History Of Education In India Essay Topics

The history of education began with teaching of traditional elements such as Indian religions, Indian mathematics, Indian logic at early Hindu and Buddhist centres of learning such as ancient Taxila (in modern-day Pakistan) and Nalanda (in India) before the common era. Islamic education became ingrained with the establishment of the Islamic empires in the Indian subcontinent in the Middle Ages while the coming of the Europeans later brought western education to colonial India. A series of measures continuing throughout the early half of the 20th century ultimately laid the foundation of education in the Republic of India, education in Pakistan and much of South Asia.

Early history[edit]

Early education in India commenced under the supervision of a guru/prabhu.[1] Initially, education was open to all and seen as one of the methods to achieve Moksha in those days, or enlightenment. As time progressed, due to superiority complexes, the education was imparted on the basis of caste and the related duties that one had to perform as a member of a specific caste.[1] The Brahmans learned about scriptures and religion while the Kshatriya were educated in the various aspects of warfare.[1] The Vaishya caste learned commerce and other specific vocational courses while education was largely denied to the Shudras, the lowest caste.[1] The earliest venues of education in India were often secluded from the main population.[1] Students were expected to follow strict monastic guidelines prescribed by the guru and stay away from cities in ashrams.[2] However, as population increased under the Gupta empire centres of urban learning became increasingly common and Cities such as Varanasi and the Buddhist centre at Nalanda became increasingly visible.[2]

Education in India is a piece of education traditional form was closely related to religion.[3] Among the Heterodox schools of belief were the Jain and Buddhist schools.[4] Heterodox Buddhist education was more inclusive and aside of the monastic orders the Buddhist education centres were urban institutes of learning such as Taxila and Nalanda where grammar, medicine, philosophy, logic, metaphysics, arts and crafts etc. were also taught.[1][2] Early secular Buddhist institutions of higher learning like Taxila and Nalanda continued to function well into the common era and were attended by students from China and Central Asia.[3]

On the subject of education for the nobility Joseph Prabhu writes: "Outside the religious framework, kings and princes were educated in the arts and sciences related to government: politics (danda-nıti), economics (vartta), philosophy (anvıksiki), and historical traditions (itihasa). Here the authoritative source was Kautilya’s Arthashastra, often compared to Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince for its worldly outlook and political scheming."[1] The Rgveda mentions female poets called brahmavadinis, specifically Lopamudra and Ghosha.[5] By 800 BCE women such as Gargi and Maitreyi were mentioned as scholars in the religious Upnishads.[5]Maya, mother of the historic Buddha, was an educated queen while other women in India contributed to writing of the Pali canon.[5] Out of the composers of the Sangam literature 154 were women.[6] However, the education and society of the era continued to be dominated by educated male population.[7] .

Early Common Era—High Middle Ages[edit]

Chinese scholars such as Xuanzang and Yi Jing arrived in Indian institutions of learning to survey Buddhist texts.[8] Yi Jing additionally noted the arrival of 56 scholars from India, Japan, and Korea.[9] However, the Buddhist institutions of learning were slowly giving way to a resurgent tradition of Brahmanism during that era.[9] Scholars from India also journeyed to China to translate Buddhist texts.[10] During the 10th century a monk named Dharmadeva from Nalanda journeyed to China and translated a number of texts.[10] Another centre at Vikramshila maintained close relations with Tibet.[10] The Buddhist teacher Atisa was the head monk in Vikramshila before his journey to Tibet.[10]

Examples of royal patronage include construction of buildings under the Rastrakuta dynasty in 945 CE.[11] The institutions arranged for multiple residences for educators as well as state sponsored education and arrangements for students and scholars.[11] Similar arrangements were made by the Chola dynasty in 1024 CE, which provided state support to selected students in educational establishments.[12] Temple schools from 12–13th centuries included the school at the Nataraja temple situated at Chidambaram which employed 20 librarians, out of whom 8 were copiers of manuscripts and 2 were employed for verification of the copied manuscripts.[13] The remaining staff conducted other duties, including preservation and maintained of reference material.[13]

Another establishment during this period is the Uddandapura institute established during the 8th century under the patronage of the Pala dynasty.[14] The institution developed ties with Tibet and became a centre of Tantric Buddhism.[14] During the 10–11th centuries the number of monks reached a thousand, equaling the strength of monks at the sacred Mahabodhi complex.[14] By the time of the arrival of the Islamic scholar Al Biruni India already had an established system of science and technology in place.[15] Also by the 12th century, invasions from India's northern borders disrupted traditional education systems as foreign armies raided educational institutes, among other establishments.[14]

