India’s recent economic growth rates have generated much optimism about its general social and economic development. But has there been accompanying progress in indicators of educational outcomes? How good are Indian educational achievements in relation to China’s, the country with which it is increasingly compared? What are the most significant developments in Indian school education and what has been the impact of various education policy initiatives? This article presents a critical overview of the school education sector in India using newly released data and a survey of existing studies.

The story of India’s educational achievements is one of mixed success. On the downside, India has 22 percent of the world’s population, but 46 percent of the world’s illiterates, and is home to a high proportion of the world’s out-of-school children and youth. On the positive side, it has made encouraging recent progress in raising schooling participation. While the base of India’s education pyramid may be weak, it has emerged as an important player in the worldwide information technology revolution on the back of substantial (absolute) numbers of well-educated computer-science and other graduates. This paper provides an assessment of the current situation and recent progress.

At Independence, India had inherited a legacy of large-scale illiteracy and lack of proper provision for education. At the first post-independence census of 1951, only 9 percent of women and 27 percent of men were literate. It of school education.

It was resolved by the framers of the constitution that the new Indian state would endeavor to provide free and compulsory education to all children up to age 14 by 1960. This goal turned out to be elusive and the deadline for its achievement has been put back repeatedly in the past 55 years. While even today this goal remains unfulfilled, there has been very encouraging progress in schooling participation and other educational outcome indicators in recent times.

Education, however, has been given high priority by India’s central and state governments and continues to grow fast. School access has been expanded by investment in school infrastructure and recruitment of teachers. In higher education too, the number of providers continues to rise rapidly. A new law enshrining the rights of all children to free and compulsory education will further lift enrollment, bringing closer the government’s goal of universal elementary education, which comprises eight years of schooling. Nevertheless, high drop-out rates and low attendance continues to be a challenge at lower levels and enrollment at higher levels remains modest by international standards.

Private sector involvement is on the rise. While it helps expand education infrastructure, particularly in higher education, access has not always been assured and the availability of student loans for higher education needs to improve. Poor learning outcomes among st school students and mediocre higher education provision call for more effective government regulation and funding arrangements. Expanding resources will help but they need to be deployed more effectively, while incentives and professional development systems for teachers need to be strengthened. In higher education, the government has proposed reforms which have the potential to bring about much-needed improvements in regulatory effectiveness. Efforts should focus on reducing micro-regulation and improving institutional autonomy, in order to stimulate innovation and diversity. Increasing the number of institutions subjected to quality assessments will be important for lifting standards across the higher education system, while reform of recruitment and promotion mechanisms could help attract and retain talent in academia.

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