Primary education

Primary education or elementary education lasts 8 years in India. Pupils aged 6 to 14 complete the following 2 stages:

  • primary stage, grade I-V;
  • upper primary stage, grade VI-VIII.

Secondary education

Secondary education lasts 4 years. Pupils aged 14 to 18 complete the following 2 stages:

  • lower secondary education, grade IX-X;
  • upper secondary education, grade XI-XII.

Lower secondary education

Pupils complete lower secondary education (grade IX-X) by sitting examinations for a Standard X diploma.

  • Duration: 2 years.
  • Content: usually 5 examination subjects (see 'Curriculum lower secondary education' below).
  • Diploma: Standard X diploma. Please note: the name of the diploma varies. Common names include All India Secondary School Certificate, Indian Certificate of Secondary Education and Secondary School Certificate.

In terms of level, the Standard X diploma (or an equivalent) is comparable to a VMBO-T diploma.

Curriculum lower secondary education

The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is a national guideline for the curriculum of primary and secondary education. The Indian states can follow this guideline when designing their curricula, but they may also deviate from it.

Pupils usually sit examinations in 5 subjects to obtain their Standard X diploma. There are no subject clusters in lower secondary education.In some cases, pupils can choose 1 or more of the examination subjects themselves. Usually, however, they sit examinations in the following subjects:

  • 2 languages
  • mathematics
  • science (a combination of biology, physics and chemistry)
  • social science (usually a combination of geography, sociology, economics, political science and history)

Upper secondary education

After obtaining the Standard X diploma, pupils can move on to upper secondary education. It is also known as higher secondary education or senior secondary education. Pupils must choose 1 of the following streams:

  • upper general secondary education – academic stream;
  • upper secondary vocational education – vocational stream.

Upper general secondary education

The academic stream of the upper general secondary education consists of grade XI and XII.

  • Duration: 2 years.
  • Content: usually 5 examination subjects (see 'Curriculum upper secondary general education' below). 
  • Diploma: Standard XII diploma. Please note: the name of the diploma varies. Common names include All India Senior School Certificate, Indian School Certificate, Higher Secondary School Certificate, Intermediate Examination Certificate.

In terms of level, the Standard XII diploma (or an equivalent) with a pass grade in 5 relevant subjects is comparable to a HAVO diploma.

Curriculum upper secondary general education

The 2-year upper general secondary education phase (academic stream) prepares pupils for higher education. The curriculum usually consists of:

  • 1 or 2 languages;
  • 3 or 4 optional subjects.
Optional subjects

Within the academic stream, pupils usually choose a subject cluster (group, faculty or stream) at the beginning of grade XI, which then includes the optional subjects. Common subject clusters are:

  • commerce (e.g. business administration, accountancy, economics);
  • science (exact sciences such as biology, physics and chemistry);
  • humanities/arts (e.g. history, political science, sociology).

The range of optional subjects on offer is generally extensive. These subjects can vary considerably in terms of content and objective.

Upper secondary vocational education

In addition to general secondary education (academic stream), pupils in the upper phase can choose to pursue vocational secondary education (vocational stream).

  • Duration: 2 years.
  • Content: 1 or 2 languages and 3 or 4 vocationally-oriented electives.
  • Diploma: Vocational Standard XII diploma. Please note: the diploma name varies, for example Vocational Higher Secondary Certificate.

In terms of level, the Vocational Standard XII diploma (or an equivalent) with a pass grade in 5 relevant subjects is comparable to an MBO diploma at level 4.

In principle, vocational secondary education is intended as preparation for a job or advanced vocational education. In some cases, a Vocational Standard XII diploma (or an equivalent) may also grant admission to a higher education study programme. However, the examination subjects must then tie in with the chosen specialisation.

Board examinations

At the end of the lower and upper phases of secondary education, pupils sit examinations. These examinations are administered by a board with which their secondary school is affiliated. There are 2 types of boards:

  • state boards, for example the board of the state of Punjab
  • central (national) boards

An overview of all boards recognised in India can be found on the website of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). In addition, pupils only sit a school examination for certain subjects. We do not count those subjects towards a credential evaluation.

State board

India is divided into 28 states. Each state has 1 or more boards. Some states have separate boards for the lower and upper phases of secondary education.

Central board

There are 3 central boards:

  • Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)
  • Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE)
  • National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS)

The central boards set somewhat higher standards than the state boards. For this reason, diplomas issued by the central boards – as opposed to the state boards – can sometimes be compared to a VWO diploma.

Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)

  • Duration: 2 years.
  • Content: at least 5 examination subjects, including English or Hindi. Pupils are taught in English or Hindi. Detailed information about the curriculum is available on the CBSE website.
  • Diploma: All India Senior School Certificate.

In terms of level, the All India Senior School Certificate with a pass grade in 5 relevant subjects is comparable to a HAVO diploma.

In terms of level, the All India Senior School Certificate with grades A1, A2 or B1 in 5 relevant subjects is comparable to a VWO diploma.

Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE)

  • Duration: 2 years.
  • Content: at least 4 examination subjects, including English. Pupils are taught in English. Detailed information about the curriculum is available on the CISCE website 
  • Diploma: Indian School Certificate.

In terms of level, the All India Senior School Certificate with a pass grade in 5 relevant subjects is comparable to a HAVO diploma.

In terms of level, the All India Senior School Certificate with grades A1, A2 or B1 in 5 relevant subjects is comparable to a VWO diploma.

National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS)

  • Duration: 2 years.
  • Content: at least 5 examination subjects (including 1 or 2 languages and 3 or 4 electives). Pupils are taught in English, Hindi, Odia, Bengali, Gujarati or Urdu. Detailed information about the curriculum is available on the NIOS website.
  • Diploma: Migration Cum Transfer Certificate of the Senior Secondary School Examination.

In terms of level, the Migration Cum Transfer Certificate of the Senior Secondary School Examination with a pass grade in 5 relevant subjects is comparable to a HAVO diploma.

In terms of level, the Migration Cum Transfer Certificate obtained at the Senior Secondary School Examination with grades A, B or C in 5 relevant subjects is comparable to a VWO diploma.