Late Middle Ages—Early Modern Era[edit]

With the advent of Islam in India the traditional methods of education increasingly came under Islamic influence.[16] Pre-Mughal rulers such as Qutb-ud-din Aybak and other Muslim rulers initiated institutions which imparted religious knowledge.[16] Scholars such as Nizamuddin Auliya and Moinuddin Chishti became prominent educators and established Islamic monasteries.[16] Students from Bukhara and Afghanistan visited India to study humanities and science.[16]

Islamic institution of education in India included traditional madrassas and maktabs which taught grammar, philosophy, mathematics, and law influenced by the Greek traditions inherited by Persia and the Middle East before Islam spread from these regions into India.[17] A feature of this traditional Islamic education was its emphasis on the connection between science and humanities.[17] Among the centres of education in India was 18th century Delhi was the Madrasa Rahimiya under the supervision of Shah Waliullah, an educator who favored an approach balancing the Islamic scriptures and science.[18] The course at the Madrasa Rahimiya prescribed 2 books on grammar, 1 book on philosophy, 2 books on logic, 2 books on astronomy and mathematics, and 5 books on mysticism.[18] Another centre of prominence arose in Lucknow under Mulla Nizamuddin Sahlawi, who educated at the Firangi Mahal and prescribed a course called the Dars-i-Nizami which combined traditional studies with modern and laid emphasis on logic.[18]

The education system under the rule of Akbar adopted an inclusive approach with the monarch favoring additional courses: medicine, agriculture, geography, and texts from other languages and religions, such as Patanjali's work in Sanskrit.[19] The traditional science in this period was influenced by the ideas of Aristotle, Bhāskara II, Charaka and Ibn Sina.[20] This inclusive approach was not uncommon in Mughal India.[18] The more conservative monarch Aurangzeb also favored teaching of subjects which could be applied to administration.[18] The Mughals, in fact, adopted a liberal approach to sciences and as contact with Persia increased the more intolerant Ottoman school of manqul education came to be gradually substituted by the more relaxed maqul school.[21]

The Middle Ages also saw the rise of private tuition in India as state failed to invest in public education system.[20] A tutor, or Riyazi, was an educated professional who could earn a suitable living by performing tasks such as creating calendars or generating revenue estimates for nobility.[20] Another trend in this era is the mobility among professions, exemplified by Qaim Khan, a prince famous for his mastery in crafting leather shoes and forging cannons.[20]

Colonial Era[edit]

EnglandMadras presidency
population12,000,000 (1816)12,850,941 (1823)
No of student attening schools875,000/1,500,000 (approx)[22]157,195[23]

Before the introduction of British education, indigenous education was given higher importance from early time to colonial era.

In every Indian village which has retained anything of its form.the rudiments of knowledge are sought to be imparted, there is not a child, except those of the outcasts (who form no part of the community), who is not able to read, to write, to cipher; in the last branch of learning, they are confessedly most proficient.

— Ludlow, British India,1858

[24] According to a survey done in the region of Madras, there were 11,758 schools and 740 centers for higher education in the Madras Presidency. The number of students was 188,650.[25]. Around 1830 there existed 100,000 village schools in the regions of Bengal and Bihar alone.[26][27]. After the introduction of British education, the numbers of these indigenous education institutes decreased drastically.[28][29]. According to Minute of dissent, British government restricted indigenous education.

Efforts were then made by the Government to confine higher education and secondary education leading to higher education to boys in affluent, circumstances. This again was done not in the interests of sound education but for political reasons. Rules were made calculated to restrict the diffusion of education generally and among the poorer boys in particular. Conditions for recognition for "grants" —stiff and various—were laid down and enforced, and the non-fulfilment of any one of these conditions was liable to be followed by serious consequences. Fees were raised to a degree which considering the circumstances of the classes that resort to schools, were abnormal. When it was objected that the minimum fee would be a great hardship to poor students the answer was—such students had no business to receive that kind of education. Managers of private schools who remitted fees in whole or in part were penalized by reduced grants-in-aid.Many schools were against the high fee but those who accepted it were given grants by British government. Along with fixed fee there was fix timetable , printed books etc. Students had to attend regular classes which was a problem for students belonging to peasant families. These rules had undoubtedly the effect of checking the great expansion of education that would have taken place. This is the real explanation of the very unsatisfactory character of the nature and progress of secondary education and it will never be remedied till we are prepared either to give education to the boys ourselves or to make sufficient grants to the private schools to enable them to be staffed with competent teachers. We are at present not prepared to do either. English education, according to this policy, is to be confined to the well-to-do classes.They, it was believed, would give no trouble to Government. For this purpose, the old system of education under which a pupil could prosecute his studies from the lowest to the highest class was altered.

