In this Jan. 19, 2010, photo, a teacher helps children as they learn to use computers at a private school in New Delhi, India. Private education in New Delhi was once a luxury reserved for the upper class. But with government-run schools largely a shambles and the rapidly growing Indian middle class suddenly flush with cash, the demand for private schools has exploded.
The 2008 movie “Slumdog Millionaire” brought attention to the plight of children living in the slums of Mumbai like no other film has. In an economically struggling country with a caste system that makes education difficult to obtain for the poor and lower classes, what is the state of primary and secondary education in India today?
According to a 2005 paper prepared for the National Center on Education and the Economy, India has the second largest education system in the world, after China. In 2004, estimates put 32 percent of India’s population of more than one billion under the age of 15, creating a huge burden on institutions to meet the demand for education.
Even though primary and middle school education is mandatory in India, only 50 percent of children between six and fourteen attend school, the book, “India: A Country Study,” reports. According to figures quoted in the National Center on Education and the Economy paper, males in India finish an average of just 2.9 years of schooling and females only 1.8 years.
Several factors make obtaining a public education in India a challenge. Indian law prohibits children from working in factories, but it does allow children to work in restaurants, households, cottage industries or in agriculture, according to “India: A Country Study.” School attendance varies widely by region and gender, and the quality of instruction varies depending on region and whether the school is a state-supported public school or a fee-based private school.
The caste system still plays a role in India’s primary school system today. As the National Center on Education and the Economy explains, traditional Hindu education catered to the needs of Brahmin boys who were taught by Brahmin teachers; Brahmin is the highest caste group in India. “[E]ven today, the vast majority of students making it through middle school to high school continue to be from high-level castes and middle- to upper class families living in urban areas.”
The Web site Educational Videos provides a glimpse of early education in India, while Explore offers photos from a variety of Indian schools and organizations for children.