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The History of British Education in India

Education of Indians had become a topic of interest among East India Company officials from the outset of the Company’s rule in Bengal. [65] In the last two decades of the 18th century and the first decade of the nineteenth, Company officials pursued a policy of conciliation towards the native culture of its new dominion, especially in relation to education policy. [65] . During the 19th century, the Indian literacy rates were rumoured to be less than half of post independence levels which were 18. 33% in 1951.

The policy was pursued in the aid of three goals: “to sponsor Indians in their own culture, to advance knowledge of India, and to employ that knowledge in government. “[65] The first goal was supported by some administrators, such as Warren Hastings, who envisaged the Company as the successor of a great Empire, and saw the support of vernacular learning as only befitting that role. In 1781, Hastings founded the Madrasa ‘Aliya, an institution in Calcutta for the study of Arabic and Persian languages, and Islamic Law.

A few decades later a related perspective appeared among the governed population, one that was expressed by the conservative Bengali reformer Radhakanta Deb as the “duty of the Rulers of Countries to preserve and Customs and the religions of their subjects. ” The second goal was motivated in part by concern among some Company officials about being seen as foreign rulers. They argued that the Company should try to win over its subjects by outdoing the region’s previous rulers in the support of indigenous learning.

Guided by this belief, the Benares Sanskrit College was founded in Varanasi in 1791 during the administration of Lord Cornwallis. The promotion of knowledge of Asia had attracted scholars as well to the Company’s service. Earlier, in 1784, the Asiatick Society had been founded in Calcutta by William Jones, a puisne judge in the newly established Supreme Court of Bengal. Soon, Jones was to advance his famous thesis on the common origin of Indo-European languages.

The third related goal grew out of the philosophy then current among some Company officials that they would themselves become better administrators if they were better versed in the languages and cultures of India. It led in 1800 to the founding of the College of Fort William, in Calcutta by Lord Wellesley, the then Governor-General. The College was later to play an important role both in the development of modern Indian languages and in the Bengal Renaissance. Advocates of these related goals were termed, “Orientalists. Many leading Company officials, such as Thomas Munro and Montstuart Elphinstone, were influenced by the Orientalist ethos and felt that the Company’s government in India should be responsive to Indian expectations. The Orientalist ethos would prevail in education policy well into the 1820s, and was reflected in the founding of the Poona Sanskrit College in Pune in 1821 and the Calcutta Sanskrit College in 1824. The Orientalists were, however, soon opposed by advocates of an approach that has been termed Anglicist.

The Anglicists supported instruction in the English language in order to impart to Indians what they considered modern Western knowledge. / Prominent among them were evangelicals who, after 1813—when the Company’s territories were opened to Christian missionaries—were interested in spreading Christian belief; they also believed in using theology to promote liberal social reform, such as the abolition of slavery. Among them was Charles Grant, the Chairman of the East India Company. Grant supported state-sponsored education in India 20 years before a similar system was set up in Britain.

Among Grant’s close evangelical friends were William Wilberforce, a prominent abolitionist and member of the British Parliament, and Sir John Shore, the Governor-General of India from 1793 to 1797. During this period, many Scottish Presbyterian missionaries also supported the British rulers in their efforts to spread English education and established many reputed colleges like Scottish Church College (1830), Wilson College (1832), Madras Christian College (1837) and Elphinstone College (1856). However, the Anglicists also included utilitarians, led by James Mill, who had begun to play an important role in fashioning Company policy.

The utilitarians believed in the moral worth of an education that aided the good of society and promoted instruction in useful knowledge. Such useful instruction to Indians had the added consequence of making them more suitable for the Company’s burgeoning bureaucracy. By the early 1830s, the Anglicists had the upper hand in devising education policy in India. Many utilitarian ideas were employed in Thomas Babbington Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education of 1835. The Minute, which later aroused great controversy, was to influence education policy in India well into the next century.

Since English was increasingly being employed as the language of instruction, Persian was abolished as the official language of the Company’s administration and courts by 1837. However, bilingual educations was proving to be popular as well, and some institutions such as the Poona Sanskrit College commenced teaching both Sanskrit and English. Charles Grant’s son, Sir Robert Grant, who in 1834 was appointed Governor of the Bombay Presidency, played an influential role in the planning of the first medical college in Bombay, which after his unexpected death was named Grant Medical College when it was established in 1845.

During 1852–1853 some citizens of Bombay sent petitions to the British Parliament in support of both establishing and adequately funding university education in India. The petitions resulted in the Education Dispatch of July 1854 sent by Sir Charles Wood, the President of the Board of Control of the East India Company, the chief official on Indian affairs in the British government, to Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor-General of India. The dispatch outlined a broad plan of state-sponsored education for India, which included:[66]

Establishing a Department of Public Instruction in each presidency or province of British India. Establishing universities modeled on the University of London (as primarily examining institutions for students studying in affiliated colleges) in each of the Presidency towns (i. e. Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta) Establishing teachers-training schools for all levels of instruction Maintaining existing Government colleges and high-schools and increasing their number when necessary.

Vastly increasing vernacular schools for elementary education. Introducing a system of grants-in-aid for private schools. The Department of Public Instruction was in place by 1855. In January 1857, the University of Calcutta was established, followed by the University of Bombay in June, 1857, and the University of Madras in September 1857. The University of Bombay, for example, consisted of three affiliated institutions: the Elphinstone Institution, the Grant Medical College, and the Poona Sanskrit College.

The Company’s administration also founded high-schools en masse in the different provinces and presidencies, and the policy was continued during Crown rule which commenced in 1858. By 1861, 230,000 students were attending public educational institutions in the four provinces (the three Presidencies and North-Western Provinces), of whom 200,000 were in primary schools. [67] Over 5,000 primary schools and 142 secondary schools had been established in these provinces. 67] Earlier, during the Indian rebellion of 1857, some civilian leaders, such as Khan Bhadur Khan of Bareilly, had stressed the threat posed to the populace’s religions by the new education programs begun by the Company; however, historical statistics have shown that this was not generally the case. For example, in Etawah district in the then North-Western Provinces (present-day Uttar Pradesh), where during the period 1855–57, nearly 200 primary, middle-, and high-schools had been opened by the Company and tax levied on the population, relative calm prevailed and the schools remained open during the rebellion. [

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