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The importance and antiquity of education in Kerala is underscored by the state's ranking as among the most literate in the country. The local dynastic precursors of modern-day Kerala - primarily the Travancore Royal Family, the Christian missionaries, The Nair Service Society, Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP Yogam) and Muslim Educational Society (MES) - made significant contributions to the progress on education in Kerala. There were many sabha mathams that imparted Vedic knowledge. Apart from kalaris, which taught martial arts, there were village schools run by Ezhuthachans or Asans. Christian missionaries brought the modern school education system to Kerala.
Education in Kerala had been promoted during British rule in India by Christian missionaries who were keen on providing education to all sections of society and on strengthening of women, without any kind of discrimination. The contributions of Catholic priests and nuns has been crucial and has played a major role in the education of women and members of lower strata of society, resulting in the surpassing of many social hurdles. A significant figure in the 19th century was Rev.fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, who started a system called "A school along with every church" to make education available for both poor and rich. That system still continues in the present. His work has resulted in the promotion of education for girls and has become a model for the educational system in Kerala after independence. Kerala's high literacy rate is attributed to a high literacy rate among girls; as it is said, "When a woman is educated, she will make sure that her children are well-educated."
The Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics was founded by Madhava of Sangamagrama in Kerala, which included among its members: Parameshvara, Neelakanta Somayaji, Jyeshtadeva, Achyuta Pisharati, Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri and Achyuta Panikkar. The school flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries and the original discoveries of the school seems to have ended with Narayana Bhattathiri (1559–1632). In attempting to solve astronomical problems, the Kerala school independently created a number of important mathematics concepts. Their most important results—series expansion for trigonometric functions—were described in Sanskrit verse in a book by Neelakanta called Tantrasangraha, and again in a commentary on this work, called Tantrasangraha-vakhya, of unknown authorship. The theorems were stated without proof, but proofs for the series for sine, cosine, and inverse tangent were provided a century later in the work Yuktibhāṣā (c.1500-1610), written in Malayalam, by Jyesthadeva, and also in a commentary on Tantrasangraha.
Their work, completed two centuries before the invention of calculus in Europe, provided what is now considered the first example of a power series (apart from geometric series). However, they did not formulate a systematic theory of differentiation and integration, nor is there any direct evidence of their results being transmitted outside Kerala.
Schools and colleges are mostly run by the government, private trusts, or individuals. Each school is affiliated with either the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), Kerala State Education Board or the (NIOS). English is the language of instruction in most private schools, while government run schools offer English or Malayalam as the medium of instruction. Government run schools in the districts bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also offer instruction in Kannada or Tamil languages. A handful of Government Sanskrit Schools provide instruction in Sanskrit supplemented by Malayalam, English, Tamil or Kannada. After 10 years of secondary schooling, students typically enroll at Higher Secondary School in one of the three streams—liberal arts, commerce or science. Upon completing the required coursework, students can enroll in general or professional degree programmes. Kerala topped the Education Development Index (EDI) among 21 major states in India in year 2006-2007. In January 2016, Kerala became the 1st Indian state to achieve 100% primary education through its literacy programme Athulyam.
In spite of the large number of educational institutions in the state, the quality of education at all levels in Kerala has been showing a decline due to financial constraints resulting from quantitative expansion of the sector.
A study published in 1999 by the Centre for Socio-economic & Environmental Studies states that while the dropout rates are very low in primary schools, the same increases in the ninth and the tenth standards in Kerala. This is particularly true of SC/ST students. Schools showed that only 73% of the students joining at 1st Standard reach the 10th Standard. In the case of scheduled caste students, only 59% reach the 10th standard. 60% of Scheduled Tribe students drop out by the 10th standard.
Another major indicator of the inefficiency of Kerala's school education system is the large-scale failure of the students in the matriculation examination. Only about 50% of the students who appear for the examination get through. The percentage has been considerably increased because of major interventions by the government in the areas of curriculum and teacher training. In March 2011, 91.37% students qualified for higher studies in the matriculation Examination.The grades in SSLC examination plays an important role in the admission procedure to colleges in Kerala. 
The schools and colleges in Kerala are run by the government or private trusts and individuals. Each school is affiliated with either the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), Kerala State Education Board or the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). English is the language of instruction in most private schools, but government run schools offer both English and Malayalam as medium. After 10 years of secondary schooling, students typically enroll at Higher Secondary School in one of the three streams—liberal arts, commerce or science. Upon completing the required coursework, students can enroll in general or professional degree programmes. Lots of civil service institutes are there.
Thiruvananthapuram, the state's major academic hub, University of Kerala and several professional education colleges, including 15 engineering colleges, three medical colleges, three Ayurveda colleges, two colleges of homeopathy, six other medical colleges, and several law colleges. Trivandrum Medical College, Kerala's premier health institute, one of the finest in the country, is being upgraded to the status of an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The College of Engineering, Trivandrum is one of the prominent engineering institutions in the state. The Asian School of Business and IIITM-K are two of the other premier management study institutions in the city, both situated inside Technopark. The Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, first of its kind in India, is also situated here and an Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram is also being set up.Trivandrum district holds the most number of colleges and schools in Kerala including 4 international schools, 30 professional colleges, and 38 vocational training institutes
Thiruvananthapuram is also home to most number of Research Centres in Kerala including ISRO, IISER, BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) etc. The College of Engineering, Trivandrum is one of the prominent engineering institutions in the country. The Asian School of Business and IIITM-K are two of the other premier management study institutions in the city, both situated inside Technopark. The Indian Institute of Space Technology, the unique and first of its kind in India, is situated in the state capital.
