What is against the Indian education system


Dr. Doris Hillger

Dr. Doris Hillger is regional manager for India / South Asia in the OAV - German Asia-Pacific Business Association. She did her doctorate at the GIGA Institute for Asian Studies on the subject of educational governance in India and headed the Heidelberg Center South Asia at the University of Heidelberg in New Delhi from 2009 to 2012.

Challenges of the Indian education system

India's government has formulated the groundbreaking principle of "expansion, quality, equity" for the education sector. However, so far only the expansion has been successfully mastered. The guarantee of qualitative minimum standards in schools, universities and vocational training has so far been just as unsuccessful as the associated guarantee of equal opportunities. The reasons for this are diverse.

Girls' school in Mundia (& copy picture alliance / ZB)

With more than 1.4 million state-approved schools, approximately 33,000 colleges and 659 universities, the Indian education system is now one of the largest in the world. Despite the impressive increase in the number of school enrollments and transition rates to secondary schools as well as the massive expansion of the university system, it faces enormous challenges. The shortage of qualified teachers as well as declining student performance in state schools and the resulting increase in household spending on education in private schools raise the question of a reasonable relationship between expansion and quality.

Education since independence: an overview

After independence, nationwide access to state schooling was included in the directives for action in the Indian constitution (Directive Principles of State) as a goal of central and federal politics to be achieved within ten years. However, since education in the federal constitution of India was initially a purely state task and the states were free to introduce compulsory schooling, the public school system developed in a highly divergent manner in the first 40 years of the republic. This is due, on the one hand, to the different starting positions at the time of independence and, on the other hand, to the priority that the state governments placed on social reforms in general and education policy in particular.

Literacy Rates - Selected States

StateLiteracy rate (%)
Andhra Pradeshn / A21,1924,5735,6644,0860,4767,02
Delhin / A61,9565,0871,9475,2981,6786,21
Himachal Pradeshn / An / An / An / A63,8676,4882,8
Madhya Pradesh13,1621,4127,2738,6344,6763,7469,32
Tamil Nadun / A36,3945,454,3962,6673,4580,09
Uttar Pradesh12,0220,8723,9932,6540,7156,2767,68
India as a whole18,3328,334,4543,5752,2164,8472,99

Source: Economic Survey 2012-13, Office of the Registrar General, 2012, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India and Census 2011

To ensure the education of the political elite, a network of centrally financed and controlled schools (Central Schools), which were primarily intended to provide schooling for the children of public servants. In addition to those resulting from the Christian mission Convent Schools they formed the backbone of elite education in India for a long time. Private so-called international schools have spread since the 1990s (International Schools), often founded by entrepreneurs or politicians, who meanwhile also contribute significantly to the education of the elite.

The higher education sector developed in a similar way: those financed by the central government Central Universities and Indian Institutes were able to develop into internationally competitive educational and research institutions due to the comparatively generous financial resources, while the majority of those supported by the federal states State Universities and their affiliated colleges, which educate the bulk of students, suffered from underfunding and lack of qualified teaching staff.

Structure of the education system

The coexistence of different school types is characteristic of the Indian education system - state and private institutions on the one hand and formal and non-formal institutions on the other. Since 1986 there has been a nationwide binding basic structure of school education, the so-called ten-plus-two structure - ten years of schooling up to secondary level and two years of upper level. In addition, there are vocational schools that prepare students for entry into professional life after completing secondary school (e.g. polytechnic schools).

The completion of the upper level entitles to participate in the entrance exams of universities, technical colleges and Engineering colleges. At universities and colleges, there are usually three-year bachelor's degree programs, followed by two years leading to a master’s degree and a further two to three years leading to a doctorate. At the technical universities, the course usually leads to a bachelor's degree after four years. There are also distance learning universities at the central and federal level that allow students to study alongside employment.

Skill Development in India (& copy World Bank 2008)

\ r \ nIn addition to the formal education system institutions described, various non-formal structures have developed that extend into the higher education sector. Non-formal state and private institutions are aimed at children and young people who are unable to attend a formal school for various reasons - employment, labor migration for the family or looking after younger siblings. They also cover the area of ​​adult education.