— Sir Sankaran Nair, Minutes of Dissent


The Jesuits introduced India to both the European college system and the printing of books, through founding Saint Paul's College, Goa in 1542. The French traveler François Pyrard de Laval, who visited Goa c. 1608, described the College of St Paul, praising the variety of the subjects taught there free of charge. Like many other European travelers who visited the College, he recorded that at this time it had 3,000 students, from all the missions of Asia. Its Library was one of the biggest in Asia, and the first printing press was mounted there.

The British made education, in English—a high priority hoping it would speed modernization and reduce the administrative charges.[31] The colonial authorities had a sharp debate over policy. This was divided into two schools - the orientalists, who believed that education should happen in Indian languages (of which they favoured classical or court languages like Sanskrit or Persian) or utilitarians (also called anglicists) like Thomas Babington Macaulay, who strongly believed that traditional India had nothing to teach regarding modern skills; the best education for them would happen in English. Macaulay introduced English education in India, especially through his famous minute of February 1835. He called for an educational system that would create a class of anglicised Indians who would serve as cultural intermediaries between the British and the Indians.[32] Macaulay succeeded in implementing ideas previously put forward by Lord William Bentinck, the governor general since 1829. Bentinck favoured the replacement of Persian by English as the official language, the use of English as the medium of instruction, and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. He was inspired by utilitarian ideas and called for "useful learning." However, Bentinck's ideas were rejected by the Court of Directors of the East India Company and he retired as governor general.[33][34]

Frykenberg examines the 1784 to 1854 period to argue that education helped integrate the diverse elements Indian society, thereby creating a new common bond from among conflicting loyalties. The native elite demanded modern education. The University of Madras, founded in 1857, became the single most important recruiting ground for generations of ever more highly trained officials. This exclusive and select leadership was almost entirely "clean-caste" and mainly Brahman. It held sway in both the imperial administration and within princely governments to the south. The position of this mandarin class was never seriously challenged until well into the twentieth century.[35]

Ellis argues that historians of Indian education have generally confined their arguments to very narrow themes linked to colonial dominance and education as a means of control, resistance, and dialogue. Ellis emphasizes the need to evaluate the education actually experienced by most Indian children, which was outside the classroom.[36] Public education expenditures varied dramatically across regions with the western and southern provinces spending three to four times as much as the eastern provinces. The reason involved historical differences in land taxes. However the rates of attendance and literacy were not nearly as skewed.[37]


Main article: Literacy in India

Prior to the British era, education in India commenced under the supervision of a guru in traditional schools called gurukuls. The gurukuls were supported by public donation and were one of the earliest forms of public school offices. However these Gurukuls catered only to the Upper castes of the Indian society and the overwhelming masses were denied any formal education. In the colonial era, the gurukul system began to decline as the system promoted by the British began to gradually take over. Between 1881–82 and 1946–47, the number of English primary schools grew from 82,916 to 134,866 and the number of students in English Schools grew from 2,061,541 to 10,525,943. Literacy rates in accordance to British in India rose from 3.2 per cent in 1881 to 7.2 per cent in 1931 and 12.2 per cent in 1947.

Bihar and Bengal Villages[edit]

Jha argues that local schools for pre-adolescent children were in a flourishing state in thousands of villages of Bihar and Bengal until the early decades of the nineteenth century. They were village institutions, maintained by village elders with local funds, where their children (from all caste clusters and communities) could, if the father wished, receive useful skills. However, the British policies in respect of education and land control adversely affected both the village structure and the village institutions of secular education. The British legal system and the rise of caste consciousness since the second half of the nineteenth century made it worse. Gradually, village as the base of secular identity and solidarity became too weak to create and maintain its own institution by the end of the nineteenth century and the traditional system decayed.[38]

