India Table of Contents

Administration and Funding

Education is divided into preprimary, primary, middle (or intermediate), secondary (or high school), and higher levels. Primary school includes children of ages six to eleven, organized into classes one through five. Middle school pupils aged eleven through fourteen are organized into classes six through eight, and high school students ages fourteen through seventeen are enrolled in classes nine through twelve. Higher education includes technical schools, colleges, and universities.

Article 42 of the constitution, an amendment added in 1976, transferred education from the state list of responsibilities to the central government. Prior to this assumption of direct responsibility for promoting educational facilities for all parts of society, the central government had responsibility only for the education of minorities. Article 43 of the constitution set the goal of free and compulsory education for all children through age fourteen and gave the states the power to set standards for education within their jurisdictions. Despite this joint responsibility for education by state and central governments, the central government has the preponderant role because it drafts the five-year plans, which include education policy and some funding for education. Moreover, in 1986 the implementation of the National Policy on Education initiated a long-term series of programs aimed at improving India's education system by ensuring that all children through the primary level have access to education of comparable quality irrespective of caste, creed, location, or sex. The 1986 policy set a goal that, by 1990, all children by age eleven were to have five years of schooling or its equivalent in nonformal education. By 1995 all children up to age fourteen were to have been provided free and compulsory education. The 1990 target was not achieved, but by setting such goals, the central government was seen as expressing its commitment to the ideal of universal education.

The Department of Education, part of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, implements the central government's responsibilities in educational matters. The ministry coordinates planning with the states, provides funding for experimental programs, and acts through the University Grants Commission and the National Council of Educational Research and Training. These organizations seek to improve education standards, develop and introduce instructional materials, and design textbooks in the country's numerous languages (see The Social Context of Language, ch. 4). The National Council of Educational Research and Training collects data about education and conducts educational research.

State-level ministries of education coordinate education programs at local levels. City school boards are under the supervision of both the state education ministry and the municipal government. In rural areas, either the district board or the panchayat (village council--see Glossary) oversees the school board (see Local Government, ch. 8). The significant role the panchayats play in education often means the politicization of elementary education because the appointment and transfer of teachers often become emotional political issues.

State governments provide most educational funding, although since independence the central government increasingly has assumed the cost of educational development as outlined under the five-year plans. India spends an average 3 percent of its GNP on education. Spending for education ranged between 4.6 and 7.7 percent of total central government expenditures from the 1950s through the 1970s. In the early 1980s, about 10 percent of central and state funds went to education, a proportion well below the average of seventy-nine other developing countries. More than 90 percent of the expenditure was for teachers' salaries and administration. Per capita budget expenditures increased from Rs36.5 in FY 1977 to Rs112.7 in FY 1986, with highest expenditures found in the union territories. Nevertheless, total expenditure per student per year by the central and state governments declined in real terms.

Primary and Secondary Education

Several factors work against universal education in India. Although Indian law prohibits the employment of children in factories, the law allows them to work in cottage industries, family households, restaurants, or in agriculture. Primary and middle school education is compulsory. However, only slightly more than 50 percent of children between the ages of six and fourteen actually attend school, although a far higher percentage is enrolled. School attendance patterns for children vary from region to region and according to gender. But it is noteworthy that national literacy rates increased from 43.7 percent in 1981 to 52.2 percent in 1991 (male 63.9 percent, female 39.4 percent), passing the 50 percent mark for the first time. There are wide regional and gender variations in the literacy rates, however; for example, the southern state of Kerala, with a 1991 literacy rate of about 89.8 percent, ranked first in India in terms of both male and female literacy. Bihar, a northern state, ranked lowest with a literacy rate of only 39 percent (53 percent for males and 23 percent for females). School enrollment rates also vary greatly according to age (see table 9, Appendix).

To improve national literacy, the central government launched a wide-reaching literacy campaign in July 1993. Using a volunteer teaching force of some 10 million people, the government hoped to have reached around 100 million Indians by 1997. A special focus was placed on improving literacy among women.

