Education in India — A Historical Perspective

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Education in India

Early education in India commenced under the supervision of ‘Guru”. Initially, education was open to all and seen as one of the methods to achieve Moksha or enlightenment. Later due to superiority complex, the education was imparted on the basis of castes with the Brahmins learning about scriptures, kshatriya the art of warfare, The Vaishya learned about business and commerce while none or minimal education was imparted to lowermost castes, the Shudras.

Education in India-Nalanda University
Nalanda University

Education in its traditional form was closely related to religion.

Education in India– Nalanda UniversityAmong the heterodox schools of learning were the Jain and Buddhist schools. Buddhist education was more inclusive and Buddhist education centers were urban institutes of learning, such as Taxila and Nalanda where grammar, medicine, philosophy, logic, metaphysics, arts, and crafts were taught.

Taxila was the earliest recorded center of higher learning in India in 5th century B.C. Chanakya, a brahmin teacher was among the most famous teacher of Taxila. Nalanda University was the oldest university system in the world. These institutions continue to function well and were attended by students from India, Bhutan, Tibet, and central Asia.

The Brahmin gurus historically offered education by means of donations rather than charging fees from students. Later temples became the center of education. Religious education was compulsory, but the secular subject was also. Students were required to be Brahmacharis or celibates. The book of laws, “Manusmriti” and the Treatise on statecraft the “Arthashastra” were the influential works of that era.

The Medieval Period

Buddhist institutions of learning giving way to a resurgent tradition of Brahminism during this period. Scholars from India journeyed to China to translate Buddhist texts. Chinese scholars such as Xuanzang and Yi Jing arrived in Indian institutions of learning to survey Buddhist texts. Dharmendra from the 10th century from Nalanda journeyed to China and translated a number of texts.

With the advent of Islam in India, the traditional methods of education increasingly came under Islamic influence. Pre Mughal rulers such as Qutb-u-din tughlaq and other Muslim leaders initiated institutions that imparted knowledge. Scholars like Nizamuddin Auliya and Moinuddin Chisti became prominent educators and established Islamic monasteries. Students from Bukhara and Afghanistan visited India to study humanities and science.

Education in India -- The role of Tuglaq during medival India

Islamic institutions of education in India inducted traditional Madrasas and Maktabs which taught grammar, philosophy, mathematics, and law influenced by Greek tradition.

The education system in the Mughal dynasty especially under Akbar favored courses like medicine, agriculture, geography, Patanjali works in Sanskrit. The traditional science in this period was influenced by the ideas of Aristotle, Bhaskara2, Charaka, Ibsen.  Even Aurangzeb favored teaching subjects like administration. During the Mughal dynasty, the more intolerant Ottoman school of manque education came to be gradually substituted by the more relaxed Maqui school.

The Colonial Era.

The colonial-era saw a high difference of opinion among the colonialists themselves about education themselves for Indians. They were divided into two schools– the orientalists, who believed that education should in Indian languages like Sanskrit or Persian or Utilitarians(Anglicists) who strongly believed that India has nothing to teach its own subject but English.

Lord Macaulay introduced English education in India in 1835. He called an education system that could create a class of anglicized Indians who serve as cultural intermediaries between the British and Indians.

Education in India -- The colonial era
Madras Medical College

The University of Madras was founded in 1857 under the leadership of entirely clean caste and mainly brahmans. The Madras medical college opened in 1835 and admitted women and in 1894, the women’s Christian medical college, an exclusive medical school for women was established in Ludhiana, Punjab. Mayo College was founded in 1875 was the first modern institution for Muslims in India. By 1920 it became the Aligarh Muslim University.

In 1882 there were 4 universities and 67 colleges, by 1901 there were 5 universities and 145 colleges, in 1922 there were 14 universities and 167 colleges and in 1947 there were 21 universities and 496 colleges in operation. There were 4 colleges of engineering in 1847, and by 1930 India has 10 technical institutions.

Modern India

Education in India-- Modern India

Education in Modern India is provided by the public as well as private control and funding coming from the three-level: The Centre, the state, and the Local.

India has free and compulsory education between the age of 6 and 14. As per the annual statistics of education report(ASER) 2012, 96.5% of all rural children between the ages of 6 to 14 were enrolled in school.

A significant number of seats are reserved for weaker sections of the society in all educational institutions affiliated to the central and state government. The sections include Scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes.

Most private schools in India are modeled after British Public Schools, which are a group of older, expensive, and exclusive paying private independent schools. The number of private schools in India is low with 7% in primary,21% in the middle, and 32% in secondary.

According to the census of 2011, anyone who is above 7 years of age can read and write with understanding in ant language is said to be literate. In the 2011 census, the literacy rate in India was 74.07%. The youth literacy rate within the age group of 15 to 24 is 81.1%. The literacy rate among males is 84.4% while it is 74.4%  among females.

Education in India -- Primary School

School Education in India

The pupil to teacher ratio within the public school system for primary education is 35:1. However, the teacher absenteeism in India is as high as 25%.

In terms of facilities, a study of 188 government-run schools found that 59% of the schools no drinking water and 89%  have no toilets.

To improve the school education system in India, the government has laid down many programs like National Policy of Education(NPE), Universal Elementary Education(UEE), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan(SSA), Right to Education(RTE), Mid-day meal scheme, Mahila Sankhya program, scheme to allow quality education in Madrasas and scheme for Infrastructure Development in Minority Institutes(I.D.M.I.).