British education became solidified into India as missionary schools were established during the 1820s.[39] New policies in 1835 gave rise to the use of English as the language of instruction for advanced topics.[39]


India established a dense educational network (very largely for males) with a Western curriculum based on instruction in English. To further advance their careers many ambitious upper class men with money, including Gandhi, Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah went to England, especially to obtain a legal education at the Inns of Court. By 1890 some 60,000 Indians had matriculated, chiefly in the liberal arts or law. About a third entered public administration, and another third became lawyers. The result was a very well educated professional state bureaucracy. By 1887 of 21,000 mid-level civil service appointments, 45% were held by Hindus, 7% by Muslims, 19% by Eurasians (European father and Indian mother), and 29% by Europeans. Of the 1000 top -level positions, almost all were held by Britons, typically with an Oxbridge degree.[40]

The Raj, often working with local philanthropists, opened 186 colleges and universities. Starting with 600 students scattered across 4 universities and 67 colleges in 1882, the system expanded rapidly. More exactly, there never was a "system" under the Raj, as each state acted independently and funded schools for Indians from mostly private sources. By 1901 there were 5 universities and 145 colleges, with 18,000 students (almost all male). The curriculum was Western. By 1922 most schools were under the control of elected provincial authorities, with little role for the national government. In 1922 there were 14 universities and 167 colleges, with 46,000 students.In 1947 21 universities and 496 colleges were in operation. Universities at first did no teaching or research; they only conducted examinations and gave out degrees.[41][42]

The Madras Medical College opened in 1835, and admitted women so that they could treat the female population who traditionally shied away from medical treatments under qualified male professionals.[43] The concept of educated women among medical professionals gained popularity during the late 19th century and by 1894, the Women's Christian Medical College, an exclusive medical school for women, was established in Ludhiana in Punjab.[43]

The British established the Government College University in Lahore, of present-day Pakistan in 1864. The institution was initially affiliated with the University of Calcutta for examination. The prestigious University of the Punjab, also in Lahore, was the fourth university established by the colonials in South Asia, in the year 1882.

Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, founded in 1875, was the first modern institution of higher education for Muslims in India. By 1920 it became The Aligarh Muslim University and was the leading intellectual center of Muslim political activity.[44] The original goals were to train Muslims for British service and prepare an elite that would attend universities in Britain. After 1920 it became a centre of political activism. Before 1939, the faculty and students supported an all-India nationalist movement. However, when the Second World War began political sentiment shifted toward demands for a Muslim separatist movement. The intellectual support it provided proved significant in the success of Jinnah and the Muslim League.[45]


The East India Company in 1806 set up Haileybury College in England to train administrators. In India, there were four colleges of civil engineering; the first was Thomason College(Now IIT Roorkee), founded in 1847. The second was Bengal Engineering College (now Indian Institute of Engineering, Science and Technology, IIEST). Their role was to provide civil engineers for the Indian Public Works Department. Both in Britain and in India, the administration and management of science, technical and engineering education was undertaken by officers from the Royal Engineers and the Indian Army equivalent, (commonly referred to as sapper officers). This trend in civil/military relationships continued with the establishment of the Royal Indian Engineering College (also known as Cooper's Hill College) in 1870, specifically to train civil engineers in England for duties with the Indian Public Works Department. he Indian Public Works Department, although technically a civilian organisation, relied on military engineers until 1947 and after.[46]

Growing awareness for the need of technical education in India gave rise to establishment of institutions such as the Indian Institute of Science, established by philanthropist Jamshetji Tata in 1909.[47] By the 1930s India had 10 institutions offering engineering courses.[48] However, with the advent of the Second World War in 1939 the "War Technicians Training Scheme" under Ernest Bevin was initiated, thereby laying the foundation of modern technical education in India.[49] Later, planned development of scientific education under Ardeshir Dalal was initiated in 1944.[49]


During the 19th and 20th centuries most of the Indian princely states fell under the British Raj.[50] The British rule during the 19th century did not take adequate measures to help develop science and technology in India and instead focused more on arts and humanities.[51] Till 1899 only the University of Bombay offered a separate degree in sciences.[52] In 1899 B.Sc and M.Sc. courses were also supported by the University of Calcutta.[53] By the late 19th century India had lagged behind in science and technology and related education.[51] However, the nobility and aristocracy in India largely continued to encourage the development of sciences and technical education, both traditional and western.[50]

