities help children unfold their talents, thus enabling them to sharpen their mental and physical abilities. The age limit for admission in nursery is 3 to 4 years.
  • LKG: It is also called the junior kindergarten (Jr. kg) stage. The age limit for admission in LKG is 4 to 5 years.
  • UKG: It is also called the senior kindergarten (Sr. kg) stage. The age limit for admission in UKG is 5 to 6 years.

LKG and UKG stages prepare and help children emotionally, mentally, socially and physically to grasp knowledge easily in the later stages of school and college life. [61] A systematic process of preschool education is followed in India to impart knowledge in the best possible way for a better understanding of the young children. By following an easy and interesting curriculum, teachers strive hard to make the entire learning process enjoyable for the children.

Primary education[edit]

Indian School-Children at a school in JodhpurRajasthan

The primary education in India is divided into two parts, namely Lower Primary (Class I-IV) and Upper Primary (Middle school, Class V-VIII). The Indian government lays emphasis on primary education (Class I-VIII) also referred to as elementary education, to children aged 6 to 14 years old.[62] Because education laws are given by the states, duration of primary school visit alters between the Indian states. The Indian government has also banned child labour in order to ensure that the children do not enter unsafe working conditions.[62] However, both free education and the ban on child labour are difficult to enforce due to economic disparity and social conditions.[62] 80% of all recognised schools at the elementary stage are government run or supported, making it the largest provider of education in the country.[63]

However, due to a shortage of resources and lack of political will, this system suffers from massive gaps including high pupil to teacher ratios, shortage of infrastructure and poor levels of teacher training. Figures released by the Indian government in 2011 show that there were 5,816,673 elementary school teachers in India.[64] As of March 2012 there were 2,127,000 secondary school teachers in India.[65] Education has also been made free[62] for children for 6 to 14 years of age or up to class VIII under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.[66]


This primary education scheme has also not shown a high gross enrolment ratio of 93–95% for the last three years in some states.[67] Significant improvement in staffing and enrolment of girls has also been made as a part of this scheme.[67] The current scheme for universalisation of Education for All is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan which is one of the largest education initiatives in the world. Enrolment has been enhanced, but the levels of quality remain low.

Secondary education[edit]

Secondary school students in a chemistry lab at a school in Odisha

Indian independence day celebrations at a school in Bangalore

Jagseer S Sidhu teaching students about Wikipedia at a high school in Punjab

Secondary education covers children aged 14 to 18, a group comprising 88.5 million children according to the 2001 Census of India. The final two years of secondary is often called Higher Secondary (HS), Senior Secondary, or simply the “+2” stage. The two-halves of secondary education are each an important stage for which a pass certificate is needed, and thus are affiliated by central boards of education under HRD ministry, before one can pursue higher education, including college or professional courses.

UGC, NCERT, CBSE and ICSE directives state qualifying ages for candidates who wish to take board exams. Those at least 15 years old by 30 May for a given academic year are eligible to appear for Secondary board exams, and those 17 by the same date are eligible to appear for Higher Secondary certificate board exams. It further states that upon successful completion of Higher Secondary, one can apply to higher education under UGC control such as EngineeringMedical, and Business administration.

Secondary education in India is examination-oriented and not course-based: students register for and take classes primarily to prepare for one of the centrally-administered examinations. Senior school or high school is split into 2 parts (grades 9-10 and grades 11–12) with a standardised nationwide examination at the end of grade 10 and grade 12 (usually informally referred to as “board exams”). Grade 10 examination results can be used for admission into grades 11–12 at a secondary school, pre-university program, or a vocational or technical school. Passing a grade 12 board examination leads to the granting of a secondary school completion diploma, which may be used for admission into vocational schools or universities in the country or the world.

Most schools in India do not offer subject and scheduling flexibility due to budgeting constraints (for e.g.: most students in India are not allowed to take Chemistry and History in grades 11-12 because they are part of different “streams”). Private candidates (i.e. not studying in a school) are generally not allowed to register for and take board examinations but there are some exceptions such as NIOS.

10th (matriculation or secondary) exam[edit]

Students taking the grade 10 examination usually take six subjects: English, mathematics, social studies, science, one language, and one optional subject depending on the availability of teachers. Elective or optional subjects often include computer applications, economics, physical education, commerce, and environmental science.

