The Essential Guide to Teacher Student Ratio In India

Atul and Priya had returned home from visiting preschools for admission of their 3-year old. They had been overwhelmed with lots of information, qualitative and quantitative, by schools. They sat down to discuss and understand the factors in selecting the right school for their little one. They dissected elements like choice of board, curriculum, and teacher pedigree.

Yet one factor remained a black box — Teacher Student ratio (TSR). Did they know enough about it to make a sound judgment? Is it even important enough for them to consider while picking a school? If so, then on what basis?

In this article, we throw light on Teacher Student ratio and what it means for everyone involved.

What is the Teacher Student Ratio?

The concept of a controlled classroom emerged as early as the Roman Empire. The underlying logic was that a restricted class size would improve instruction quality. Thus, the first measure that gained formal acceptance was the Average Class Size (ACS). Since no one teacher taught all subjects, the Teacher Student ratio gained importance. Many countries like USA still use both these metrics.

In Tennessee, USA, a study called ‘Students Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR)’ was undertaken. The aim was to measure the impact of class size reduction on student performance. The researchers conducted the study with a controlled group of 10,000 students. Their classes were reduced from 22–26 to 13–17 students. The study concluded that smaller classes led to increase in academic performance. This was especially applicable in primary grades.

Source: Princeton

How does the Teacher Student ratio compare to other metrics?

Teacher Student ratio does not have the same implications as Average Class Size. Consider a school where a class of 60 students is instructed by 5 teachers, one for each subject. The Teacher Student ratio of this school is 12 (60 students and 5 teachers). But the average class size is still at 60 students.

Early Childhood Education has also come into greater focus in recent years. With that, a new concept of an Adult Child ratio (ACR) has emerged. This ratio takes into account not only the teachers, but also the support staff like aayaas (helpers). By its very nature, the emphasis here is on care instead of learning. Below, we compare the 3 metrics.

Source: First Crayon

What does the law state?

Government of India defines Teacher Student ratio as:

“Average number of students per teacher at a specific level of education in a given school-year.”

The two levels of education impacted by this legislation are — Lower Primary (Grades 1st to 5th) and Upper Primary (Grades 6th to 8th). The Right to Education Act 2009 stipulates the following ratios:

  • Lower Primary (1st to 5th Grade): 30:1
  • Upper Primary (6th to 8th Grade): 35:1

Where it gets a bit intricate is the government’s legal definition of a teacher. As per that description: “A teacher is a person who is directly engaged in instructing a group of students. Head of the institution is counted as a teacher. The research guiding staff, demonstrators, tutors, and directors of physical education & physical training instructors will also be shown as teachers. Teachers registered as research scholars will be shown as teachers. However, research students doing teaching work will not be treated as teachers. Similarly, laboratory attendants, library clerks, game instructors, etc. who do not participate in teaching will not be treated as teachers.”

As is the case with most laws in India, this leaves room for interpretation. The school’s short-term interests are served by using the ambiguity to their advantage. Does a library clerk with an alternate designation gets counted as a teacher? How does a school discern a game instructor from a physical training instructor?

What about preschoolers?

In 2013, the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) policy was formulated. Its aim was to address regulatory matters on preschool education. One key distinction to earlier policies was the introduction of an Adult Child Ratio. This ratio was prescribed as follows:

- Under 3 years olds: 1:10
- 3–6 years: 1:20

How does India compare to the Rest of the World?

As per data for primary school’s Teacher Student ratio for 2015 (latest available) in 163 countries, India ranked 126th with 31.5 students per teacher. The list was topped by Liechtenstein, Qatar, and Luxembourg.

Source: World Bank, OECD, United Nations, CIA Factbook

Even amongst countries with similar population density and economic conditions, India can look upto Cuba, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka for inspiration.

Source: World Bank, OECD, United Nations, CIA Factbook | Size of bubble represents population density per sq. km.

It is clear that India still has a fair ground to makeup on other nations. But India also needs a teacher development program to balance quality and quantity. The ECCE policy lays guidelines on Adult Child ratios among other requirements. But more detailing is required.

A comparative study of Early Childhood Education policies in 39 countries by Early Childhood Association lists India as one of:

  • 12 countries where no child assessment guidelines have been formulated
  • 11 countries where no license is required to start an early childcare center
  • 9 countries with no formal accreditation body

Is there an ideal number?

Popular wisdom suggests that a lower Teacher Student ratio implies better teaching instruction. While that may hold true in most cases, it is important to understand the pros and cons of a low ratio.


  • Greater individual attention
  • Better class participation by students
  • Better comprehension of topics taught
  • Improved academic performance


  • Limited competition
  • Limited peer-to-peer learning
  • Lack of opportunities to develop social skills
  • Higher cost for institutes which is passed on to parents
Source: Pixabay

What questions should parents ask?

Parents should be aware of 3 things when reviewing Teacher Student ratio:

  1. Consider Teacher Student Ratio and Average Class Size together and not separately. The example shared earlier shows how easily data can be misrepresented
  2. Teacher Student ratio is not equal across all grades. Parents should check the ratios declared by the school for each class separately
  3. The ratio itself can be doctored
  • Temporary staff might be included while calculating the ratios
  • Schools with many branches may declare a blanket ratio. Parents must insist on knowing the ratio for the school that they are considering
  • High staff turnover might result in higher fluctuation in the ratio throughout the year

Concluding thoughts

The general rule of thumb holds true in most cases:

“lower Teacher Student Ratio = better learning quality”

But these numbers can be window dressed by schools. Parents should refrain from using this as an absolute factor. This would also put more pressure on schools to think holistically about learning quality.

We need to understand that Teacher Student ratio is not always a race to 1. If we choose it to be one, children will be the biggest losers. Be informed, ask questions, and make a balanced judgement.

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