Influence free education

Establishing schools and universities in the subcontinent under East India Company Rule from 1750 to 1850

Renaissance, revivalism and enlightenment emanate from the education imparted to an individual or a nation. Most of the nations’ state policy has been to equip the masses with contemporary knowledge. However, a specific proclivity of brainstorming the people to satiate a certain political agenda has also been in practice for centuries.

In the sub-continent, the history of education passed through various phases: pre-colonial, colonial era and post-colonial. But, this piece of writing encircles the education policy of the East India Company from 1750 to 1850.

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Before the political ascendency of EIC in India, Hindus had “Pathasalas” and Muslims owned “Madrassahas” for education. In particular, vocational education was for girls at home and in general, they were excluded from schooling. Separate schools buildings did not build for students, the available worship places were utilized for education – Mandir and Mosques respectively. The main objective of education was to produce religious preachers. Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit languages were the medium of instruction. However, education was even a distant dream for the destitute then!

In the mid of 18th century, the territorial expansion of the East India Company began, and soon a broad swathe of Indians went under its control. Now, the company did not have trading interests alone! For establishing the effective rule, the East India Company required huge administrative machinery that might acquaint with vernacular languages, knowledge and traditions. For instance, the European judges required assessors to expound Hindu and Muslim laws from Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit books. The revenue and commerce departments relied on the service of Indians to converse with uneducated masses for the collection and maintenance of land records. The diplomatic ties with local rulers hinged on the Persian language. All these encouraged British officials like Warren Hastings to set up Madrasa in Calcutta for learning Arabic and Persian in 1781. Similarly, Jonathan Duncan, British Resident Officer at Banaras, established Sanskrit College in 1791 as well.

With the Indian Charter Act 1813, a new debate of implementing the local and western learning started between Orientalists and Anglicists. The allocation of 1 lakh rupees under clause 43 of the Act demonstrated British engagement in education matters in India. Although, this amount did not spend till as late as 1823. The Indian Charter Act of 1813 officially allowed the Christian missionaries to set up mission schools across India.

With the Indian Charter Act 1813, a new debate of implementing the local and western learning started between Orientalists and Anglicists. The allocation of 1 lakh rupees under clause 43 of the Act demonstrated British engagement in education matters in India.

In Bengal Precedency, the Central or General Committee of Public Instruction of 10 members was formed on July 17, 1823. Most of the members initially had an orientalist tendency! The 1813 Act also empowered this committee to utilize the sum of one hundred thousand rupees. It had a duty to guide East India Company in the subject of Education in India as well.

In 1833, East India Company faced a financial crisis and could not incur high administrative expenditures. Two suggestions surfaced: one was to cut down the expenses of European / British employees, and the second was to induct educated Indians at the lower levels of administration. Consequently, the Indian Charter Act 1833 granted Indians the right to appear in civil services.

In 1835, the dissent between Anglicists and Orientalists again resurfaced on the issue of imposing Western or Local education as the Anglicists dominated the General Committee of Public Instructions. The confusing state allowed Lord William Bentinck intervention as Governor-General of India. He made a committee under Lord Macaulay to resolve the issue. Lord Macaulay just arrived in India in 1834 as a first law member of the Governor-General executive council. Here was the presentation of the famous Macaulay Minutes on 2 February 1835.

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The recommendation of Macaulay shaped the education system of India for years to come. He supported the English language, European literature and modern science. He was also in support of giving education first to the upper section of Indian society and its effects would trickle down to the lower levels. This theory became famous with the title “Downward Filtration Theory”. His recommendation after one month in March 1835 provided the mainstay to the educational policy resolution of Lord William Bentinck. The time came when the British virtually abandoned the Oriental knowledge and languages!

In 1844, Lord Hardinge (new Governor-General of India) vividly demonstrated the choice of British in government jobs to those hailing from British English Medium Institutions. It was another blow to the local education system!

In 1854, Sir Charles Wood (President of the Board of Control) drew up the education policy for India, popularly known as Wood’s Despatch 1854. His recommendations are considered as the Magna Carta of Modern Education System of Sub-continent. He recommended that an education department should be set up in each province and an elementary school in every district- in a way an outright rejection of the previous Downward Filtration Theory of Macaulay. He suggested building universities on the pattern of England in India. His suggestion materialized when the universities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were established in 1857. However, the prime function of these universities was to provide affiliations to schools and colleges across India. For girls, he recommended well-organized institutions under government control. According to Wood’s Despatch, the medium of instruction should be in English and Vernacular languages. He supported local languages at the primary level as well.

In 1857, the British government withdrew all educational policy upon the breaking out of the war of independence. But, later, Sir Charles Wood’s recommendations again started to implement as a principal educational policy of the sub-continent.

Education should be free of all influences, in particular, political. It should be instrumental in creating evaluative and analytical skills. It should also lay the foundation of research culture in all domains.

Muhammad Amir Saleem
The writer is an ‘IGCSE’ & ‘O’ Level, Pakistan Studies Teacher


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