Education system in India

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The minimum age for admission in most states is 5, though in some it is 6.

Primary and Upper Primary education is compulsory but this is not a reality with only just over half of children between 6 and 14 attending school. The National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) is responsible for setting the curriculum for the period of compulsory education. Primary, upper primary, secondary and higher secondary schools are under the general jurisdiction of the states.

The medium of teaching is the mother tongue of the state or region. Where this language is not Hindi, most states make study of it compulsory. Study of English is also compulsory in all but one state though the grades at which it is compulsory vary.

Age in years Phase
0 to 2 Creche There is no educational provision at these institutions.
3 to 5 Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, nursery or preparatory school There are government and state-run centres available. Children learn games and group play activities. As they get older they begin to learn alphabets.
5 to 10 Primary
(Grades I-V)
Students study mathematics, mother tongues language, the art of healthy and productive living as well as environmental studies from grade III. Primary schools fall under the control of State Education Departments, having to abide by their standards in order to be recognised.
10 to 14 Upper Primary or Middle School
(Grades VI-VIII)
Pupils study 3 languages, mathematics, science and technology, social studies as well as work, art and health and physical education. In some states there is a public examination at the end of this stage of schooling and a number of these schools are included with secondary schools.
14 to 16 Secondary
(Grades IX-X)
Students study the same subjects as at upper primary but have a choice between their second and third languages. Secondary schools are affiliated to an examination board as all states have an exam at the end of secondary school but the age requirements vary – the restrictions can be 13+ to 16 + or none at all. The Indian Secondary School Certificate is roughly equivalent to GCSEs.

Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) Vocational courses lasting 1-2 years

16 to 18 Higher Secondary / Junior College
(Grades XI-XII)
Available in all states but, in some, these grades are attached to universities/colleges rather than schools. All states have an exam at the end of secondary school but the age requirements vary – the restrictions can be 16+ to 18 + or none at all. The senior Secondary Certificate is roughly equivalent to UK ‘AS’ levels.
18+ There are three main levels of qualification in higher education:
  • Bachelor’s degree – 3 years for the study of sciences, art or commerce; four years for a professional qualification (other than medicine and architecture which are five years)
  • Master’s degree – usually two years
  • Doctoral degree – students can take an M.Phil course after the Master’s and then complete the doctorate in a further two years, or they may just study for the doctorate over a period of three years after their master’s.

Diplomas are also available at undergraduate (1-3 year courses) and postgraduate level (1 year courses). Vocational diplomas are offered at polytechnics.

These may be run by the government (type 1), religious organisations or private bodies (type 2) or be professional colleges (types 3). The most recent addition comprises Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) These centres offer engineering education (degrees and masters) as well as research in the field.

Adult Education
Since independence there has been a massive rise in adult literacy boosted by the National Literacy Mission (NLM), which was launched in 1988. Though a centralised initiative, authority has been given to states and their non-governmental organisations to run the projects. Children as young as 9 are included in the programme to ensure coverage of areas where there are not any Non-Formal Education (NFE) programmes.

Alternative Education

Private Schools

There are several forms of private schools in India. The majority are self-funding, although some receive government grants. Christian and Muslim (madrasa) schools also make a significant contribution to this sector of education. Most private schools are affiliated to one of the three national examination boards.

International Schools

These follow a structure that is much more similar to that found in the West.

Non-Formal Education (NFE)

This is provided for children who cannot attend regular schools (e.g. school drop-outs, working children and those without easy access) by voluntary organisations that are supported by the government.

Home education

Though the government has passed a bill to make education compulsory from 5-14, this is not enforced. Consequently, some parents, dissatisfied with the educational system in India, opt to educate their children at home.

Schools influenced by David Horsburgh

Emphasis is placed on handcrafts and other artisan skills, self-directed learning and free progress.

Bal Bhavans

These centres focus on the development of sporting and creative skills of children 5-16 years. The many centres are guided by the national organisation, which is an autonomous institution under the DoE.

Krishnamurti Foundation Schools

This system is based on the ideas of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), an Indian philosopher.


Department of Education website, (Visited 10-July-05).

Useful Links

British Council: India: Country Education Profile
This website provides an outline of school organisation, calendar and curriculum (there is more detail in the download.) (Visited 19-July-05)

Education in India
A guide to primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities (Visited 19-July-05)

Education in India from Wikipedia
This website includes an outline of education through the age range, the history of education in India and expenditure on education in India. It also includes sections on elementary education, education for special sections of society and criticisms of the education system. (Visited 19-July-05)

The National Council of Educational Research and Training
Website of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which was set up to advise and assist the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India and Departments of Education in States. (Visited 19-July-05)