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Explore: The education system in India

We take a comprehensive look at India’s growing primary, secondary and higher education system, exploring the history of education in India and how it plans to develop.

India has a unique education system designed to uphold its nation’s culture, history, values, and customs.

While traditionally, education in India was reserved mostly for the higher-caste children, new education policies have been aiming to achieve equity in education and the right to education for all children irrespective of social class.    

Here we take a look at the traditional and modern facts surrounding education in India, looking especially at the latest policies that aim to create a more inclusive and contemporary education system.

We also explore ways you can empower your students’ thirst for knowledge while meeting new classroom demands and needs, across primary, secondary and higher education.

A brief history of India’s education system

The Gurukul was India’s first system of education. It was a residential schooling system dating back to around 5000 BC, where shisya (student) and guru (teacher) used to reside in the guru’s ashram (home) or in close proximity. This allowed for an emotional bond to be developed prior to the transmission of knowledge. The mode of communication was the ancient Sanskrit language.

The basis of learning wasn’t only to read books and memorise information, but the well-rounded, holistic development of a child. This included their mental, cognitive, physical and spiritual wellness. Subjects taught were religion, holy scriptures, medicine, philosophy, warfare, statecraft, astrology and more. 

The emphasis was on developing student’s human values such as self-reliance, right behaviours, empathy, creativity, plus strong moral and ethical behaviours. The aim was that knowledge could later be practically implemented to find solutions to real-life problems. 

The six aims of education for the students of the Gurukul where:

  • The acquisition of supreme knowledge: The ultimate purpose of the Gurukul education system was to understand Brahma (God) and the world beyond sensorial pleasures to attain immortality.
  • Development of character: Through study of the Vedas (ancient texts), the student developed will-power, a requirement for a good character, which subsequently allowed them to create a more favourable attitude and positive outlook towards life.
  • All-rounded development: Learning to withdraw the senses inwards and practice introversion was considered as the ideal method for complete living. This allowed students to become aware of the inner workings of the mind and their responses and reactions while performing various duties in the Gurukul.
  • Social virtues: By training body, mind and heart, the student was inspired to only speak truth and refrain from deceit and falsehood.  This was considered to be the highest human virtue. They were also encouraged to believe in giving to charities which made them socially efficient.
  • Spiritual development: The ancient texts suggest introversion as the best method for spiritual development, including Yagyas (rituals). Therefore, the student spent time in reflection and isolation from the external world to look entirely within himself to attain self-knowledge and self-realisation.
  • Cultural education: One day a year, students offered food to a passerby or a guest. This act was considered a sacrifice equivalent to one’s social and religious duty to another. 

Facts and statistics about education in India

Under India’s Right to Education Act 2020, free and compulsory education is ensured to every child between the ages of three to 18.

As of 2020, education in India statistics show that about 26 per cent of the Indian population (1.39 billion) falls into the 0-14 year category, which provides a great opportunity for the primary education sector. 

Furthermore, 18 per cent of the population, or approximately 500 million, fall into the 15-24 year category, allowing for opportunities for growth across the secondary and higher education institutions in India.  

Additional Indian education statistics reveal how the literacy ratio of India for adults (15+ years) is 69.3 per cent, with male literacy at 78.8 per cent and female literacy at 59.3 per cent.

The Indian state with the highest literacy rate is Kerala, at 96.2 per cent as of 2018. 

The most popular Indian higher education institution is the University of Delhi, followed by the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.

India was ranked 34 among the 100 countries in the 2019 English Proficiency Index, allowing for easy delivery of educational material that meets Universal standards.

Aims for the future of education in India

In April 2021, India joined the United Nation’s E9 initiative, whose purpose is to create an initiative on digital learning and skills, targeting marginalised children and youth, especially girls.

According to Union Budget 2021-22, the Indian government allocated an expenditure budget of US$5.28 billion for higher education and US$7.56 billion for school education and literacy.

By 2030, it’s estimated that India’s higher education system will have more than 20 universities among the global top 200 universities. It’s also thought that it will be among the top five countries in the world in terms of research output, with an annual research and development (R&D) spend of US$140 billion.  

How does the Indian education system work in modern times?

It’s an undeniable fact that education in modern India is different from that of the “Gurukula.” The curriculum is mostly taught in English or Hindi, computer technology and skills have been integrated into learning systems, and emphasis is more on the competitive examination and grades rather than moral, ethical and spiritual education.

The modern school system was brought to India, originally by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay, in the 1830s. “Modern” subjects like science and mathematics took precedence, and metaphysics and philosophy were deemed unnecessary.

Up until July 2020, the schooling system in India was based on the 10+2 system, which rewarded Secondary School Certificate (SSC) once completing class 10th and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) by completing class 12th.

As a result of the new National Education Policy (NEP), this has been replaced with the 5+3+3+4 system. The division of stages has been made to fall in line with the cognitive development stages that a child naturally goes through.