While some science related subjects were not allowed in the government curriculum in the 1850s the private institutions could also not follow science courses due to lack of funds required to establish laboratories etc.[53] The fees for scientific education under the British rule were also high.[53] The salary that one would get in the colonial administration was meager and made the prospect of attaining higher education bleak since the native population was not employed for high positions in the colonial setup.[53] Even the natives who did manage to attain higher education faced issues of discrimination in terms of wages and privileges.[54]

One argument for the British detachment towards the study of science in India is that England itself was gradually outpaced in science and technology by European rival Germany and a fast-growing United States so the prospects of the British Raj adopting a world class science policy towards its colonies increasingly decreased.[55] However, Deepak Kumar notes the British turn to professional education during the 1860s and the French initiatives at raising awareness on science and technology in French colonies.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abcdefgPrabhu, 24
  2. ^ abcPrabhu, 25
  3. ^ abBlackwell, 88
  4. ^Blackwell, 90
  5. ^ abcRaman, 236
  6. ^Raman, 237
  7. ^Raman, 236–237
  8. ^Scharfe, 144–145
  9. ^ abScharfe, 145
  10. ^ abcdScharfe, 161
  11. ^ abScharfe, 180
  12. ^Scharfe, 180–181
  13. ^ abScharfe, 183–184
  14. ^ abcdSen (1988), 12
  15. ^Blackwell, 88–89
  16. ^ abcdSen (1988), 22
  17. ^ abKumar (2003), 678
  18. ^ abcdeKumar (2003), 679
  19. ^Kumar (2003), 678–679
  20. ^ abcdKumar (2003), 680
  21. ^Kumar (2003), 678-680
  22. ^Gillard, Derek. "Education in England: a brief history". Education in England. Retrieved 26 November 2017. 
  23. ^Beautiful tree, p.70 ISBN 978-1939709127
  24. ^Beautiful tree, p.356 ISBN 978-1939709127
  25. ^Beautiful tree, p.250 ISBN 978-1939709127
  26. ^Adam's Reports on Vernacular Education in Bengal and Behar
  27. ^Beautiful tree, p.18 ISBN 978-1939709127
  28. ^Historical Sociology in India By Hetukar Jha ISBN 978-1138931275
  29. ^Beautiful tree ISBN 978-1939709127
  30. ^Sir Sankaran Nair's Minutes of Dissent, ISBN 978-1293563090
  31. ^Catriona Ellis, "Education for All: Reassessing the Historiography of Education in Colonial India." History Compass (2009) 7#2 pp 363-375
  32. ^Stephen Evans, "Macaulay's minute revisited: Colonial language policy in nineteenth-century India," Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development (2002) 23#4 pp 260-281 doi:10.1080/01434630208666469
  33. ^Suresh Chandra Ghosh, "Bentinck, Macaulay and the introduction of English education in India," History of Education, (March 1995) 24#1 pp 17-24
  34. ^Percival Spear, "Bentinck and Education," Cambridge Historical Journal (1938) 6#1 pp. 78-101 in JSTOR
  35. ^Robert Eric Frykenberg, "Modern Education in South India, 1784-1854: Its Roots and Its Role as a Vehicle of Integration under Company Raj," American Historical Review, (Feb 1986), 91#1 pp 37-67 in JSTOR
  36. ^Catriona Ellis, "Education for All: Reassessing the Historiography of Education in Colonial India," History Compass, (March 2009) 7#2 pp 363-375
  37. ^Latika Chaudhary, "Land revenues, schools and literacy: A historical examination of public and private funding of education," Indian Economic and Social History Review, (Apr-June 2010), 47#2 pp 179-204
  38. ^Hetukar Jha, "Decay of Village Community and the Decline of Vernacular Education in Bihar and Bengal in the Colonial Era," Indian Historical Review, (June 2011), 38#1 pp 119-137
  39. ^ abBlackwell, 92
  40. ^Robin J. Moore, "Imperial India, 1858-1914," in Roy Porter, ed. Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century (2001), p 431
  41. ^C. M. Ramachandran, Problems of higher education in India: a case study (1987) p 71-7
  42. ^Zareer Masani, Indian Tales of the Raj (1988) p. 89
  43. ^ abArnold, 88
  44. ^Gail Minault and David Lelyveld, "The Campaign for a Muslim University 1898-1920," Modern Asian Studies, (March 1974) 8#2 pp 145-189
  45. ^Mushirul Hasan, "Nationalist and Separatist Trends in Aligarh, 1915-47," Indian Economic and Social History Review, (Jan 1985), Vol. 22 Issue 1, pp 1-33
  46. ^John Black, "The military influence on engineering education in Britain and India, 1848-1906," Indian Economic and Social History Review, (Apr-June 2009), 46#2 pp 211-239
  47. ^Sen (1989), 227
  48. ^Sen (1989), 229
  49. ^ abCite error: The named reference was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  50. ^ abArnold, 8
  51. ^ abKumar (1984), 253-254
  52. ^Kumar (1984), 254
  53. ^ abcdKumar (1984), 255
  54. ^Kumar (1984), 255-256
  55. ^ abKumar (1984), 258


