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The People of India, Education

sacred Hindu texts, Harijans, Gorakhpur University, Kanpur University, Agra University

India’s official goal for education since independence in 1947 has been to ensure compulsory education for all up to age 14. A lack of money and effort put into primary education, however, has hampered the achievement of that goal. At independence 25 percent of males and 8 percent of females were literate. In 2001 those figures had been raised to 80 percent of males and 66 percent of females—73 percent of the overall population. The government invests comparatively more in secondary and tertiary schools, particularly colleges and universities. There was no serious political demand for primary education until the 1990s, when a grassroots movement arose to organize volunteers and conduct campaigns for universal adult literacy.

Education for the elite has been a tradition in India since the beginnings of its civilization. Great Buddhist universities at Nalanda and Taxila were famous far beyond India’s borders. Withholding education from the nonelite, including women, has also been a tradition. The lowest caste members, including the Harijans and non-Hindu tribal groups, were denied the right even to hear the Vedas, sacred Hindu texts, recited.

State governments control their own school systems, with some assistance from the central government. The federal Ministry of Education directs the school systems of centrally administered areas, provides financial help for the nation’s institutions of higher learning, and handles tasks such as commissioning textbooks. Education generally consists of ten years of elementary and high school, two years of higher secondary education, and three years at university level. While most students enroll in government schools, the number of private institutions is increasing at all educational levels. Indians have a right to establish institutions to provide education in their native language and with a religious or cultural emphasis, although the schools must conform to state regulation of teaching standards. Students begin specializing in subjects at the level of higher secondary school. A university typically has one or more colleges of law, medicine, engineering, and commerce, and many have colleges of agriculture. Prestigious and highly selective institutes of management have been established. The educational establishment also includes a number of high-level scientific and social science institutes, as well as academies devoted to the arts.

In 1998-1999 elementary and middle level schools enrolled about 135 million pupils, and secondary schools 51 million. Total yearly enrollment in institutions of higher education was 6.1 million. India had around 581,300 primary and upper primary schools, many of them one-room (or even open-air) operations with poorly paid teachers. There are also some 84,000 secondary schools, about 200 recognized universities, and 5,000 technical, arts, and science colleges. The universities of Kolkata, Madras, and Bombay, founded in 1857, are the oldest still operating in India, although colleges existed in those cities before that date. Other major universities in India include Banaras Hindu University, in Varanasi; Aligarh Muslim University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi; Agra University; the University of Bihar; the University of Delhi; Gauhati University; Gorakhpur University; Gujarat University; Kanpur University; the University of Kerala, in Thiruvananthapuram (also known as Trivandrum); the University of Mysore; the University of Pune; and the University of Rajasthan, in Jaipur.

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