School Education System in India

JAN 26

Mains   > Social justice   >   Education   >   Higher education


India has made significant strides in improving education, literacy and educational infrastructure since independence but there are concerns about the quality of education and outcomes, inbetween the government has released the Draft National Education Policy.


The earliest education system to develop in India was Vedic Gurukul system. India was also home to numerous centres of learning, such as Nalanda and Takshashila.  During the colonial era, several leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Mahatma Gandhi worked for better education, particularly for women education. Indigenous model of education was a major component of Gandhi’s conception of Swaraj and Swadeshi.

Post-Independence, the importance of education as a precondition for development was very well recognized by the leadership. Some of the major initiatives in promoting education are:

1937:   An ‘All India National Education Conference’ was held on October 22 and 23, 1937. The conference is popularly called Wardha Educational Conference and was presided by Gandhiji. Following Wardha conference, a committee under Dr. Zakir Hussain was appointed to formulate the scheme of basic education.

1949:   Under Article 45 in DPSP, it was mentioned that the government should provide free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14 years within 10 years from the commencement of the Constitution.

Department of Education was set up under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), with a mandate to increase both access to education and quality.

1968:   First National Policy on Education (NPE) was unveiled. It was formulated in accordance with the recommendations of the Kothari Commission. It had various principles: Free and Compulsary education, Education of teachers, Language Development and Education for all.

1986:   Second National Policy on Education was unvieled, which provided for education to all sections of society esp. SCs, Sts, OBCs & women, promotion of IT in education and opening up the technical education sector to private

1992:   NPE amended in 1992 based on the recommendations of Acharaya Ramamurti commission, giving more attention to weaker sections, emphasise to retention of children in primary education, women education etc. It established the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE). 

1995:   Mid day meal scheme was launched

2001:   Indian government launched the ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ to improve access, inclusivity and quality in education

2009:   Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act was enacted, making education a fundamental right.

2019:   The Draft National Education Policy was released, drawing inputs from the T.S.R. Subramanian Committee report and the K. Kasturirangan Committee.


  • Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan:it is Government of India's flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner, as mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right.
  • Samagra Shiksha: The Union Budget, 2018-19, has proposed to treat school education holistically without segmentation from pre-nursery to Class 12. It is an overarching programme for school education sector extending from pre-school to class 12. It has been prepared with the broader goal of improving school effectiveness measured in terms of equal opportunities for schooling and equitable learning outcomes. It subsumes the three schemes of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Teacher Education (TE).
  • Mid Day Meal: In 2001, Under MDM every Government and Government aided primary school was to be served a prepared Mid Day Meal with a minimum content of 300 calories of energy and 8-12 gram protein per day for a minimum of 200 days. The Scheme was further extended in 2002 to cover not only children studying in Government, Government aided and local body schools, but also children studying in Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative & Innovative Education (AIE) centres.
  • National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT): Apex body for school education in India. The NCERT provides support and technical assistance to a number of schools in India and oversees many aspects of enforcement of education policies.
  • Schemes for Infrastucture Development of Private Aided/Unaided Minority Institutes (IDMI): IDMI has been operationalised to augment Infrastructure in Private Aided/Unaided Minority Schools/Institutions in order to enhance quality of education to minority children.
  • Strengthening for providing quality Education in Madrassas (SPQEM): SPQEM seeks to bring about qualitative improvement in Madrasas to enable Muslim children attain standards of the national education system in formal education subjects.
  • The allocation for school education under the Union Budget 2018-19 is increased by 14 per cent, to focus on accelerating existing schemes and quality improvement.
  • Right to Education (2002) and RTE Act, 2009:
    • The 86th amendment to the constitution of India in 2002, provided Right to Education as a fundamental right in part-III of the Constitution. The same amendment inserted Article 21A which made Right to Education a fundamental right for children between 6-14 years.
    • The 86th amendment provided for a follow-up legislation for Right to Education Bill 2008 and finally Right to Education Act 2009. It has provisions such as:
      • Primary education to all children aged 6 to 14 years.
      • 25% reservation for disadvantaged sections of the society such as SCs, STs, Socially Backward Class and Differently abled
      • Provisions for a non-admitted child to be admitted to an age appropriate class.
      • Sharing of financial and other responsibilities between the Central and State Governments
      • Norms and standards related to Pupil Teacher Ratios, Buildings and infrastructure, School-working days etc.
      • Appointment of teachers with the requisite entry and academic qualifications.
      • Prohibition of deployment of teachers for non-educational work, other than decennial census, elections to local authority, state legislatures and parliament, and disaster relief.
      • Prohibition on matters such as Physical punishment and mental harassment, Screening procedures for admission of children, Capitation fee and Private tuition by teachers

Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Act, 2019

  • The act amended the Right to Education Act, 2009 by abolishing the no-detention policy in schools
  • Other changes are:
    • There shall be a regular examination in the fifth class and in the eighth class at the end of every academic year.
    • If a child fails in the examination he shall be given an opportunity for re-examination within a period of two months from the date of declaration of the result.
    • The State Government may allow schools to hold back a child in the fifth class or in the eighth class or in both classes if he fails in the re-examination.
    • The State Government may also decide not to hold back a child in any class until the completion of elementary education.
    • No child shall be expelled from a school till the completion of elementary Education.

