Spread of Western Education in India During The Company Period (1765-1857)

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- Thursday, November 29, 2018

Spread of Western Education in India : Western Education in India


Pre-colonial India is well known for its systems of indigenous education. There existed Toll and Patashalas to promote education of the caste Hindus and Madarasas and Maktabs to promote the education of the Muslim community in India. This indigenous education gave more stressed to scholarship of languages rather than science and technology and by the time the British came to India as traders, Persian was the court languages and irrespective of religious faith, both Hindus and Muslims learnt Persian to obtain job under the rulers of pre-colonial India.Besides Madarasas and Patashalas, there too existed advanced centres of learning in languages along with ordinary school teaching language proficiency based on oral tradition and memorization of the texts.

After the battle of Buxar 1864 AD., the East India Company became a territorial power. The British who acquired territorial controls and became political masters did not interfere in the educational field till 1813. The Court of Directors of the East India Company was reluctant to shoulder the responsibility for education of the people of Indian and left education to private efforts. However, the British Parliament, compelled the company to devote its attention to the existing education system of India. After 1813 AD., with the cooperation or a limited number of Indians, the British colonial rulers introduced the western education in India.

The East India Company charter of 1600 had directed the company to maintain the schools and therefore the first school, called Mary Charity School was started in Madras in 1715. In 1781 govornor general Warren Hastings set up the Calcutta Madrasah for the study and learning of Persian and Arabic. Sir William Jones founded Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784 And in 1791 A.D. Jonathan Duncan the British Resident of Benaras started a Sanskrit College there for the study of Hindus Law, philosophy and literature. However these early attempts for the spread of oriental language met with little success.

A humble beginning towards the development of education in India was made in 1813 when the Charter Act (1813 A.D.) provided for an annual expenditure of one lakh of rupees "for the revival and promotion of literature and the encouragement of the learned native of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of sciences among the inhabitants of the British Territorie." However this small amount of money was not made available by the company's till 1823. Between 1823 to 1833 the principal aim of the educational system was to spread English because the company required young clerks well acquainted with English for its officer.



For nearly more than half a century, the British followed a policy of neutrality or non-intervention in the matters of religions and culture of the indigenous people. During the first quarter of 19th century a great controversy was going on regarding the nature of education and medium of instruction in schools and colleges. The Orientalists led by Wilson, Princep, Callbruck and Gilchrist advocated in favour of Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian as the medium of education. The Anglicists led by Alexander Daff, Macaulay and Elphinstone advocated the imparting of western education through the medium of English.

The Anglicists were supported by most advanced Indian of the time, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy who advocated for the study of western education as the "key to the treasures of scientifically and democratic thought of the modern west." A general committee of public instruction was set up in 1823 to look after the development of education in India. Lord Macauley Law member to the Supreme Council of Calcutta was appointed Chairman of the Committee of Public Instruction.

But due to constant pressure from different sections-the Christians missionaries, the liberals, the utilitarians, and the Anglicists-the British yielded and agreed to take up the responsibility of promoting Western education. In his famous Macaulay Minute of 2nd February 1835, Macauley fired the final shot of the battle between the Orientalists and Anglicists. He gave his verdicts in favour of English as the medium of instruction and western education, literatures and sciences as the subjects of study for the Indians. There is also a viewer that the educational policy was designed to legitimize the domination of the British colonial needs.



Lord Macauley showed his hatred toward Oriental Literatures when he said that, a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. Lord William Bentick then Governor-General of India, approved Macauley's Minute and on 7th March 1835 passed a resolution declaring that, His Lordship in Council is of opinion that, the great objects of the British Government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India and that all the fund appropriated for the purpose of education would be best employed on English Educational alone. Beside Macaulay, the efforts of Charles Grant and William Wilberforce deserve to be remembered in this. Govornor general William Bentinck announced in 1835 that English replaced Persian as the court language, books in English were made available at low prices and more funds were allotted to support English education, and fund for the support of oriental learning was curtailed. Govornor Lord Auckland, who succeeded Bentnick as the Governor General also continued encouragement for the promotion of English learning by opening English colleges in Dacca, Patna, Benaras, Allahabad, Agra, Delhi and Barielly.

Through the Macaulay system the British Government intended to educate the upper and middle classes who were likely to take up the task of educating and spreading modern ideas among them. Macauley had faith in the "downward filtration theory". He wrote in his minutes, "We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions, whom we govern, a class of the person, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. In that class we can leave it to define the native languages ​​of the country."

Here after between 1835-39 Ad., the Government had established 23 schools. In 1842 a Council of Education was established in place of the Committee of Public Instructions. During 1843-53, James Thomason, the Lieutenant Governor of North Western Provinces had introduced a comprehensive scheme of village education. Under the scheme some villages were grouped in one unit and every Zamindar of the unit had to pay one percent cess on the revenue for the maintenance of the school in his jurisdiction. In 1835 Ad Bentick had established a Medical College at Calcutta.



Gradually similar college were founded in different parts of the country. The introduction of English education led to the growth of the English literatures and civilization and marked the dawn of a new epoch in the intellectual life of India. The social and religious outlook of the Indians also underwent a great changes. With the spread of western philosophy and science the ground for Indians Renaissance was prepared. The educated Indians spread the ideas of democracy, nationalism, social and economic quality among the commons people.

Another landmarks in the development of Western education was Wood's Despatch of 1854. Sir Charles Wood's, the President of the Board of Control sent his recommendations known as "Wood's Despatch of 1854" reorganizing the whole structure of education. Charles Wood's Despatch is regarded as the Magna Carta of English education in India. The Despatch categorically states the education that we desire to see extended in Indian is that which has for its object the diffusion of the improved arts, science, and philosophy and literatures of Europe in short of European knowledge.

Charles Wood's recommended for the starting of universities at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, for the establishment of a network of graded schools, high schools, middle schools and the elementary schools, promotion of vernacular schools and the establishment of teacher training institution and the introduction of grant-in-aid system to non-government schools opened by charitable bodies and individuals. The despatch also encouraged female education. Almost all the recommendations of Woods were implemented.

As per recommendation of Wood's, a Department of Public Instruction was established in 1855 in each province under the Director of Public Instruction. In 1857 examining University on the model of London University were established at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. These University were to conduct examinations and award degrees. Vernacular schools were established in the villages and education was imparted to the children through vernacular languages of the province in the lower classes. Due to Bethane efforts girls schools were established under the Government grant-in-aid and inspection system. There were no arrangement for the training of the teachers.


The Woods Despatch acted as a models for further development of education in India. Besides government support for Western education in India, Christian missionaries and others took keen interest. The founder of Hindu College, which in later times was called Presidency College in Calcutta by David Hare and others helped the promotion of secular learning among the Hindus. Along with Western learning, woman education also received wide patronage. The same pattern of promotion of education can be witnessed in Mumbai (Bombay) and Madras presidencies too.

We notice a slow and gradual promotions of Western learning in India which ultimately led to a new spirit of rationalism and a new critical outlook in the Indians which finally led to the emergence of a spirited of nationalism, championing of self-rule and self-reliance. It does not mean that Western education learning was primarily responsible for the above narrated process, but it acted as a catalyst in fostering the awareness of the colonial economic exploitations.

As the consequence of the spread of Western educational system in India, new notions of reason, justice and utilitarian concerns of welfare began to mould the minds of the educated Indian in search of an answer to the problems of poverty and impoverishment that plagued Indian society of the later 19th century. An interesting offshoot of the spread of Western education in India and transformation of British East India Company from that of trader-conqueror to that of rulers was the emergence of a middle class professional groups to serve the interests of the British colonial and imperial interests.

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