Thiruvananthapuram is a Research and Development hub in the fields of space science, information technology, bio-technology, and medicine. It is home to the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, ER&DC – CDAC, CSIR – National Institute of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, Free Software Foundation of India (FSFI), Regional Cancer Centre (RCC), Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST), Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS), Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI), Priyadarsini Planetarium, The Oriental Research Institute & Manuscripts Library, Chief Disease Investigation Office(CDIO) Palode, Kerala Highway Research Institute, Kerala Fisheries Research Institute, etc. A scientific institution named National centre for molecular materials, for the research and development of biomedical devices and space electronics is to be established in Thiruvananthapuram. College of Architecture Trivandrum(CAT), which specialise only on the architecture course, is another institution proposed to set up in the suburbs of the city.
Kochi is another major educational hub. The Cochin University of Science and Technology (also known as "Cochin University") is situated in the suburb of the city. Most of the city's colleges offering tertiary education are affiliated to the Mahatma Gandhi University. Other national educational institutes in Kochi include the Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training, the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, the National Institute of Oceanography, Central Institute of Fisheries Technology and the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute. College of Fisheries affiliated to Kerala Agricultural University is situated at Panangad, a suburban area of the city. Pothanicad, a village in Ernakulam district is the first panchayath in India that achieved 100% literacy. Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit (SSUS), also famous as Sanskrit University, is situated in Kalady, in the Northern side of Ernakulam District.
Kozhikode is the major education city in Kerala which is home to two of the premier educational institutions in the country; the IIMK, one of the thirteen Indian Institutes of Management, and the only National Institute of Technology in Kerala, the NITC. Other important educational institutions in the district include Calicut Medical College, Government Law College, Calicut, Government Engineering College Kozhikode, College Of Applied Science IHRD, Kiliyand Kozhikode, College of Nursing Calicut, Kerala School of Mathematics, Govt. Dental College, Co-Operative Institute of Technology and Govt. Polytechnic College.
The progress that Malappuram district has achieved in the field of education during the last decade is tremendous. Great strides have been made in the field of female education. Malappuram district is home to three universities (University of Calicut, Aligarh Muslim University campus and Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan Malayalam University. And the state Government has proposed to establish two new universities, Ayurveda University and English and Foreign Languages University campus here.
The district also hosts a substantial amount of religious educational institutions such as Darul Huda Islamic University, which has more than 30 affiliated colleges throughout Kerala.
Thrissur acts as the important education hub of Kerala. The city has three medical colleges. It is the only district that has four universities: Kerala Agricultural University, Kerala University for Health, Kerala Kalamandalam, and Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA).
Kalamandalam conducts the course for arts.
Kerala Institute of Local Administration is the only educational institution in Kerala where the training for IAS candidates takes place.
The district of Thrissur holds some of the premier institutions in Kerala such as Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur Medical College, Government Engineering College, Govt. Law College, Ayurveda College, Govt. Fine Arts College, College of Co-operation & Banking and Management, College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, College of Horticulture, College of Forestry, Sree Rama Varma Music School etc. Thrissur is also a main center of coaching for the entrance examinations for engineering and medicine.
Kottayam also acts as a main educational hub. According to the 1991 census, Kottayam District of Kerala is the first district to achieve full literacy rate in the whole of India.The Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology Kottayam (Government Engineering College) is one among the few elite engineering institutes of the state. Mahatma Gandhi University, CMS College, Medical College, Kottayam, Alphonsa College, Pala, Baselious College, Kottayam, BCM College, Kottayam, BK College, Kottayam, KE College, Mannanam, KG College, Pampady, Saintgits College, Pathamuttam, St. Berchmans College, Changanasserry, Assumption College, Changanasserry, St. Thomas College, Pala, St. Dominics College, Kanjirapally, Amal Jyothi College of Engineering, Kanjirappally are some of the important educational institutions in the district. Lourdes Public School and Junior College, Kottayam is one among the most reputed Higher Secondary Schools in the district.
The District is characterised by large migration of people from Kerala's main land as also labourers from neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Arts & Science, Kattappana,College of Engineering Munnar, College of Applied Science, Kattappana, Government College, MES College Nedumkandam, Kattappana Marian College, Kuttikanam, Mar Baselious College, Kuttikanam, are some of the important educational institutions in the district
Kannur district in northern part of Kerala has the Kannur University; (This is a multi-campus University having campuses at Kasaragod, Kannur, Thalassery and Mananthavady - The Headquarters of the University is situated at Thavakkara, Kannur), one Government Engineering College, one Government Ayurveda College and several arts and sciences colleges. It also hosts the 13th Centre of NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology). The people of Kannur, with the effective leadership of Mr M.V. Raghavan established a full-fledged Medical College in Co-operative sector at Pariyaram. Kannur Medical College at Anjarakandy is a private Medical College located in this district. A private sector Ayurveda Medical College is situated at Parassinikkadavu.
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