Need for removal of this clause:

  • The policy had attracted criticism with several states and schools complaining that it compromised on academic rigour and learning levels and quality at schools.
  • It has led to students developing a lackadaisical attitude, with there being no risk of failing. This is evident in the ASER reports which pointed out the poor learning outcomes among children.
  • It has led to the development of a casual approach among teachers towards classroom teaching and they are not motivated to adopt innovative methods for classroom teaching or evaluate papers
  • The RTE act focused on the quantitative expansion of education. As a result, the quality aspects of teaching and learning were relegated to the backburner.
  • Committees like TSR Subramanian committee for formulation of the National Policy on Education and Central Advisory Board of Education had suggested that ‘no detention’ policy should be discontinued after Class V


  • There are no concrete evidences that detention will ensure good learning outcomes and failures in implementation of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) is being conflated with failure of no-detention policy.
  • Detaining students at an elementary level will damage their self-esteem and bring social stigma attached to failing. This can also lead to drop out from schools
  • will lead to the dilution of other elements of RTE like admitting children in age-appropriate classes
  • will become an added disincentive, especially for girls as parents will then have a reason to marry off their girls at a very early age

Commissions and Committees related with Education:

  • University Education Commission (1948) under the chairmanship of S. Radhakrishnan
  • Secondary Education Commission (1952) chairmanship of Dr. A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar
  • Indian Education Commission (1964-66) under the chairmanship of S. Kothari
  • Chattopadhyaya Committee(1983-’85): Report of the National Commission on Teachers
  • Acharaya Ramamurti commission, to reassess the impact of the provisions of National Policy on Education, 1986
  • T. S.R. Subramanian committee(2016) to prepare a new education policy 
  • Kasturirangan Commission (2017) to draft a new  education policy


  • India’s population in 2020 is estimated at 1.38 billion, predicted to overtake China’s 1.42 billion by 2027, according to the UN's 2019 World Population Prospects report.
  • With over 1.5 million schools, over 8.7 million primary and secondary teachers and more than 260 million enrolments, India is home to the largest and most complex education system in the world.
  • After the 2011 census, literacy rate in India was found to be 74.04%.
  • The female literacy level according to the 2011 census is at 65.46% whereas the male literacy rate is 82.14%.
  • The literacy levels is 66 percent among the scheduled caste population and 59 percent among the scheduled tribes.
  • Compared to the adult literacy rate, the youth literacy rate is about 9% higher




The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)—a household survey—put out by Pratham is a consistent and excellent source of information on the quantity and quality of primary education in India. It has been conducted annually since 2004, and covers more than 90% of India’s districts in a statistically rigorous manner.

Key Findings of the 13th ASER Report:

  • Increased school Enrolment: 97% of children in the age group of 3-16 years attended schools.
  • Decrease in girls out of School: In 2018, all India proportion of girls in the age group 11 to 14 who were out of school has fallen to 4.1% and in the age group 15 to 16 has decreased to 13.5%.
  • Stable Private School enrolment: The proportion of children (age 6-14) enrolled in private school is almost unchanged at 30.9% in 2018 which indicated overall trust in public schooling.
  • Improvement in school infrastructure, such as classrooms, toilets and playgrounds
  • The Early Childhood (0-8 yrs) Education: At age 3, two-thirds of children were enrolled in some form of preschool. Enrolment patterns only stabilize at age 8 when over 90% of children are enrolled in primary school.

