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Education of India

The mandate for providing free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14 is enshrined as one of the directive principles in the Constitution of India. Since the latter part of the 20th century, there has been a significant improvement in the literacy rates across the nation. However, gender disparities persist, with approximately three-quarters of males and half of females being literate. Additionally, there is a notable variation in literacy levels across different states, with Kerala achieving near-universal literacy, in stark contrast to Bihar, where only about half of the population is literate.

The structure of pre-university education in India typically encompasses five years of primary education (grades I to V) for children aged 6 to 11, followed by middle school (grades VI to VIII), lower secondary (grades IX and X), and higher secondary education (grades XI and XII). While a significant majority of children of primary school age are enrolled, consistent attendance, particularly among girls, remains a challenge. Beyond primary education, enrollment rates drop sharply, with only about half of the children aged 11 to 14 remaining in school, despite the provision of free education in most states up to at least grade X.

Education, which was once solely under state jurisdiction, has become a shared responsibility between the union and state governments following a constitutional amendment. The central government has since taken a more active role in advancing the education of girls and marginalized groups, primarily through financial grants to support specific initiatives, such as tuition reimbursement for girls in grades IX to XII. Furthermore, the government has launched various innovative educational programs. In addition to state-funded schools, there are private and church-affiliated schools, many of which are managed by Christian missions and charge tuition fees. These schools, often prestigious and English-medium, are highly sought after by those who can afford the fees for their children.

At the tertiary level, numerous prominent universities and specialized institutions fall under the purview of the union government, while a larger number of universities are managed by the state governments. A significant portion of India’s educational budget is allocated to higher education. The number of universities and student enrollments has expanded exponentially since India’s independence, with both figures continuing to rise sharply. Despite this growth, there has been consistent underfunding for essential infrastructure such as libraries and laboratories. Critics have pointed out a decline in the quality of higher education and an increase in the number of graduates, particularly those with liberal arts degrees, who struggle to secure employment. Among the long-established universities in India are those founded by the British in 1857, located in Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai.

In the historical context, the medium of instruction at the tertiary level was predominantly English. However, with the expansion of higher education to smaller municipalities through the establishment of new universities and their numerous affiliated colleges, there has been a notable shift towards the use of regional languages. This transition occurs despite the limited availability of textbooks in these languages. Additionally, the implementation of reserved seat quotas for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, coupled with relaxed admission criteria for these groups—many of whom may have had an insufficient primary and secondary education—places further strain on the educational infrastructure. Compounding these challenges is the trend of India’s most distinguished students pursuing advanced degrees overseas, with a significant number opting not to return, thereby intensifying the concerns regarding the caliber of education within the country. Despite these issues, prestigious institutions maintain their status, and the number of highly educated individuals produced remains considerable in absolute figures.

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