 India’s four-level compulsory education

1. Foundation stage (ages 3 to 8)


The five-year foundational stage of education, as per the NEP, comprises three years of preschool followed by two years of primary classes. This stage will involve age-appropriate play or activity-based methods and the development of language skills. 

For those working in early education, we have a course, English in Early Childhood: Learning Language Through Play, which can help you understand the role of play in language development and how to use play to teach language skills in a fun way to children. You can also learn how to Prevent Manage Infections in Childcare and Pre-School with our free online course.

2.  Preparatory stage (ages 8 to 11)  

The focus in this three-year stage remains language development but will include numeracy skills. Classroom interactions will also continue to be activity-based, with a focus on the element of discovery.

3.  Middle stage (ages 11 to 14) 

For classes six to eight, the three-year focus shifts to critical learning objectives, such as experiential learning in the sciences, mathematics, arts, social sciences and humanities.

4.  Secondary stage (ages 14 to 18) 

Covering classes 9 and 10, and classes 11 and 12, students have access to a variety of subject combinations to choose from and study, as per their skills and interests. 

At this stage, critical thinking, an open mind and flexibility in the thought process are encouraged. To stimulate your students’ thinking ability, our course Volunteering in the Classroom: Bringing STEM Industry into Schools, will encourage their interest in the field of STEM, which faces a huge skills gap and thus provides high employment potential.  

Higher education In India 

At the undergraduate stage, students can choose to study at this level from age 18 onwards. The majority of students attend a free public college or university, while others choose a private institution for their education. Indian college and university degrees in the field of agriculture, engineering, pharmaceutics and technology usually take four years to complete. Law, medicine and architecture can take up to five years.

Post-graduate study in India 

Known as master’s courses or doctorate degrees, they can take from two up to three years to complete, respectively. Post-graduate education in India is largely provided by universities, followed by colleges and the majority of students are women. Post-graduate study allows students to specialise in a chosen field and conduct large amounts of research.

Adult education in India

The purpose of adult education is to increase literacy and put people over age 21 who are illiterate further on the path of knowledge. In India, the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA) is responsible for funding and promoting adult education programmes.

If you’re an adult education provider or considering becoming one, our course Online Teaching: Creating Courses for Adult Learners has everything you need to teach adults online. 

Distance Education in India 

 Distance Learning in India was first introduced by Delhi University in 1962 through the School of Correspondence Courses and Continuing Education. The aim was to enable those who had the inclination and aptitude to acquire further knowledge and improve their professional competence. 

As technology developed, significant advancements were made and continue to be made in online education in India. Higher education institutes in India are focussing on creating online programmes due to the increasing demand from consumers and the influences of the pandemic.  In India, the online education market is forecast to reach US$ 11.6 billion by 2026.

Homeschooling and blended learning in India 

While homeschooling isn’t widespread in India, and neither is it widely accepted, with the impact of the pandemic, remote learning is becoming the new norm. As such, many children will be learning from home and attending the classroom, known as blended learning

For a comprehensive introduction to blended learning for teachers and trainers, our course Blended Learning Essentials for Vocational Education and Training is the perfect starting point.    

What is the new education policy in India?

In July 2020, the Union Cabinet approved a new National Education Policy (NEP) to be fully implemented by 2040. They also renamed the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) as the Education Ministry, to act as the single regulator for all schools and higher education institutions across India.

The NEP, whose purpose is to form the framework and guide the development of education in India, was first drafted in 1964 under a 17-member Education Committee and passed by Parliament in 1968. Since then, it’s been revised three times, the latest being most recently under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi.

The 2020 NEP’s five major changes in school and higher education 

  1.   School will begin at age three: The Right to Education Act (RTE) will now cover free and compulsory schooling from age three up to 18 years, instead of six to 14 years. This brings early childhood education of ages three to five, for the first time, under the scope of formal schooling.
  2.   Students will be taught in their mother tongue: Although not compulsory, the NEP suggests students until class five should be taught in their mother tongue or regional language as a way to help children learn and grasp non-trivial concepts quicker.  
  3.   One umbrella body for the entire higher education system: Under the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), public and private higher education institutions will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation and academic standards.
  4.   Higher education becomes multidisciplinary: The policy proposes that all universities and colleges aim to become multidisciplinary by 2040. This will allow students to make their own subject combinations based on their skill set and interest areas.    
  5.   Undergraduate degrees will have multiple exit options: Under the new policy, colleges and universities in India are authorised to award a certificate after completing one year of study in a field or a diploma after two years of study. A Bachelor’s degree continues to be awarded after a minimum three-year programme.  

Final thoughts

Due to the proactive nature of the NEP, India’s education system is in line with the changes felt by the education system worldwide as a result of Covid-19. As blended learning seems to be the future of education in India, we have many teaching resources available to help you make a greater impact on your student’s lives and your teaching ability. 

We hope you have gained much insight into the facts that make up India’s education system, whether it’s just to increase your knowledge base or tap into the ever-growing Indian education market.

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