Education in India: part one

Good morning all,

Whether we dream of it or scare us, India leaves no one indifferent, and for good reason! In 2030, it will have 1.5 billion inhabitants, surpassing China and becoming the most populous country in the world. It will also be the youngest in emerging countries with a median age of 31 years. The challenges ahead are immense, and education is no exception! This very large country, at odds with our Western societies, is complex, both in terms of its organizational structure and its realities. It was therefore impossible for me to give you a portrait in one article. We have also made the choice to stay there for at least 1 month in order to make you discover its challenges, but also the often avant-garde and inspiring solutions that several groups and regions put in place to deal with the difficulties they encounter. , and provide quality education to as many young Indians as possible. But before dwelling on it, I invite you today to discover the current reality of education in India. As with each of the other articles presented so far, keep in mind that I base myself on research mainly available online and published in the languages ​​I speak, French and English. Once there and able to speak to real local specialists, our files will inevitably expand and perhaps even take on another color! It is therefore a research base that we share with you to allow you to get an idea while waiting!

A little history

Education as we know it here, with schools where children are grouped in class in front of a teacher who has the role of facilitating the learning of a predetermined educational program, is nothing like the traditional model which has prevailed in India for hundreds of years. Indeed, at the time, India had an educational system of the Gurukula. In this system, anyone who wanted to study went to a professor (a guru) and asked to be taught. If the guru agreed to make him his pupil, the latter would settle with his teacher for the duration of his apprenticeship and participated in the work of the house. The very strong bond that united them during this period allowed the guru to know his student well and to learn what he really wanted to learn: from Sanskrit to scriptures, from mathematics to metaphysics, possible learning had limits only that of the knowledge of the guru. The student could stay as long as he wished or until his teacher considered that he could no longer allow him to go further in his learning. In the latter case, he could advise him to a new guru to allow him to continue his studies on the subjects which fascinated him or the pupil could leave himself in search of a new professor. The learning provided by these gurus was closely linked to nature and life and was not limited to memorizing information.

Then, in the 1830s, when India was an English colony, the modern school system was introduced to the country along with the teaching of English. This introduction is attributed to Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay who is better known for having worked on the codification of the sources of English criminal law in India, and as a poet and historian.

When on August 15, 1947, India finally gained independence, it began an immense work of reflection on the structure of the country, including on the caste system to which we will return, and education was no exception. Universal and compulsory education for children aged 6 to 14 becomes the great dream of the government of the young republic, which also incorporated this directive into article 45 of their first constitution in 1952. Unfortunately, this directive, not being a constitutional right, but more a true desire, will not reach its target. India will have to wait until 2009 for the Right To Education Act to make free and compulsory education a constitutional right for all Indian children aged 6 to 14. Although the situation has improved slowly since then, the average duration of schooling is now 5 years in India, one year more than 10 years ago, the absenteeism rate of pupils and even teachers remains high and at least a third of the workforce never attended school and the majority of Indians did not complete primary school.

Current situation

In our time, we often know India for its elite programs that train renowned engineers and computer scientists all over the world. But the reality of the country is quite different. In fact, this new Indian middle class which has invaded Bollywood films screened all over the planet, and which have benefited from the impressive growth rate of the country since the beginning of the 2000’s, represents only a maximum of 15% of the population. For the rest of the country’s inhabitants, at least 50% still live on less than $ 2 a day and their educational reality is rather that of thousands of rural schools scattered across India and which are often in poor condition, sometimes even without potable water, electricity or toilets. The education provided there is often of poor quality and does not allow young people to possibly really integrate the labor market, many parents choose not to enroll their children and have them work alongside them to help support family needs.

But not everything is black. In recent years, the literacy of the population has experienced a real increase to 74% in the general population, whereas it was less than 50% in the early 1990s. This rate is obviously lower when ‘we isolate certain groups. For example, among women, we will speak of 65%, and 60% for the Bihar Indians (northern state). An encouraging sign: among adolescents, who have benefited from the construction of thousands of schools, the literacy rate today exceeds 80%. A state in south-west India, Kerala, which we will discuss a little more in the second part of this blog, may even for a little over 10 years, declare itself as a “completely literate state”.

So beyond mass schooling, the real educational challenge of India is that of the dissemination of quality education allowing to increase the social capital of the population and to provide real chances of professional achievements to its young people, regardless of their social origin and the conditions of their birth.

The caste system

Although the caste system was abolished by the constitution that came into force in the 1950s, and section 15 prohibits discrimination based on social origin, it continues to play a major role in contemporary society. India, the largest democracy in the world, remains a country where inequalities are deeply embedded in all spheres of life. Although certain categories, such as the Dalits (Hindus of the lowest caste), benefit from a quota policy in political representation, public service and education, and that the doors of universities are open to several thousand among them free of charge in order to allow them to access these positions, being born into a specific social category has a major impact on an individual’s life possibilities. Dalits, Aborigines and even more the Muslim minority (which still forms around 14% of the Indian population), remain the most excluded groups from the school system, especially from secondary school, and even more if it s is a girl. For example, among Muslims, less than 20% complete high school and less than 5% graduate from high school.

A slight improvement in the quality of life is still felt for the Dalits given the thousands of places reserved for them in universities, but also thanks to their large number and the fact that they exercise more and more their right to vote.

Early childhood in India

You may have noticed that I am not talking about early childhood at all in this article. It is that very little information on this subject is available. All in all, all that can be found is that there are very few facilities suitable for the care of early childhood in India (5 years and under) and that childcare is a real problem. Working mothers therefore often have to make up their minds to bring their children to work because of a lack of resources. We promise to dig a little deeper once we get there.

This ends this first part of the presentation of the education situation in India. Next week, we will focus on the positive and inspiring initiatives that are emerging everywhere to work to improve the situation, and our plans once there!

See you soon,


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