Background information

Understanding your child in India better:

The information below is a summary aimed at helping you to better understand the general situation and school system of the children, including your sponsor-child, who live in the area of READ. If you have any further questions or suggestions for improvement, don’t hesitate to contact us.


  • Ariyalur/Perambalur district is a mostly rural area (87% of the population is rural).
  • Seasons: heavy monsoon rains during the Fall season (November-December) with moderate temperatures during the winter (rarely below 16 °C or 60 °F at night). Extremely hot (above 40 °C; 104 °F) and very dry during the late Spring (April-May).
  • Many people make a living in agriculture, but work is not always available all year. Therefore many people take whatever jobs are available as day-laborers (“coolies”), or men migrate to other parts of India during that time, leaving their wife and children behind.
  • Salaries for agricultural work are often very low: $2-3 for men, $1-2 for women. With such low salaries, and the every increasing price of basic food supplies, it is not possible to have a balanced diet for the whole family and have sustainable living.
  • At the village level, the basic health-care infrastructure is minimal, leading to most villagers seeking initial medical assistance from local unlicensed medical practitioners (including “quacks”). Although there are good doctors and clinics especially in the cities, lack of awareness or lack of money for the travel prevents many people from having quality health care.
  • Basic literacy is at 66 % (78% for men, 54% for women).


The two main religions are Hinduism and Catholicism.


While the caste system still exists, its role in daily life is limited and largely unvisible. It plays mostly a role in determining the eligibility for marriage.


  • While there are many festivals during the year, the most important ones are Diwali (the festival of lights; sometime in October) and Pongal (the harvest festival; sometime around mid-January). During those times, families gather to celebrate together with food. Children usually receive presents in the form of a new set of clothing.
  • Unlike in the western world, it is not a tradition to give presents for birthdays or Christmas.


  • Most kids have only a few sets of clothing, that they wear most of the time until they are in rags.
  • Very few families have a toilet. More than 90% of the people have to urine and defecate outdoors behind trees or bushes. Most people don’t have a private bathroom, so they wash themselves in the lake (where the water is often very dirty) or with water from a well.
  • Many huts do not have electricity.
  • Many huts have a dirt floor, which during the rainy season always feels humid and is also at risk of flooding.
  • Most huts/houses have only 1 or 2 rooms.
  • Most kids sleep on the floor, on a mat that is unrolled every evening.
  • Most families have a television, as the government had an election campaign in which each family was given a free television. However, considering the fact that most huts or villages don’t even have basic necessities with regard to toilets, waste management etc, and the television can distract the youth from studying, one can question whether this television is really useful.
  • Most children have no real toys, so even something simple makes them very happy. Therefore, if you want to give your child a gift, we recommend something simple and sturdy that tolerates the extreme climate conditions of heat and humidity (rather than something that has electronics, etc).
  • Many presents such as balls, crayons, pencils, notepads can also be bought at local shops (at prices lower than those in the USA or Europe), so it’s often a good idea to just donate money instead of also spending much money on postage etc.  Whenever somebody travels to our programs in India, they may also have space in their suitcase to take it over.
  • Some examples of items that can be sent easily via mail and that makes the children happy: stickers (that they can paste on their school books), letters, photographs of you and your family.
  • Children are also happy with a new set of clothing that they can chose themselves (a dress, or a set of shirt and pants can usually be bought for approx. 10-15 dollars; 7-10 euro). A set of sandals costs approximately 3 dollars (2 euro). The designs and fashion of clothing in India is different from the West, so sending clothing is not really a good idea and easily costs that same amount on just postage.


A. Government versus Private Schools:
Most areas have a government schools. However, while some schools provide good education, the quality of education is quite poor in the majority of government schools. Government teachers often hold additional jobs, and therefore don’t always give much priority to their teaching and some days don’t show up to teach their students. They also try to control their students by physical means (beating them with a stick, etc).
For these reasons, many parents prefer, if they have the financial means, to send their children to a private school, where the quality of education is usually much better. Tuition in most private schools is in the range of Rs 75-150 (2 to 4 US dollars) per month.

B. The curriculum:

1) Pre-primary = Kindergarten: includes children of ages below 6 years. The 2 highest levels are lower kindergarten (LKG) and Upper Kindergarten (UKG). Government schools rarely offer kindergarten classes, which are usually only available in private schools.

2). After kindergarten, the curriculum has 12 standards (often denominated by roman numbers):

  • Standard I through V: is also called Primary School; kids are ~ 6-10 years of age.
  • Standard VI through X: is also called Secondary School (and can be divided into Middle School, VI through VIII and High School, IX and Xth standard); kids are ~11-15 years of age.
  • Standard XI and XII: is also called higher Secondary, or Junior College; students are ages 16-17. These standards are sometimes also called +1 and +2.

In standard X and XII, a public examination is given to assess all students of a state. These are the first very important examinations for students, because their scores determine their chances to get into higher programs. Accordingly, many students try to get extra tutoring (by paying a tutor) during the evenings and weekends to prepare themselves better for these exams.

Many villages have at least a primary school, which can often be quite small, so most children don’t have to travel too far and many can walk to school. Secondary schools are fewer and larger, so as the kids are growing older, they may have the need for a bicycle to make it to school more easily.

In the state of Tamil Nadu, the school calendar runs from early June to early April. April and May are the hottest months, and therefore schools are closed.

3). Higher education includes technical schools, colleges, and universities.
There are basically 2 different kind of courses:
a). Graduation course: is 3 to 4 years and is offered by Universities. This is for the students who score very high marks in their public exam. Expenses (tuition, hostel, food, etc) is in the range of a few thousand dollars per year. This includes also medical school, veterinary school, etc. Students enter such courses directly after high school. The cost is generally $2000-$3000 per year.
b). Diploma Course: is 2 to 3 years, and is offered by Technical Schools; Diploma courses are offered in fields of engineering like electrical, civil, mechanical, etc…. This is mostly done by students who have average pass marks in their public exams, and the scores they got on particular subjects in their public exam. The expenses for such diploma courses is generally about $400 – $800 per year.

Thus, the price of these higher education courses varies a lot, and depends on the subject of study and the quality of the institution. Accordingly, the total expenses of tuition, boarding, books etc. per year can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per year. Some sponsors who can afford it are supporting their child also for higher studies, but a sponsor is not obligated to do this, and we encourage the children to also discuss their plans with their sponsor on time, so we can decide whether to have the child pursue higher education or have him/her get a job.

C). The grading system:
Up to 10th standard, the total per course is 100.
In 11th and 12th standard: the total is out of 200.
Above 80% is called Outstanding grade- Very good
Above 60% is First Class (“Good”)
Above 50% is Second Class (“Okay”)
Above 40 % Third Class (“Just passed”).

Up to/including Graduation (Bachelor’s degree): 35% is a pass mark. The grading systems vary among colleges, but are generally in this order:

Letter Marks (in %)
S 90-100% (excellent)
A 80-90 (very good)
B 70-80 (good)
C 60-70 (average)
D 55-60 (satisfactory)
E 45-55 (just passed)
U Fail

Post -graduation (masters and PhD degree) 50% is a pass mark