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Portrait of a young Indian scholar, Mughal miniature by Mir Sayyid Ali, ca. 1550.
Literacy in India grew very slowly until independence in 1947. An acceleration in the rate of literacy growth occurred in the 1991–2001 period.
Victoria gate, named after the Empress in 1914, at Aligarh Muslim University
A file photo of University of Bombay's Fort Campus taken in the 1870s.

The Education System in India

by Dr. V. Sasi Kumar (1)

In the Beginning

In ancient times, India had the Gurukula system of education in which anyone who wished to study went to a teacher's (Guru) house and requested to be taught. If accepted as a student by the guru, he would then stay at the guru's place and help in all activities at home. This not only created a strong tie between the teacher and the student, but also taught the student everything about running a house. The guru taught everything the child wanted to learn, from Sanskrit to the holy scriptures and from Mathematics to Metaphysics. The student stayed as long as she wished or until the guru felt that he had taught everything he could teach. All learning was closely linked to nature and to life, and not confined to memorizing some information.

The modern school system was brought to India, including the English language, originally by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay in the 1830s. The curriculum was confined to “modern” subjects such as science and mathematics, and subjects like metaphysics and philosophy were considered unnecessary. Teaching was confined to classrooms and the link with nature was broken, as also the close relationship between the teacher and the student.

The Uttar Pradesh (a state in India) Board of High School and Intermediate Education was the first Board set up in India in the year 1921 with jurisdiction over Rajputana, Central India and Gwalior. In 1929, the Board of High School and Intermediate Education, Rajputana, was established. Later, boards were established in some of the states. But eventually, in 1952, the constitution of the board was amended and it was renamed Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). All schools in Delhi and some other regions came under the Board. It was the function of the Board to decide on things like curriculum, textbooks and examination system for all schools affiliated to it. Today there are thousands of schools affiliated to the Board, both within India and in many other countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Universal and compulsory education for all children in the age group of 6-14 was a cherished dream of the new government of the Republic of India. This is evident from the fact that it is incorporated as a directive policy in article 45 of the constitution. But this objective remains far away even more than half a century later. However, in the recent past, the government appears to have taken a serious note of this lapse and has made primary education a Fundamental Right of every Indian citizen. The pressures of economic growth and the acute scarcity of skilled and trained manpower must certainly have played a role to make the government take such a step. The expenditure by the Government of India on school education in recent years comes to around 3% of the GDP, which is recognized to be very low.

“In recent times, several major announcements were made for developing the poor state of affairs in education sector in India, the most notable ones being the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The announcements are; (a) To progressively increase expenditure on education to around 6 percent of GDP. (b) To support this increase in expenditure on education, and to increase the quality of education, there would be an imposition of an education cess over all central government taxes. (c) To ensure that no one is denied of education due to economic backwardness and poverty. (d) To make right to education a fundamental right for all children in the age group 6–14 years. (e) To universalize education through its flagship programmes such as Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and Mid Day Meal.” Wikipedia: Education in India.

The School System

India is divided into 28 states and 7 so-called “Union Territories”. The states have their own elected governments while the Union Territories are ruled directly by the Government of India, with the President of India appointing an administrator for each Union Territory. As per the constitution of India, school education was originally a state subject —that is, the states had complete authority on deciding policies and implementing them. The role of the Government of India (GoI) was limited to coordination and deciding on the standards of higher education. This was changed with a constitutional amendment in 1976 so that education now comes in the so-called concurrent list. That is, school education policies and programmes are suggested at the national level by the GoI though the state governments have a lot of freedom in implementing programmes. Policies are announced at the national level periodically. The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), set up in 1935, continues to play a lead role in the evolution and monitoring of educational policies and programmes.