A report in 1985 by the Ministry of Education, entitled Challenge of Education: A Policy Perspective , showed that nearly 60 percent of children dropped out between grades one and five. (The Ministry of Education was incorporated into the Ministry of Human Resources in 1985 as the Department of Education. In 1988 the Ministry of Human Resources was renamed the Ministry of Human Resource Development.) Of 100 children enrolled in grade one, only twenty-three reached grade eight. Although many children lived within one kilometer of a primary school, nearly 20 percent of all habitations did not have schools nearby. Forty percent of primary schools were not of masonry construction. Sixty percent had no drinking water facilities, 70 percent had no library facilities, and 89 percent lacked toilet facilities. Single-teacher primary schools were commonplace, and it was not unusual for the teacher to be absent or even to subcontract the teaching work to unqualified substitutes (see table 10, Appendix).

The improvements that India has made in education since independence are nevertheless substantial. From the first plan until the beginning of the sixth (1951-80), the percentage of the primary school-age population attending classes more than doubled. The number of schools and teachers increased dramatically. Middle schools and high schools registered the steepest rates of growth. The number of primary schools increased by more than 230 percent between 1951 and 1980. During the same period, however, the number of middle schools increased about tenfold. The numbers of teachers showed similar rates of increase. The proportion of trained teachers among those working in primary and middle schools, fewer than 60 percent in 1950, was more than 90 percent in 1987 (see table 11, Appendix). However, there was considerable variation in the geographical distribution of trained teachers in the states and union territories in the 1986-87 school year. Arunachal Pradesh had the highest percentage (60 percent) of untrained teachers in primary schools, and Assam had the highest percentage (72 percent) of untrained teachers in middle schools. Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Chandigarh, and Pondicherry (Puduchcheri) reportedly had no untrained teachers at either kind of school.

Various forms of private schooling are common; many schools are strictly private, whereas others enjoy government grants-in-aid but are run privately. Schools run by church and missionary societies are common forms of private schools. Among India's Muslim population, the madrasa , a school attached to a mosque, plays an important role in education (see Islamic Traditions in South Asia, ch. 3). Some 10 percent of all children who enter the first grade are enrolled in private schools. The dropout rate in these schools is practically nonexistent.

Traditional notions of social rank and hierarchy have greatly influenced India's primary school system. A dual system existed in the early 1990s, in which middle-class families sent their children to private schools while lower-class families sent their children to underfinanced and underequipped municipal and village schools. Evolving middle-class values have made even nursery school education in the private sector a stressful event for children and parents alike. Tough entrance interviews for admission, long classroom hours, heavy homework assignments, and high tuition rates in the mid-1990s led to charges of "lost childhood" for preschool children and acknowledgment of both the social costs and enhanced social benefits for the families involved.

The government encourages the study of classical, modern, and tribal languages with a view toward the gradual switch from English to regional languages and to teaching Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states. As a result, there are schools conducted in various languages at all levels. Classical and foreign language training most commonly occurs at the postsecondary level, although English is also taught at the lower levels (see Diversity, Use, and Policy; Hindi and English, ch. 4).

Colleges and Universities

Receiving higher education, once the nearly exclusive domain of the wealthy and privileged, since independence has become the aspiration of almost every student completing high school. In the 1950-51 school year, there were some 360,000 students enrolled in colleges and universities; by the 1990-91 school year, the number had risen to nearly 4 million, a more than tenfold increase in four decades. At that time, there were 177 universities and university-level institutions (more than six times the number at independence), some 500 teacher training colleges, and several thousand other colleges.

There are three kinds of colleges in India. The first type, government colleges, are found only in those states where private enterprise is weak or which were at one time controlled by princes (see Company Rule, 1757-1857, ch. 1). The second kind are colleges managed by religious organizations and the private sector. Many of the latter institutions were founded after 1947 by wealthy business owners and politicians wishing to gain local fame and importance. Professional colleges comprise the third kind and consist mostly of medical, teacher-training, engineering, law, and agricultural colleges. More than 50 percent of them are sponsored and managed by the government. However, about 5 percent of these colleges are privately run without government grant support. They charge fees of ten to twelve times the amount of the government-run colleges. The profusion of new engineering colleges in India in the late 1980s and early 1990s caused concern in official education circles that the overall quality and reputation of India's higher education system would be threatened by these new schools, which operated mainly on a for-profit basis. As the government tightened its support to higher education in the early 1990s, colleges and universities came under considerable financial stress.

