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Education in India

Independent India

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964) and other politicians made education a fundamental right in the 1950 Constitution. The central government supported affirmative action for formerly disadvantaged social groups by reserving seats in educational institutions for candidates from the scheduled castes and tribes. However, state governments chose different educational emphases from the 1950s onward, which led to differing results. In the southern state of Kerala, for example, the Communist government emphasized public education, and by the 1990s, the overall literacy figure for both women and men was an impressive 90 percent. In general, however, the states' efforts resulted in modest improvements, with the 1990s estimates of national female literacy at 27 percent, still only half of the overall male literacy rate.

One of the most contentious colonial educational issues, the teaching of Western science and technology, continues to be problematic. Before 1947, Indian students were denied participation in the production of scientific knowledge, particularly because there was no "organic relationship between science-technology education and indigenous society" parallel to the European context allowed to develop within the colonial milieu. Teachers who promoted learning science through vernacular languages, working against the colonial tilt toward literary education in English, made little headway. In the late twentieth century, colonial shadows still colored educational ideology, and the long-term pattern of underfunding elementary education had not changed. The constitutional pledge to provide free and compulsory education for all of India's children remains a distant goal for the twenty-first century, even as Indians who are technically educated and speak English have become one of India's prime attractions for global capital. The challenge of joining indigenism and universalism in India's education system remains.


Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi, ed. The Contested Terrain: Perspectives on Education in India. New Delhi: Orient Longmans, 1998.

Ghosh, Suresh Chandra. The History of Education in Ancient India, c. 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1192. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001.

Hasan, Mushirul, ed. Knowledge, Power and Politics: Educational Institutions in India. New Delhi: Lotus, 1998.

Kumar, Nita. Lessons from Schools: The History of Education in Banaras. New Delhi and Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1999.

Vaidyanathan, A., and P. R. Gopinathan Nair, eds. Elementary Education in Rural India: A Grassroots View. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2001.

Michelle Maskiell

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dysprosium to Electrophoresis - Electrophoretic TheoryEducation in India - Ancient, Medieval, And Early Modern India, Colonial India, Independent India, Bibliography