There is a national organization that plays a key role in developing policies and programmes, called the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) that prepares a National Curriculum Framework. Each state has its counterpart called the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT). These are the bodies that essentially propose educational strategies, curricula, pedagogical schemes and evaluation methodologies to the states' departments of education. The SCERTs generally follow guidelines established by the NCERT. But the states have considerable freedom in implementing the education system.

The National Policy on Education, 1986 and the Programme of Action (POA) 1992 envisaged free and compulsory education of satisfactory quality for all children below 14 years before the 21st Century. The government committed to earmark 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for education, half of which would be spent on primary education. The expenditure on Education as a percentage of GDP also rose from 0.7 per cent in 1951-52 to about 3.6 per cent in 1997-98.

The school system in India has four levels: lower primary (age 6 to 10), upper primary (11 and 12), high (13 to 15) and higher secondary (17 and 18). The lower primary school is divided into five “standards”, upper primary school into two, high school into three and higher secondary into two. Students have to learn a common curriculum largely (except for regional changes in mother tongue) till the end of high school. There is some amount of specialization possible at the higher secondary level. Students throughout the country have to learn three languages (namely, English, Hindi and their mother tongue) except in regions where Hindi is the mother tongue and in some streams as discussed below.

There are mainly three streams in school education in India. Two of these are coordinated at the national level, of which one is under the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and was originally meant for children of central government employees who are periodically transferred and may have to move to any place in the country. A number of “central schools” (named Kendriya Vidyalayas) have been established for the purpose in all main urban areas in the country, and they follow a common schedule so that a student going from one school to another on a particular day will hardly see any difference in what is being taught. One subject (Social Studies, consisting of History, Geography and Civics) is always taught in Hindi, and other subjects in English, in these schools. Kendriya Vidyalayas admit other children also if seats are available. All of them follow textbooks written and published by the NCERT. In addition to these government-run schools, a number of private schools in the country follow the CBSE syllabus though they may use different text books and follow different teaching schedules. They have a certain amount of freedom in what they teach in lower classes. The CBSE also has 141 affiliated schools in 21 other countries mainly catering to the needs of the Indian population there.

The second central scheme is the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE). It seems that this was started as a replacement for the Cambridge School Certificate. The idea was mooted in a conference held in 1952 under the Chairmanship of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the then Minister for Education. The main purpose of the conference was to consider the replacement of the overseas Cambridge School Certificate Examination by an All India Examination. In October 1956 at the meeting of the Inter-State Board for Anglo-Indian Education, a proposal was adopted for the setting up of an Indian Council to administer the University of Cambridge, Local Examinations Syndicate's Examination in India and to advise the Syndicate on the best way to adapt its examination to the needs of the country. The inaugural meeting of the Council was held on 3rd November, 1958. In December 1967, the Council was registered as a Society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. The Council was listed in the Delhi School Education Act 1973, as a body conducting public examinations. Now a large number of schools across the country are affiliated to this Council. All these are private schools and generally cater to children from wealthy families.

Both the CBSE and the ICSE council conduct their own examinations in schools across the country that are affiliated to them at the end of 10 years of schooling (after high school) and again at the end of 12 years (after higher secondary). Admission to the 11th class is normally based on the performance in this all-India examination. Since this puts a lot of pressure on the child to perform well, there have been suggestions to remove the examination at the end of 10 years.

Exclusive Schools

In addition to the above, there are a relatively small number of schools that follow foreign curricula such as the so-called Senior Cambridge, though this was largely superseded by the ICSE stream elsewhere. Some of these schools also offer the students the opportunity to sit for the ICSE examinations. These are usually very expensive residential schools where some of the Indians working abroad send their children. They normally have fabulous infrastructure, low student-teacher ratio and very few students. Many of them have teachers from abroad. There are also other exclusive schools such as the Doon School in Dehradun that take in a small number of students and charge exorbitant fees.

Apart from all of these, there are a handful of schools around the country, such as the Rishi Valley school in Andhra Pradesh, that try to break away from the normal education system that promotes rote learning and implement innovative systems such as the Montessori method. Most such schools are expensive, have high teacher-student ratios and provide a learning environment in which each child can learn at his/her own pace. It would be interesting and instructive to do a study on what impact the kind of school has had on the life of their alumni.