Economic opening and educational reforms

Since ratification of the National Policy on Education In 1986, education is a shared responsibility of central and state governments. The law made it possible to implement national educational programs for backward regions, most of which were financed and controlled by the central government.

As a result of the balance of payments crisis of 1990, extensive reforms aimed at opening up the economy and decentralizing public administration were initiated as part of the package of conditions for the loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which also significantly changed the education system. If the central government had previously invested disproportionately in secondary and tertiary education, the focus has now shifted to elementary education: between 1990 and 2005, its share of total expenditure increased from 14 to over 50 percent. The main initiative was that funded by the World Bank District Primary Education Program (DPEP). This project served as a model for many of the subsequent reforms in the school education sector.

School children in uniform in Maharashtra
Photo: Rainer Hörig
With the edition of the national educational program "Education for All" (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, SSA) for the universalization of elementary education in 2002 and the associated measures to secure the infrastructure, the central government took control of the construction of the public school system in the states. Since then, enrollment rates have continued to rise across the board. The serious differences between the level of literacy in rural and urban areas on the one hand and between the sexes on the other have declined. The difference between rural and urban areas has fallen from 20 to 15 percent over the past ten years, and between men and women on average from 22 to 16 percent.

Enrollment rates at primary school level have now reached nearly 100 percent for both girls and boys in all states, but are falling significantly in secondary education. The transition rate from elementary school to middle school (grades 6-7) was 87 percent nationwide in 2011, while it was only 71 percent in lower secondary school (grades 8-10).

In order to ensure that all households have access to a secondary school or upper level, the Indian central government launched the National Program for Secondary Education (Rashriya Madhyamik Shiksa Abhiyan, RMSA). Analogous to the SSA, the focus is initially on increasing the infrastructure of existing secondary schools and building new ones, while at the same time all schools are to be subjected to a uniform examination regime. In the secondary school sector, the proportion of private schools is significantly higher than in the elementary sector; the state average was already around 53 percent in 2008.

The universalization of elementary education is linked to two worrying trends: Since 2010, the fundamental right to education (Right to Education, RTE) has come into force, there is a measurable drop in the already poor student performance, especially in state schools. This leads to an exodus from the state school system, which is due to both the publicly perceived decline of state schools and the slowly rising incomes of the rural population. With the growing gap between the learning success of students in private and state institutions, the chances of educational advancement for children from poor families who cannot afford to pay school fees shrink.

Quantity at the expense of quality?

As in Germany, there were no systematic student performance studies in India for a long time. Only with the one published by the non-governmental organization Pratham Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has been regularly surveyed since 2005 in reading and arithmetic, both in state and private schools. The results shook the Indian public: According to the ASER study, only 55 percent of fifth graders across the country were able to read and understand a grade 2 text without errors, while only 35 percent managed a simple division task. In private schools the proportion was on average 10 percent higher. However - and this is important to note - the ASER survey has so far only been carried out in rural areas. The level of performance in the larger cities is likely to be significantly higher due to the large number of private, international and central government schools.

Another indication of the quality of school education including city schools is the PISA study from 2009. For the first time, pupils from the states of Tamil Nadu in the south and Himachal Pradesh in the north of the country took part in PISA. Both are considered to be the top performers in India, but the results were sobering: only 11 to 15 percent of the students tested achieved the basic skills defined by the OECD for successful participation in economic and social life (OECD average: 81 percent).

Again Annual Status of Education Report for 2012 shows, the level of competence has fallen across the board in rural areas over the past three years, although the trend in private schools is much less pronounced. This is attributed to a number of reforms that will begin when the RTE comes into force. They provide for the abolition of the annual audit and replacement with a system of continuous evaluation of the children. In addition, staying seated was abolished in grades 1 to 8. Although this corresponds to the status of the international educational science debate, the elimination of the pressure to learn and / or teaching and the excessive demands placed on teachers with continuous evaluation apparently lead to a decline in learning success.