12th (senior secondary or higher secondary) exam[edit]

Students taking the grade 12 examination usually take four or five subjects with English or the local language being compulsory. Students re-enrolling in most secondary schools after grade 10 have to make the choice of choosing a “core stream” in addition to English or the local language: science (mathematics/biology, chemistry, and physics), commerce (accounts, business studies, and economics), or humanities (any three of history, political science, sociology, psychology, geography depending on school). Students study mathematics up to single-variable calculus in grade 12.

Types of schools[edit]

Government schools[edit]

The majority of students study in government schools where poor and vulnerable students study for free until the age of 14. An Education Ministry data, 65.2% (113 million,) of all school students in 20 states go to government schools (c. 2017).[69] These include schools runs by the state and local government as well as the center government. Example of large center government run school systems are Kendriya Vidyalaya in urban areas, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, for the gifted students, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya for girls belonging to vulnerable SC/ST/OBC classes, Indian Army Public Schools run by the Indian Army for the children of soldiers.

Kendriya Vidyalaya project, was started for the employees of the central government of India, who are deployed throughout the country. The government started the Kendriya Vidyalaya project in 1965 to provide uniform education in institutions following the same syllabus at the same pace regardless of the location to which the employee’s family has been transferred.[51]

Government aided private schools[edit]

These are usually charitable trust run schools that receive partial funding from the government. Largest system of aided schools is run by D.A.V. College Managing Committee.

Private schools (unaided)[edit]

According to current estimate, 29% of Indian children are privately educated.[17] With more than 50% children enrolling in private schools in urban areas, the balance has already tilted towards private schooling in cities; and, even in rural areas, nearly 20% of the children in 2004-5 were enrolled in private schools.[70]

La Martiniere Calcutta, regarded as one of the best schools in the country

Most middle-class families send their children to private schools,[70] which might be in their own city or at distant boarding schools. Private schools have been established since the British Rule in India and St George’s School, Chennai is the oldest private school in India.[71] At such schools, the medium of education is often English, but Hindi and/or the state’s official language is also taught as a compulsory subject.[72] Pre-school education is mostly limited to organised neighbourhood nursery schools with some organised chains.[citation needed] Montessori education is also popular, due to Maria Montessori‘s stay in India during World War II. In 2014, four of the top ten pre-schools in Chennai were Montessori.[73]

Many privately owned and managed schools carry the appellation “Public”, such as the Delhi Public Schools, or Frank Anthony Public Schools. These are modelled after British public schools, which are a group of older, expensive and exclusive fee-paying private independent schools in England.

According to some research, private schools often provide superior results at a multiple of the unit cost of government schools. The reason being high aims and better vision.[74][75][76] However, others have suggested that private schools fail to provide education to the poorest families, a selective being only a fifth of the schools and have in the past ignored Court orders for their regulation.[citation needed]

In their favour, it has been pointed out that private schools cover the entire curriculum and offer extra-curricular activities such as science fairs, general knowledge, sports, music and drama.[77] The pupil teacher ratios are much better in private schools (1:31 to 1:37 for government schools) and more teachers in private schools are female.[citation needed] There is some disagreement over which system has better educated teachers. According to the latest DISE survey, the percentage of untrained teachers (para-teachers) is 54.91% in private, compared to 44.88% in government schools and only 2.32% teachers in unaided schools receive in-service training compared to 43.44% for government schools. The competition in the school market is intense, yet most schools make profit.[77] However, the number of private schools in India is still low – the share of private institutions is 7% (with upper primary being 21% secondary 32% – source: fortress team research). Even the poorest often go to private schools despite the fact that government schools are free. A study found that 65% school-children in Hyderabad’s slums attend private schools.[76]

National schools[edit]

International schools[edit]

As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC)[83] listed India as having 410 international schools.[84] ISC defines an ‘international school’ in the following terms “ISC includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or if a school in a country where English is one of the official languages, offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country’s national curriculum and is international in its orientation.”[84] This definition is used by publications including The Economist.[85]


Home-schooling in India is legal, though it is the less explored option, and often debated by educators. The Indian Government’s stance on the issue is that parents are free to teach their children at home, if they wish to and have the means. The then HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has stated that despite the RTE Act of 2009, if someone decides not to send his/her children to school, the government would not interfere.[86]