However the report points out some of the limitations in India’s school education system:

  • The trends in quality are disconcerting: For instance, children in Class III who can read at least a Class I text has dropped consistently from about 50% to about 40% and children in Class III who can do at least subtraction has dropped from 40% to 25%.
  • Marginal Improvement in Reading Abilities: 50.3% students in Class V can read texts meant for class II students, showing a meagre 2.2 percentage point growth.  About 73% students of Class VIII can read Class II text, which is unchanged since 2016.
  • No Improvement in Mathematical Ability: 28.1% of children in class 3 are still unable to do at least subtraction.
  • Achievements of SSA:
    • Out of School children number has been brought down significantly (8 million in 2009, 3 million in 2012).
    • Big boost to additional schools -195,000 Primary and more than 100,000 Upper Primary schools sanctioned.
    • 2 million additional teacher posts.
    • 1.8 million additional classrooms approved. 230,000 drinking water projects approved in schools
    • Girls’ admission improved dramatically. Gender parity is achieved.
    • The scheme supports 200 million children in 1.4 million schools in the country.
  • Under the mid-day meal scheme initiated by the Government of India, about 95 million students of around 1.4 million schools enjoy fresh meal every day. Now with the Right to Education (RTE) Act in place, even more improvements can be expected.

NITI Aayog's School Education Quality Index (SEQI):

  • The index was developed to evaluate the performance of States and Union Territories (UTs) in the school education sector.
  • The data for the index was collected for three categories: large states, small states and Union Territories (UTs), except for West Bengal which did not participate
    • Kerala bagged the top spot with 76.6%, followed by Rajasthan with 72%
    • Among the small States, Manipur (68.8 per cent) emerged as the top performer
    • Among Union Territories, Chandigarh (82.9 per cent) stood at the top position


  • Quality of Education: Education in most schools is one-dimensional, with an obsessive focus on marks. Very little focus is given on improving learning outcomes, as is evident from the ASER report.
  • Low public spending: The present spending is at 4.65%, which is far less than the desired level of 6 % of GDP. Also as per UNESCO data, India has one of the lowest public expenditure rates on education per student, especially compared to other Asian countries like China.
  • Student-Teacher Ratio:  While in developed countries this ratio stands at 11.4, in case of India, it is as high as 22.0. Coupled with issues like lack of sufficient teacher training institutes, aversion to rural schools and deploying teachers for non-educational purposes, quality of education takes a serious step backwards.
  • Issue of Language: India being a diverse country with over 22 official languages and over 1500 languages as “mother tongue” means that primary education can never be easy. Getting teachers to understand and communicate in a “mother tongue” and yet teach in official language is a difficult task.
  • Literacy levels: According to 2011 census, literacy in India is 74.04%. In other words, nearly a quarter of parents are still illiterate. Their motivation to send their child to school or to monitor their child in school is low. This is demonstrated through irregular student attendance, low learning levels, and dropouts.
  • Lack of Proper Infrastructure: There is lack of essential infrastructure including washroom facilities, clean water, classrooms etc which creates severe distraction.
  • Outdated Curriculum: The syllabus and mode of teaching in most schools have not been revised in the past decade. Limited avenues are provided for skill training, vocational education and modern methods like smart classrooms and interactive learning.


  • Thrust on value education: To build a society with sensible character and citizenship, it’s vital that value education be introduced in pre-school and strengthened in primary, secondary and higher educationThis can be easily established through effective early childhood development programmes and basic education. Investments in nutrition, health and stimulation in the first thousand days of life also build stronger brains.
  • Understanding Diversity: India is a country where everything has to happen on a massive scale. Thus rather than a one size fits all approach, a rather decentralised approach is more preferred. Developing one successful model and replicating them in other states is one possibility.
  • Policy Making and role of NGO: Motivated state machinery with leadership and consistent policy backing is the key to big systemic changes. To add to this, NGOs and foundations can be helpful in initiating as well as pressuring the government for changes.
  • Understanding the needs: Ensuring that every child has the opportunity to acquire foundational skills in primary school will need substantial changes in the ways that the system currently works.
  • Dynamic nature of Policy Making: As a country, we have acknowledged that we have a crisis of learning on hand. Now it is time to understand the contours of the problem and take decisions accordingly, so that year on year there is progress.


            Outcome based education (OBE) is student-centered instruction model that focuses on measuring student performance through outcomes. Outcomes include knowledge, skills and attitudes. Its focus remains on evaluation of outcomes of the program by stating the knowledge, skill and behaviour a graduate is expected to attain upon completion of a program and after 4 – 5 years of graduation. In the OBE model, the required knowledge and skill sets for a particular engineering degree is predetermined and the students are evaluated for all the required parameters (Outcomes) during the course of the program.

            The various assessment tools for measuring Course Outcomes include Mid/End Semester Examinations, Tutorials, Assignments, Project work, Labs, Presentations, Employer/Alumni Feedback etc,. These course outcomes are mapped to Graduate attributes and Program outcomes based on relevance.




The main objective of the National Policy of Education of 1986 and Programme of Action, 1992 was to establish a national system of education implies that all students irrespective of caste; creed, sex, and religion have access to education of a comparable quality.