Since India has a (10+2 +3 ) pattern of education, the policy of the government is to make secondary education of good quality available, accessible and affordable to all young students in the age group of 14-18 years. The minimum age is 15 years for secondary schools and 17 years for senior school board exams.

The National Council of Education Research & Training is the APEX body for curriculum-related matters for schools education in India. Other curriculum bodies governing school education are the central Board of secondary education(CBSE), Council for Indian School certificate exam(CISCE) National Institute of Open Schooling) National Institute of Open Schooling) NIOS, and state government board.

National Council of Education, Research & Training(NCERT) is an apex resource organization to assist and advise central & State government on academic matters in school education. Organizations like Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan(KVS) to provide uninterrupted education to wards of central govt. employes, Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti(NVS) to provide good quality education to talented children, National Bal Bhawan aiming at enhancing the creative potential of children, and Information of Communication Technology(ICT) has been set up to improve school education in India.

Higher Education in India

Education in India--Highet Education
Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur

India’s higher education system is the third-largest in the world after China and the USA. The main governing body of the tertiary level is the University Grants Commission(UGC) which enforces its standards, advises the government, and helps coordinate between the state and center.

Regulatory Authorities like UGC and AICTE have been trying very hard to extirpate the menace of private universities which are running courses without any affiliation or recognition. The Indian government has failed to check on these education shops which are running by the businesses and political solely for the purpose of making money.Many of these private colleges do not fulfill the criterion by the government and the central bodies ( UGC,AICTE,MCI, BCI etc.)

The Government of India is aware of the plight of the higher education sector and has been trying to bring reforms, however, many bills are still awaiting discussion and approval in the Parliament.
One of the approaches to make internationalization of Indian higher education effective is to develop a coherent and comprehensive policy that aims at infusing excellence, bringing institutional diversity, and aids in capacity building.

The department of higher education(MHRD), is responsible for the overall development of the basic infrastructure of the higher education sector, both in terms of policy and planning.

Higher Education is the shared responsibility of both the Centre and the States. The coordination and determination of standards in Universities & Colleges are entrusted to the UGC and other statutory regulatory bodies.

Central University: A university established or incorporated by a Central Act.

State University: A university established or incorporated by a Provincial Act or by a State Act.

Private University: A university established through a State/Central Act by a sponsoring body viz. A Society registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860, or any other corresponding law for the time being in force in a State or a Public Trust or a Company registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956.

Deemed-to-be University: An Institution is commonly known as Deemed University, refers to a high-performing institution, which has been so declared by the Central Government under Section 3 of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Act, 1956.

Institution of National Importance: An Institution established by Act of Parliament and declared as Institution of National Importance.

Institution under State Legislature: ActAn Institution established or incorporated by a State Legislature Act.

The Indian government has set up councils and institutes for promoting specialised higher education in the technical field. Some of these councils are:

  1. Indian Council of Social Science Research(ICSSR) for promoting social science research, strengthening different disciplines, improving quality and quantum of research and its utilization in national policy formulation.
  2. Indian Council of Philosophical Research(ICPR)  was set up in 1977 for the promotion of research in Philosophy and allied discipline.
  3. Indian Council of Historical Research(ICHR)was set up in 1972 to give proper direction to historical research.
  4. National Council of Rural Institutes(NCRI) was set up in Hyderabad to promote higher education in rural areas.
  5. National Assessment and Accreditation  Council(NAAC)  was set up to assess and accredit institutions of higher learning, universities, and colleges.
  6.  India Institute of Advanced Study(IIAS) was established in 1965, is a residential center for free and creative themes and problems of life and thought.
  7. National Research Professorship(NRP) was established in 1949, honors distinguished academics and scholars in recognition of their contribution to knowledge.
  8. All India Council for Technical Education(AICTE) was established in 1987, and conducts the development of technical education in the country at all levels, evolve suitable performance appraisal system for technical institutions  and universities,lay down norms, standards for courses, curricula,physical and infrastructural facilities ,etc.
  9. The Medical Council of India(MCI) was established under MCI act 1956 amended in 1993 and is empowered to prescribe minimum standards for medical education education required for granting recognized medical qualification or medical institution in India.
  10. Indian Council of Agriculture Research(ICAR) was established to meet agricultural research and education needs of the country.
  11. National Council of Teachers Education(NCTE) facilitated the planning and development of the teacher education system in the country and regulates and maintains proper norms and standards in the teacher education system.
  12. Bar Council of India prescribes a class or category of person entitled to be enrolled as advocate.
  13. Council of Scientific Reaearch &Training (CSIR) is known for its cutting edge R&D knowledgebase in diverse areas and is a contemporary   R&D organisation. Having Pan- India’s presence, CSIR has a dynamic network of 38 national universities,39 outreach centres, 3 innovation complexes, and 5 units.CSIR R&D expertise and experience in embodied with about 4600 scientists supported by about 8000 scientific and technical personnel.CSIR is ranked 84th among 4851 institution worldwide and is the only top 100 global institution.CSIR is ranked 17th in Asia and leads the country in the first position.
  14. Apart from the above institutes and councils India has 16 Indian Institutes of technology(IITs)  which are regarded as the “Institute of National Importance”, 13 Indian Institute of Management(IIMs), and 1 Indian Institute of Science.


Anurag Dubey
























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