There are broadly four stages of school education in India, namely primary, upper primary, secondary and higher secondary(or high school). Overall, schooling lasts 12 years, following the "10+2 pattern". However, there are considerable differences between the various states in terms of the organizational patterns within these first 10 years of schooling. The government is committed to ensuring universal elementary education (primary and upper primary) education for all children aged 6-14 years of age. Primary school includes children of ages six to eleven, organized into classes one through five. Upper Primary and Secondary school pupils aged eleven through fifteen are organized into classes six through ten, and higher secondary school students ages sixteen through seventeen are enrolled in classes eleven through twelve. In some places there is a concept called Middle/Upper Primary schools for classes between six to eight. In such cases classes nine to twelve are classified under high school category. Higher Education in India provides an opportunity to specialize in a field and includes technical schools (such as the Indian Institutes of Technology), colleges, and universities.
In India, the main types of schools are those controlled by:
- The state government boards like SSLC, in which the vast majority of Indian school-children are enrolled,
- The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) board,
- The Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) board,
- National Open School and
- "International schools." These schools mimic the schools in the West in pattern and syllabi and are considerably more expensive than regular schools. The exams conducted have the syllabus of anyone of the above-mentioned Councils or Boards.
Overall, according to the latest Government Survey undertaken by NUEPA (DISE, 2005-6), there are 1,124,033 schools.
Preprimary education in India is not a fundamental right, with a very low percentage of children receiving preschool educational facilities. The largest source of provision is the so called Integrated Child Development Services (or ICDS), however, the preschool component in the same remains weak. In the absence of significant government provisions, private sector (reaching to the relatively richer section of society) has opened schools. Provisions in these kindergartens is divided into two stages- lower kindergarten (LKG) and upper kindergarten (UKG). Typically, an LKG class would comprise children 3 to 4 years of age, and the UKG class would comprise children 4 to 5 years of age. After finishing upper kindergarten, a child enters Class 1 (or, Standard 1) of primary school. Often kindergarten is an integral part of regular schools. Younger children are also put into a special Toddler/Nursery group at the age of 2–2½. It is run as part of the kindergarten. However, creches and other early care facilities for the underprivilaged sections of society are extremely limited in number. There are some organized players with standardized curriculums such as the Shemrock Preschools which cover a very small share of the population. Overall, the % enrollment is pre-primary classes to total enrollment (primary) is 11.22 (DISE, 2005-06).
During the eighth five-year plan, the target of "universalizing" elementary education was divided into three broad parameters: Universal Access, Universal Retention and Universal Achievement i.e., making education accessible to children, making sure that they continue education and finally, achieving goals. As a result of education programs, by the end of 2000, 94% of India's rural population had primary schools within one km and 84% had upper primary schools within 3 km. Special efforts were made to enroll SC/ST and girls. The enrollment in primary and upper-primary schools has gone up considerably since the first five-year plan. So has the number of primary and upper-primary schools. In 1950-51, only 3.1 million students had enrolled for primary education. In 1997-98, this figure was 39.5 million. The number of primary and upper-primary schools was 0.223 million in 1950-51. This figure was 0.775 million in 1996-97.
In 2002/2003, an estimated 82% of children in the age group of 6-14 were enrolled in school. The Government of India aims to increase this to 100% by the end of the decade. To achieve this the Government launched Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
The strategies adopted by the Government to check drop-out rate are:
- Creating parental awareness
- Community mobilization
- Economic incentives
- Minimum Levels of Learning (MLL)
- District Primary Education Programme (DPEP)
- National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (Mid-day Meals Scheme)
- The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act was passed by the parliament to make the Right to Elementary Education a fundamental right and a fundamental duty.
- National Elementary Education Mission
- A National Committee of State Education Ministers has been set up with the Minister of Human Resource Development as the Chairperson of the committee.
- Media publicity and advocacy plans.
- Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
However, the poor infrastructure of schools has resulted in fairly high dropout rates. Thus, according to the DISE 2005-6 data 9.54% of the schools remain single classroom schools and 10.45% schools lack classrooms. The average pupil teacher ratio for the country is 1:36, with significant variations to the upper end and 8.39% schools are single teacher schols and 5.30% schools have more than 100 children for each teacher; 30.87% schools lack female teachers. Only 10.73% schools have a computer.
While the education system has undoubtedly undergone significant progress, a lot still needs to be done to enhance the learning of children from scheduled caste (or Dalit) families, scheduled and primitive tribes and religious minorities. Girls' enrollment continues to lag behind that of boys.
While availability of primary and upper primary schools has been to a considerable extent been created, access to higher education (especially in rural areas) remains a major issue in rural areas (especially for girls). Government high schools are usually taught in the regional language, although some (especially urban) schools are English medium. These institutions are heavily subsidised. Study materials (such as textbooks, notebooks and stationary) are sometime but not always subsidised. Government schools follow the state curriculum. There are also a number of private schools providing secondary education. These schools usually either follow the State or national curriculum. Some top schools provide international qualifications and offer an alternative international qualification, such as the IB program or A Levels.
Higher education in India has evolved in distinct and divergent streams with each stream monitored by an apex body, indirectly controlled by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. and funded by the state governments. Most universities are administered by the States, however, there are 18 important universities called Central Universities, which are maintained by the Union Government. The increased funding of the central universities give them an advantage over state competitors.
The Indian Institutes of Technology were placed 50th in the world and 2nd in the field of Engineering (next only to MIT) by Times Higher World University Rankings although they did not appear in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Academic Ranking of World Universities. International league tables produced in 2006 by the London-based Times
Higher Education Supplement(THES) confirmed Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)'s place among the world's top 200 universities . Likewise, THES 2006 ranked JNU's School of Social Sciences at the 57th position among the world's top 100 institutes for social sciences.
The National Law School of India University is highly regarded, with some of its students being awarded Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford University, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences is consistently rated the top medical school in the country. Indian School of Business, Hyderabad and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are the top management institutes in India.
The private sector is strong in Indian higher education. This has been partly as a result of the decision by the Government to divert spending to the goal of universalisation of elementary education.
Accreditation for universities in India are required by law unless it was created through an act of Parliament. Without accreditation, the government notes "these fake institutions have no legal entity to call themselves as University/Vishwvidyalaya and to award ‘degree’ which are not treated as valid for academic/employment purposes." The University Grants Commission Act 1956 explains as follows:
"The right of conferring or granting degrees shall be exercised only by a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act carlo bon tempo, or a State Act, or an Institution deemed to be University or an institution specially empowered by an Act of the Parliament to confer or grant degrees. Thus, any institution which has not been created by an enactment of Parliament or a State Legislature or has not been granted the status of a Deemed to be University, is not entitled to award a degree."
Accreditation for higher learning is overseen by autonomous institutions established by the University Grants Commission:
- All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE)
- Distance Education Council (DEC)
- Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)
- Bar Council of India (BCI)
- National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC)
- National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE)
- Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI)
- Medical Council of India (MCI)
- Pharmacy Council of India (PCI)
- Indian Nursing Council (INC)
- Dental Council of India (DCI)
- Central Council of Homeopathy (CCH)
- Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM)
- Veterinary Council of India (VCI)
- National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) is a constituent board of Quality Council of India. It is set up to establish and operate accreditation programme for healthcare organisations.