State Schools

Each state in the country has its own Department of Education that runs its own school system with its own textbooks and evaluation system. As mentioned earlier, the curriculum, pedagogy and evaluation method are largely decided by the SCERT in the state, following the national guidelines prescribed by the NCERT.

Each state has three kinds of schools that follow the state curriculum. The government runs its own schools in land and buildings owned by the government and paying the staff from its own resources. These are generally known as government schools. The fees are quite low in such schools. Then there are privately owned schools with their own land and buildings. Here the fees are high and the teachers are paid by the management. Such schools mostly cater to the urban middle class families. The third kind consists of schools that are provided grant-in-aid by the government, though the school was started by a private agency in their own land and buildings. The grant-in-aid is meant to help reduce the fees and make it possible for poor families to send their children. In some states like Kerala, these schools are very similar to government schools since the teachers are paid by the government and the fees are the same as in government schools.

The Case of Kerala

The state of Kerala, a small state in the South Western coast of India, has been different from the rest of the country in many ways for the last few decades. It has, for instance, the highest literacy rate among all states, and was declared the first fully literate state about a decade back. Life expectancy, both male and female, is very high, close to that of the developed world. Other parameters such as fertility rate, infant and child mortality are among the best in the country, if not the best. The total fertility rate has been below the replacement rate of 2.1 for the last two decades. Probably as a side-effect of economic and social development, suicide rates and alcoholism are also very high. Government policies also have been very different from the rest of the country, leading to the development model followed in Kerala, with high expenditure in education and welfare, coming to be known as the “Kerala Model“ among economists.

Kerala has also always shown interest in trying out ways of improving its school education system. Every time the NCERT came up with new ideas, it was Kerala that tried it out first. The state experimented with the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) with gusto, though there was opposition to it from various quarters, and even took it beyond primary classes. The state was the first in the country to move from the traditional behaviorist way of teaching to a social constructivist paradigm. It was mentioned in the National Curriculum Framework of NCERT in the year 2000, and Kerala started trying it out the next year. The transaction in the classroom and the evaluation methodology were changed. Instead of direct questions that could be answered only through memorizing the lessons, indirect questions and open ended questions were included so that the student needed to think before answering, and the answers could be subjective to some extent. This meant that the students had to digest what they studied and had to be able to use their knowledge in a specific situation to answer the questions. At the same time, the new method took away a lot of pressure and the children began to find examinations interesting and enjoyable instead of being stressful. A Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation (CCE) system was introduced along with this, which took into consideration the overall personality of the student and reduced the dependence on a single final examination for deciding promotion to the next class. At present, the CBSE also has implemented CCE, but in a more flexible manner.

Kerala was also the first state in the country to introduce Information Technology as a subject of study at the High School level. It was started in class 8 with the textbook introducing Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. But within one year the government was forced to include Free Software also in the curriculum by protests from Free Software enthusiasts and a favorable stance taken by a school teachers association that had the majority of government teachers as its members. Eventually, from the year 2007, only GNU/Linux was taught in the schools, and all computers in schools had only GNU/Linux installed. At that time, perhaps even today, this was the largest installation of GNU/Linux in schools, and made headlines even in other countries. Every year, from 2007 onwards, about 500,000 children pass out of the schools learning the concepts behind Free Software and the GNU/Linux operating system and applications. The state is now moving towards IT Enabled Education. Eventually, IT will not be taught as a separate subject. Instead, all subjects will be taught with the help of IT so that the children will, on the one hand, learn IT skills and, on the other, make use of educational applications (such as those mentioned below) and resources in the Internet (such as textual material from sites like Wikipedia, images, animations and videos) to study their subjects and to do exercises. Teachers and students have already started using applications such as Dr. Geo, GeoGebra, and KtechLab for studying geometry and electronics. Applications like Sunclock, Kalzium and Ghemical are also popular among teachers and students.

The initiative taken by Kerala is now influencing other states and even the policies of the Government of India. States like Karnataka and Gujarat are now planning to introduce Free Software in their schools, and some other states like Maharashtra are examining the option. The new education policy of the Government of India speaks about constructivism, IT enabled education, Free Software and sharing educational resources. Once a few of the larger states successfully migrate to Free Software, it is hoped that the entire country would follow suit in a relatively short time. When that happens, India could have the largest user base of GNU/Linux and Free Software in general.



V. Sasi Kumar is a doctor in physics and a member of the FSF India Board of Directors. He advocates for Free Software and freedom of knowledge.


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