As a result, the exodus from state schools intensifies: On average, the proportion of elementary schoolchildren attending private schools in rural areas has risen by 10 percent annually, and the national average is now likely to be 40 percent. In cities, private schools serve between 60 and 90 percent of all students, depending on the state. Under the conditions of such a divided school system, the basic right to a qualitatively decent, free basic education for all children is nothing more than waste, especially since the quality component - i.e. the learning success of the students - is not enforceable.

Massive expansion of the higher education sector

While the last 15 years were characterized by investments in the infrastructure of the elementary education sector, the focus in the eleventh and twelfth five-year plans has shifted significantly to tertiary education and vocational training. As deficit as the school system as a whole may be, it produces a rapidly growing number of school leavers who are pushing their way into the labor market and universities year after year. Then there is the demographics - half of the Indian population is under 25 years of age.

The approximately 13 million school leavers and dropouts each year are compared to around 3.5 million study and training places. In order to meet the needs of the economy for qualified workers, the Union government strives with its National Skill Development Program the qualification of 500 million young workers and an increase in the student quota from currently almost 18 to 30 percent by 2022. The government wants the expansion of the study and training places required for this to be achieved through massive private sector engagement.

The higher education sector has already experienced rapid growth in the last seven years: between 2006 and 2013, around 12,000 new colleges and 270 universities were created, 65 percent of them in the private sector. Over 60 percent of all students are enrolled in private colleges and universities. As in the school sector, the quality of the facilities varies widely.

In terms of access to the higher education system, a differentiated picture emerges when measured against the respective share of the population. While the proportion of students from the lower caste groups (Scheduled castes), which have been the focus of inclusion policy for decades and which has come closer to their share of the population at 12.5 percent, are mainly members of the Indian tribal population (Schedules Tribes) and the Muslim population is clearly underrepresented in universities. In 2011, only a little over 4 percent of the students were members of the Scheduled Tribes (Population share 8.6 percent) or Muslims (population share approx. 14 percent).

At the beginning of the eleventh planning period (2007-2011), the central government invested heavily in the expansion of the so-called centers of excellence, including nine new ones according to regional proportionality Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) and 15 Central Universities were built. Graduates from these institutions have excellent career opportunities in the Indian and international job markets. A look at the productivity rate in the Indian scientific system, measured by the publication density and the number of international collaborations, shows that India has seen a significant increase in its scientific productivity over the past ten years. After the USA, Germany is the most important international cooperation partner.

Urgent reform of vocational training

However, the bulk of the students are not in the centers of excellence, but in the state universities and colleges (State Universities / State Colleges) who suffer almost everywhere from underfunding and a lack of qualified teachers. This leads to the paradoxical situation that, despite the increasing number of graduates, there is a shortage of skilled workers because the large number of graduates do not have the appropriate qualifications for the growing economy. The. Carried out on behalf of various international and Indian corporations National Employability Study rates the immediate employability of Indian graduates at less than 15 percent on average. The majority of the graduates need intensive in-company advanced training across sectors and functions in order to be able to work in companies.

Against this background, vocational training, which has been politically neglected for a long time, has received increased attention over the past ten years. The focus is on expanding the network of vocational schools, revising the curricula and improving the training of trainers - the latter with increased involvement of industry and foreign cooperation partners - in order to strengthen the quality and scope of vocational training. At the same time is supposed to be via a network Community colleges the advanced training of unskilled workers based on key competencies in rural regions in order to be able to increase productivity in the informal sector across the board.


If one regards the formula "Expansion, Quality, Justice", which the Indian government has issued for all three education sectors since the eleventh planning period, as a continuum, then expansion has been successfully mastered up to now. However, India still has major tasks ahead of it, both in terms of guaranteeing minimum quality standards and equal opportunities.

Based on the developments in the school sector over the last 25 years, it is to be feared that a similarly fragmented scenario will establish itself in the tertiary and vocational training sector, consisting of a large number of private providers of different quality, a network of state institutions that remains below its capabilities and a parallel system informal, decentrally organized facilities for the underserved rural population. Equal opportunities cannot be achieved without harmonizing the education system at all levels.