  • In relation to Elementary Education, followings are the major objectives of National Policy of Education 1986 are mainly:
  1. Universal access and enrolment
  2. Universal retention of children up to 14 years of age and
  3. A sustainable improvement in the quality education to enable all children to achieve essential levels of learning.
  • Regarding Secondary Education, National Policy of Education stressed on the improvement of the quality of secondary education. Effort to be made to provide computer literacy in as many secondary level institutions to make the students equipped with necessary computer skills.
  • Regarding higher education, National Policy of Education and Programme of Action of 1986 and 1992 emphasized that higher education should provide to the people with an opportunity to reflect on the critical social, economic, cultural, moral and spiritual issues.
  • It emphasized that education must play a positive and interventionist role in correcting social and regional imbalance, empowering women, and in securing rightful place for the disadvantaged and the minorities.      
  • The educational policy as highlighted in the N.P.E. also emphasized on enhancing and promoting the vocationalisation of education, adult education, education for the mentally and physically challenged persons, non-formal education, open universities and distance learning, rural university, early childhood care and education.
  • Delinking degrees from job was also one of the basic objectives of National Policy of Education of 1986.

Key fallouts of the Previous Policy

  • The core focus of the policies was rote learning of facts and procedures and the curriculum that doesn’t meet the developmental needs of children
  • Lack of qualified and trained teachers to attain the objectives of the policies
  • The current curriculum force students to concentrate only on a few subjects and remain rigid, narrow, and archaic.
  • Inadequate infrastructural facilities as laboratories, classrooms etc.
  • Lack of Teacher Management- Teacher Shortage, Lack of professionalism in teachers, poor service conditions and deployment of teachers for non-educational purposes.
  • Higher educational system has multiple regulators with overlapping mandates.
  • Lack of orientation towards higher education, research and development.

The need of Reform

  • To address the challenges of: (i) access, (ii) equity, (iii) quality, (iv) affordability, and (v) accountability faced by the current education system.
  • To increase the focus on early childhood care, reform the current exam system, strengthen teacher training, and restructure the education regulatory framework.
  • To set up a National Education Commission, increase public investment in education, strengthen the use of technology and increase focus on vocational and adult education.
  • The last policy was drafted in the 1990s. Colossal changes have happened in the world since then, like mobile devices, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Draft National Education Policy 2019

  • The draft Policy recommends extending the ambit of the RTE Act to include early childhood education and secondary school education.  This would extend the coverage of the Act to all children between the ages of three to 18 years.
  • The policy calls for an Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) as an integral part of school education.
  • A 5+3+3+4 curricular and pedagogical structure based on cognitive and socio-emotional developmental stages of children was proposed.
  • It recommends that multiple public schools should be brought together to form a school complex.
  • It consists of -
    • Foundational Stage (age 3-8 yrs)        : 3 years of pre-primary plus Grades 1-2
    • Preparatory Stage (8-11 years)          : Grades 3-5
    • Middle Stage (11-14 years)                : Grades 6-8
    • Secondary Stage (14-18 years)           : Grades 9-12
  • It recommends that teachers should be deployed with a particular school complex for at least five to seven years.
  • For teacher training, the existing B.Ed. programme will be replaced by a four-year integrated B.Ed. programme that combines high-quality content, pedagogy, and practical training.
  • It recommends separating the regulation of schools from aspects such as policymaking, school operations, and academic development.
  • It proposes setting up the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA).  This independent authority would replace the existing individual regulators in higher education, including professional and vocational education.
  • This implies that the role of all professional councils such as AICTE and the Bar Council of India would be limited to setting standards for professional practice. 
  • The role of the University Grants Commission (UGC) will be limited to providing grants to higher educational institutions.
  • The draft Policy recommends separating NAAC from the UGC into an independent and autonomous body.  In its new role, NAAC will function as the top level accreditor, and will issue licenses to different accreditation institutions, who will assess higher educational institutions once every five to seven years.
  • All existing higher education institutions should be accredited by 2030.
  • Creation of a National Education Commission or Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog, as an apex body for education, to be headed by the Prime Minister. This body will be responsible for developing, implementing, evaluating, and revising the vision of education in the country on a continuous and sustained basis
  • Recommends making undergraduate programmes interdisciplinary by redesigning their curriculum to include: (a) a common core curriculum and (b) one/two area(s) of specialisation.
  • It recommends that all higher education institutions must have complete autonomy on curricular, pedagogical and resource-related matters.
  • The Draft Policy reaffirmed the commitment of spending 6% of GDP as public investment in education.  In 2017-18, public expenditure on education in India was 2.7% of GDP.

Practice Question

Q. There is an inherent contradiction between the quantity and quality of education in India. Discuss? Examine how the draft national education policy can address this situation?