School children line Cochin Kerala India

Overview of Education system in India



The Indian education system has a long and rich history. The Takshaslia is regarded as the earliest example of what has is now known as a university and was operating in India in the 5th century BCE. They were institutions which sat alongside Hindu and Buddhist monasteries, providing practical education such as medicine. Taxilia, now modern day Pakistan, and Nalanda were two capitals of learning in Ancient India.

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Education in India

The present system was introduced and founded by the British in the 20th century and includes western style and content. The earliest examples of these types of universities were located in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Their development began in 1857 and they were modelled on Oxford and Cambridge.

Other examples of British influence include the medical college of Kerala which was set up in 1942 – 43 to cater for a shortage of military doctors during the Second World War.


School bus Indore

A school bus in Indore

Other influential organisations in the development of Indian education include the the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), set up in 1961 to deal with all curriculum related matters for school education, and the Education commission which was formed in 1964.

Current Context

Today India shows some signs of achieving high academic achievement in line with their historical educational legacy.In fact, India has the most number of university level institutions in the world. Free education is a compulsory and fundamental right and India has one of the world’s largest education systems.

The sheer size of India’s education system is almost incomparable to any other country in the world however; this also contributes to difficulties in management. As Kartikeya Sharma of iTV Network points out, the same is highlighted by the fact that despite improvements, India still has the largest amount children of any country in the world of students not in primary education.  A recent report by CII, PeopleStrong and Wheebox also found that two-thirds of the current skill pool is unprepared for a job. These findings are mooted by other national and international organisations.


Indian school children at Hnahthial

Indian School children

Demographic trends mean that India will soon have the largest tertiary population in the world, overtaking China by 2020. The current median age in India is 32, which means the population is full of learning potential. Furthermore, India is predicted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to make up around 20% of all university graduates in the world by 2020.

The change has already begun, and economic growth, political trends, demographic pressures will continue to drive transformation in Indian education to 2020 and beyond.

The pressure on the Indian education system is huge and liable to increase. With 50% of the whole population under 25 years old – a total figure of around 600 million – education providers are struggling to keep up with demand for university places.

India also has a new, more affluent and socially mobile population, with lower classes gradually increasing their incomes and expectations. The Indian middle-class now number at 50 million and are increasing, which creates more prospective university students who were previously locked out of the system because of a lack of personal resources.


Young students Mumbai

School children, Mumbai

India currently has an 18% university enrollment rate, lower than other BRIC nations such as China and Brazil. The Indian government led by Narendra Modi hopes to have a 30% gross enrolment rate by 2020, but what type of education system will be there to greet this new intake? Only three Indian universities were listed in the Times Higher Education list of the world’s top 200 universities in 2005 and 2006, including The Institutes of Management, Indian Institutes of Technology, and the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

There were also only three institutes in the top 300 QS University rankings including IIT Bombay at 222, IIT Delhi at 235 and IIT Kanpur at 300. Although the place in the rankings show progress, India has potential to move forward.

Areas of weakness and challenges

India’s large education system isn’t just burdened by weight but also has major issues in regard to quality of institutions. Issues related to quality, stem from shortage of faculties, poor teaching based on outdated pedagogy, lack of focus on research, uneven geographical access to education, and profiteering at the expense of accountability.

As highlighted previously, there has been progress in terms of general literacy, however there are some areas where literacy is phenomenally low in comparison to other developed and developing countries. An OECD report recently found that only 11% of students in the Himachal region were at the baseline of literacy. Another OECD report ranked India second from last among the 73 countries that participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an annual initiative which evaluates education systems worldwide.

These reports add to the perception that India’s education system is the main stumbling block to becoming a fully developed country. Those working to change the system often belie the lack of progress being made. Activists often claim that the system is entrenched in vested interests and, at worst, corruption. Politics has played, and continues to play, a big part in education.


Students of india

Students of a High School in Hyderabad, India

Outdated pedagogy is a pertinent issue. Many leading countries have education systems which promote problem solving, and the use of critical and analytical skills India, on the other hand, Indian education system still has a focus on rote learning. The pedagogical cognitive scripts that run through the Indian education system is perhaps the biggest challenge of all, and contributes to the fact that there is a lack of PhD students in India.

In 2014, there were only 140,000 PhD students enrolled, which amounts to 1% of the student population. Moving to teaching methods which promote analytical and critical thinking might give students the confidence and skills to embark on their own research initiatives.