The All-India Council of Technical Education is empowered to regulate the establishment of any new private professional colleges to limit their proliferation. In 1992 the Karnataka High Court directed the state government to rescind permission to nine organizations to start new engineering and medical colleges in the state.

Gaining admission to a nonprofessional college is not unduly difficult except in the case of some select colleges that are particularly competitive. Students encounter greater difficulties in gaining admission to professional colleges in such fields as architecture, business, medicine, and dentistry.

There are four categories of universities. The largest number are teaching universities that maintain and run a large number of colleges. Unitary institutions, such as Allahabad University and Lucknow University, make up the second kind. The third kind are the twenty-six agricultural universities, each managed by the state in which it is located. Technical universities constitute the fourth kind. In the late 1980s, more technical universities, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in the state of Hyderabad, were founded. There were also proposals to found medical universities in some states. By 1990 Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu already had established such universities. Out of the 177 universities in the country, only ten are funded by the central government. The majority of universities are managed by the states, which establish them and provide funding.

There was a high rate of attrition among students in higher education in the 1980s. A substantial portion failed their examinations more than once, and large numbers dropped out; only about one out of four students successfully completed the full course of studies. Even those students who were successful could not count on a university degree to assure them employment. In the early postindependence years, a bachelor's degree often provided entrance to the elite, but in contemporary India, it provides a chance to become a white-collar worker at a relatively modest salary. The government traditionally has been the principal employer of educated manpower.

State governments play a powerful role in the running of all but the national universities. Political considerations, if not outright political patronage, play a significant part in appointments. The state governor is usually the university chancellor, and the vice chancellor, who actually runs the institution, is usually a political appointee. Appointments are subject to political jockeying, and state governments have control over grants and other forms of recognition. Caste affiliation and regional background are recognized criteria for admission and appointments in many colleges. To offset the inequities implicit in such practices, a certain number of places are reserved for members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Education and Society

Historically, Indian education has been elitist. Traditional Hindu education was tailored to the needs of Brahman (see Glossary) boys who were taught to read and write by a Brahman teacher (see The Roots of Indian Religion, ch. 3). During Mughal rule (1526-1858), Muslim education was similarly elitist, although its orientation reflected economic factors rather than those of caste background. Under British company and crown rule (1757-1947), official education policies reinforced the preexisting elitist tendencies of South Asian education. By tying entrance and advancement in government service to academic education, colonial rule contributed to the legacy of an education system geared to preserving the position and prerogatives of the more privileged. Education served as a "gatekeeper," permitting an avenue of upward mobility to those few able to muster sufficient resources.

Even the efforts of the nationalistic Indian National Congress (the Congress--see Glossary) faltered in the face of the entrenched interests defending the existing system of education (see Origins of the Congress and the Muslim League, ch. 1). Early in the 1900s, the Congress called for national education, placing an emphasis on technical and vocational training. In 1920 the Congress initiated a boycott of government-aided and government-controlled schools; it founded several "national" schools and colleges, but to little avail. The rewards of British-style education were so great that the boycott was largely ignored, and the Congress schools temporarily disappeared.

Postprimary education has traditionally catered to the interests of the higher and upwardly mobile castes (see Changes in the Caste System, ch. 5). Despite substantial increases in the spread of middle schools and high schools' growth in enrollment, secondary schooling is necessary for those bent on social status and mobility through acquisition of an office job.

