The Indian Education System |

On June 13, the holidays ended for the young Indians of Tamil Nadu. It was school again!

It takes four months to store the school bags. The “intermediate” holidays take place from 14 to 30 October. The state government has released the official school calendar this year in a special measure as all Saturdays have been declared public holidays. The dates of the end-of-cycle exams will also be published, between March 13 and April 10, 2023.


The Tamil term “PALLI” denotes school in a general sense, but also, more specifically, primary school.






College (French meaning)




Education, a national competence but administered by the States

From antiquity to colonial times, the GURUKULA formed the Indian educational model. The student came to live with a teacher, the guru, who taught him not only scientific subjects such as Sanskrit and mathematics, but also everything related to the household.

Gradually, the British developed a system inspired by their own model.

The founders of the Indian republic enshrined in the constitution the principle of school education for all. However, it was not until April 2010 that school became compulsory and free of charge for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act

students on their way home from school

Although education has been a “shared competence” since 1976, that is, of the national level, the states retain a great deal of freedom to apply the programs and manage the education system on a day-to-day basis. For example, each has its own ministry of education that decides on the textbooks to be used and organizes the methods of assessment and exams.

In primary school, the language used for education can be the local language such as Tamil in Tamil Nadu, as well as English in certain private schools or even Hindi, rather than in the states where the local language is close to it.

Tamil Nadu school girls

The Indian Education System

The Indian school system consists of four cycles:

  • Children under the age of 6 can be accommodated in kindergartens, LKG and UKG, depending on age. Most are private. They are almost non-existent in rural areas.
  • From 6 to 10 years, the primary school is divided into five sections (grades 1 to 5).
  • From 11 to 15 years old, five new years (grades 6 to 10 correspond to the French school years and the year of the second).

At the end of grade 10, students take a first national exam that includes six subjects: English, another language, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, and an elective.

  • From 16 to 17 years old, grades 11 and 12, it is upper secondary with three majors to choose from: sciences (mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics), commerce (accounting, commercial sciences and economics), humanities (three disciplines between history , political science, sociology, psychology and geography).

Grade 12 ends with a new exam that theoretically opens the doors to university. The results are expressed in percentages. Below 90%, the chances of entering the top-rated universities and courses are very low. Reputable institutions even require additional entrance tests, in addition to the high school graduation.

students drawing in a garden in Pondicherry

The university department follows the following steps:

  • 3 years for the license
  • 4e year for the bachelor’s degree
  • 5e years for the equivalent of the master’s degree
  • 1 additional year of DEA for those who want to commit to a PhD

A primary school enrollment rate of nearly 90%

UNESCO has released data on the school enrollment of Indian children and youth in 2020.


children from 3 to 5 years old who go to school


children from 6 to 10 years old who go to school


young people aged 11 to 18 who go to school


young people aged 18 to 24 at university

Today a very large proportion of Indian children attend at least primary school. This is confirmed by data on the literacy of the population.

Literacy Rate (UNESCO 2020 Data)

Between 15 and 24 years old


older than 15 years


over 65s


Students from Pondicherry on a school trip to the beach

In India, poor quality education

Today’s younger generation can read and write, while one in two grandparents cannot.

This is to be welcomed, but regrets the poor quality of education. The programs of traditional establishments work ‘by heart’. Young people (especially in public schools) without always understanding them take in amounts of information that they spit out during their exams, only to forget it a few months later.

school children on bicycles

Under-equipped public schools and poorly trained teachers

Public schools have a bad reputation. They suffer from an acute teacher shortage. They are poorly educated, not paid enough (some have two jobs). They are often absent (25% absenteeism due to illness).

The classes are overcrowded; officially the student-to-class ratio is 35, but the figure is very often exceeded due to teacher absenteeism.

School infrastructure is lacking: According to a 2016 report, only 68.7% of schools had usable toilets and 74% drinking water.

A classroom in a rural school in Tamil Nadu

More and more children are being taught at private schools

This situation leads families to turn to private education. It is believed that 30% of Indian children attend private school; the figure is 50% in urban areas and about 20% in rural areas. Between 2010 and 2015, private schools gained 17.5 million students and public schools lost 13 million.

Most middle-class families send their children to private schools, in the same city, or to a faraway boarding school. St George’s School in Chennai is the oldest private school in India. Montessori schools are also popular, probably because of Maria Montessori’s stay in India during World War II.

To combat unequal treatment for economic reasons, since 2010, the law requires private schools to accommodate 25% of students who cannot pay the tuition fee until the fourth.

A large number of universities are now also private. In addition to internationally recognized institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), located in several Indian cities, including Chennai or the University of Madras, very expensive private institutions have developed, some of which award degrees without recognition. In 2021, the private Manav Bharti University in Himachal Pradesh was accused of selling tens of thousands of degrees for a decade.

In addition, increased competition for admission to reputable universities has led to private training courses that prepare students for entrance exams or teach English or IT for work in India and abroad. This education is often very expensive and contributes to increasing economic inequality.

students waiting for meal distribution in a rural school

The ‘real’ reality of education in India is not that of elite programs that train engineers and computer scientists known all over the world and which only provide diplomas to a small fraction of the youth. Rather, it is that of the thousands of rural schools scattered across the country, often in poor condition and with poor quality education, which prevent young people from finding their place in the labor market.

In July 2020, Narendra Modi’s government approved the New National Education Policy (NEP), a comprehensive framework to guide educational development in the country. The NEP 2020 proposes major changes in school and higher education and the government has set 2040 as a deadline to implement the entire policy.

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