Low levels of PhD enrollments subsequently impacts research and teaching standards. The pool of teaching talent is often without basic research skills and will often go on to teach in the same rote methods than they were taught. Where there is no free thinking or meaningful research, there is also a lack of concerted engagement with industry, and with no connection to industry, funding opportunities are limited.

It’s a vicious circle which can only be solved with problem orientated teaching and the instilling of skills which will allow those within the higher education community to use their initiative. The current system promotes inertia: with little or no drivers for change and lack of funding, this leads to a lack of innovation.

The second issue to tackle is regional access and equity. It is readily acknowledged that there is uneven development. Social inequality is often entrenched by region, meaning access to education is varies wildly depending on the area in which the student lives. This is commonly accepted as one of the main issues facing the Indian education system.


Azaad Nagar

Delhi Public School, Azaad Nagar

The third issue to tackle is the growing profit centered organizations that are entering the university industry. Private sector education is a double edged sword, as they tend to charge up to 10 times more than public institutions, hence exasperating issues related to access. Furthermore, there is an added issue concerning profit making.

Officially, all university education should be “not-for-profit”, however, it is common knowledge that these institutions make money through illegal means such as ‘capitation fees’ – a one-off, off-the-books payment made by students, which range from £3000 to £4000. There have also been reports of fees of up to £45,000 being paid to medical institutions. Of all tertiary level enrollment, 59% are now joining private institutions, a trend which is liable to long continue.

To add, colleges now enroll around 90% of all undergraduates, offering certificates awarded by universities. Although private institutions are fundamental to the growth of India’s education system, new measures are required to regulate their practices.

Positive Initiatives

The Indian government led by it’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recognized the challenges ahead and have started planning for a brighter education future which conforms to three major planks: expansion, equity and excellence. Education features heavily in the government’s 12th Five Year Plan, a government draft which aims to assure economic growth rates of 9%. As indicated, the government is already taking some steps to improve in areas related to innovation, access, and regulation.

The scope of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council’s (NAAC) has been expanded, providing quality assurance and an accreditation system which should improve standards all round. Part of work of this accreditation system is to move away from rote learning and testing based on critical and analytical skills.


The Doon School

The Doon School

Lack of capacity and the perception of low quality means that India currently has a large proportion of their best and brightest students seeking education abroad. There are 102,673 Indian students in the US, totalling an estimated $3.3 billion dollars in spend. Brain drain is also an issue with 75,000 of IIT graduates having settled in the United States since the 1970s.

Government initiatives to boost capacity are huge compared to the modest plans of other countries. Calculations suggest that in order to meet growing demand for higher education, there would need to be an increase in tertiary education of some 30% by 2020. This amounts to 800 universities and 40,000 colleges.

India currently has 659 universities and 33,023 colleges. If successful, the creation of these new institutions would add an extra 40 million university places.

The common consensus in India is that the task of creating new institutions goes hand in hand with the requirement of expert guidance from other nations’ universities. The government acknowledges this wisdom and the pending Foreign Education Bill aims to regulate the operation of foreign universities in India, so as to facilitate and lure the expertise of top universities from across the globe to set up campus.

Such a move would bring added benefits including extra research initiatives – one of the weakest elements of the current education system in India.


Iima panorama complex

Academic Block, of Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani – Goa Campus

One of India’s greatest assets, ICT skills, has been leveraged in creating a ‘meta university framework’, which should aid in multidisciplinary collaboration and break down the barrier of access based on geography. Central government has also began to devolve power to states, giving them more control over regional education, and states have already begun to set up State Higher Education Councils (SHECs) in line with government devolution legislation. This extra flexibility aims to bring about sparks of regional innovation and initiative.

The devolution of powers to states and the expansion of the scope of the NAAC, will also mean that private institutions are more likely to come under the purview of local authorities, creating an equitable situation between universities in areas such as fees. One often cited reason for college malpractice is the lack of infrastructure to manage college operations, devolution could have a positive impact in this area. Increasing the scope of the NAAC might also combat problems related to delays in assessments, which blight the student experience.

The Indian education system is growing at a quickening rate. At the heart of these reforms and measures are the desire to correct current institutional inadequacies and assure that India becomes a powerhouse of education. The potential is huge, so is the challenge.


Author Bio:

Ramis Cizer Kamil

Ramis Cizer Kamil

 Ramis is an academic writer who is interested in the intersections between education, technology, and  sustainability. He is passionate about access to education as the driver of social and personal change. He  also believes that education is a life-long venture which can lead to continued fulfillment.​




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