In the nineteenth century, postprimary students were disproportionately Brahmans; their traditional concern with learning gave them an advantage under British education policies. By the early twentieth century, several powerful cultivator castes had realized the advantages of education as a passport to political power and had organized to acquire formal learning. "Backward" castes (usually economically disadvantaged Shudras) who had acquired some wealth took advantage of their status to secure educational privilege. In the mid-1980s, the vast majority of students making it through middle school to high school continued to be from high-level castes and middle- to upper-class families living in urban areas (see Varna, Caste, and Other Divisions, ch. 5). A region's three or four most powerful castes typically dominated the school system. In addition, the widespread role of private education and the payment of fees even at government-run schools discriminated against the poor.

The goals of the 1986 National Policy on Education demanded vastly increased enrollment. In order to have attained universal elementary education in 1995, the 1981 enrollment level of 72.7 million would have had to increase to 160 million in 1995. Although the seventh plan suggested the adoption of new education methods to meet these goals, such as the promotion of television and correspondence courses (often referred to as "distance learning") and open school systems, the actual extended coverage of children was not very great. Many critics of India's education policy argue that total school enrollment is not actually a goal of the government considering the extent of society's vested interest in child labor. In this context, education can be seen as a tool that one social class uses to prevent the rise of another. Middle-class Indians frequently distinguish between the children of the poor as "hands," or children who must be taught to work, and their own children as "minds," or children who must be taught to learn. The upgraded curriculum with increased requirements in English and in the sciences appears to be causing difficulties for many children. Although all the states have recognized that curriculum reform is needed, no comprehensive plan to link curricular changes with new ways of teaching, learning, teacher training, and examination methods has been implemented.

The government instituted an important program for improving physical facilities through a phased drive in all primary schools in the country called Operation Blackboard. Under Operation Blackboard, Rs1 billion was allocated--but not spent--in 1987 to pay for basic amenities for village schools, such as toys and games, classroom materials, blackboards, and maps. This financial allotment averaged Rs2,200 for each government-run primary school. Additional goals of Operation Blackboard included construction of classrooms that would be usable in all weather, and an additional teacher, preferably a woman, in all single-teacher schools.

The nonformal education system implemented in 1979 was the major government effort to educate dropouts and other unenrolled children. Special emphasis was given to the nonformal education system in the nine states regarded by the government as having deficient education systems: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. A large number of children who resided in these states could not attend formal schools because they were employed, either with or without wages. Seventy-five percent of the country's children who were not enrolled in school resided in these states in the 1980s.

The 1986 National Policy on Education gave new impetus to the nonformal education system. Revised and expanded programs focused on involving voluntary organizations and training talented and dedicated young men and women in local communities as instructors. The results of a late 1980s integrated pilot project for nonformal and adult education for women and girls in the Lucknow district of Uttar Pradesh provide important data for analyzing recent implementation trends and initial results of both the nonformal education system and adult education in India. Under this project, 300 centers were opened in rural parts of the district with the approval of the Department of Education, the central government, and the state government of Uttar Pradesh with financial and advisory support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Because of the shortage of women teachers in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, in the pilot project nonformal education for girls aged six to fourteen was integrated with the adult education program for women aged fifteen to thirty-five, so that the same staff and infrastructure could be used. Most of the families of the project participants were in subsistence farming or engaged as farmhands, clerical workers, and petty merchants. Often the brothers of female participants attended a formal school situated about one or two kilometers from their homes. Most of the 300 instructors for the 300 centers were young women between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Each center averaged twenty-five women and twenty girl participants. The physical facilities of the centers varied from village to village. Classes might be held on the balcony of a brick house, within a temple, in a room of a mud-walled house, or under open thatch-roof structures. Besides focusing on the acquisition of literacy skills, the project increased participant motivation by also offering instruction in household work, such as sewing, knitting, and preserving food. In 1987 a UNESCO mission to evaluate progress in this project in the areas of functional literacy, vocational skills, and civic awareness observed that randomly chosen participants in both nonformal and adult education classes effectively demonstrated their reading and writing skills at appropriate levels. As a result of many such local programs, literacy rates improved between 1981 and 1991. Male literacy increased from 56.5 percent in 1981 to 64.2 percent in 1991 while women's literacy rate increased from 29.9 percent in 1981 to 39.2 percent in 1991.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress