“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers…

An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.

“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers……….
An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.

The Knowledge Library

OUR PAST PART – VI – History of Education In India

History of Education in India

The British also came with the belief that they had a duty to civilize the natives. The White man’s burden was an important reason for colonizing India.

The Indian Education journey started with William Jones a judge at the Supreme court of Calcutta. Jones was a linguist who knew Greek, Latin, and Arabic and spent hours studying Sanskrit and other intricacies of the language. He also started exploring other articles on Ancient Indian laws, culture, practices, traditions, and philosophy. With like-minded Englishmen, he started the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The group of people who respected both the traditions of the east and the West was called Orientalists.

They believed that Indian civilization had reached its epic in the past and then declined. They wanted to study the ancient texts and rules of India to understand the civilization as they felt this could form the basis of future development of India. British wanted to show Indians the grandeur of the past so that the latter would feel a new respect for the British. The British by doing this would become guardians of Indian culture and also its masters.

The British influenced by Orientalist thinking believed that Indians ought to be educated in Sanskrit and Persian instead of languages alien to them. Thus the orientalist favored stability over development.

The British needed Indian scholars to teach them Sanskrit and Ancient laws which the British believed would form the basis of British rule in India. Lord Warren Hastings was an Orientalist and opened Calcutta Madrasa, John Duncan formed Sanskrit College in Varanasi.

These institutions were for training Indians for lower-level administrative jobs.

Anglicist view on Education

They represented the growing criticism against the Orientalist’s views. The Orientalist policies hadn’t increased trade nor in any way contributed to developing a favorable atmosphere for British rule in India.

Anglicist’s believed that Eastern education and literature were full of errors. It was light-headed, non-serious, and unscientific. The Anglicists believed that the aim of education isn’t appeasement but to teach something useful and practical. They rejected the oriental view on education. They believed that Indians should be made familiar with scientific and technological enhancements in the West rather than Oriental poetry.

The most influential and outspoken attack was from Thomas Macaulay, a member of Lord Bentinck’s executive council. He said that a library of English education would surpass all the literature produced by Orient. He felt that by teaching English to Indians they would be able to read the finest literature the world has produced. The language would civilize the people by making them aware of the developments in the West and change their tastes. He, therefore, urged the British government to stop spending on promoting oriental education. The English Education Act was passed and English became the medium of instruction at higher levels and vernacular languages were for lower levels.

Work of the Christian Missionaries

The East India Company was against the education provided by Christian missionaries till 1813. The missionaries believed in oriental education as it would improve the moral values of a person. They felt that Christian education would civilize the natives. Since the Company refused to set up schools in British-controlled areas they operated outside.

A school and printing press was set up and a college was established. After the 1857 revolts Company was apprehensive about the work of missionaries as it felt the natives would be engaged by the attack on local customs, beliefs, and practices by the missionaries.


Education in Pre – British period, Reforms by British and Reactions by National Leaders to Education

Indian schools in Pre British period were flexible institutions. Every village had a school. Each would have a teacher and around 20 pupils. The teachings were oral, no attendance was taken, no fixed timings, no exams, and no written notes. During harvest season as children had to work in fields, schools would be closed.

The British wanted to reform this system and so they appointed government Pandits to inspect schools and enforce rules. The Government also gave grants to all those who followed the norms laid by it. The Teachers who didn’t accept this were forced to look for other resources and often couldn’t compete with government-aided schools.

Gandhiji was critical of the Education policy and rejected the English medium schools. He felt they would lead to Indians developing Western tastes, speaking alien languages, and worshiping western culture. Such people would have no value to the nation. He wanted education to be more practical oriented and based on vernacular languages.

Rabindranath Tagore also had a similar view but the key difference was that he wanted to assimilate the best of both cultures in Education. He wanted schools to teach Indian art, culture, and western science and philosophy.


    • EFFORTS OF THOMSON, James Thomson, lieutenant-governor of NW Provinces (1843-53), developed a comprehensive scheme of village education through the medium of vernacular languages. In these village schools, useful subjects such as mensuration and agriculture sciences were taught. The purpose was to train personnel for the newly set up Revenue and Public Works Department.
    • WOOD’S DESPATCH (1854), In 1854, Charles Wood prepared a despatch on an educational system for India. Considered the “Magna Carta of English Education in. India”, this document was the first comprehensive plan for the spread of education in India.
    • It asked the Government of India to assume responsibility for the education of the masses, thus repudiating the ‘downward filtration theory’, at least on paper.
    • It systematized the hierarchy from vernacular primary schools in villages at the bottom, followed by Anglo-Vernacular High Schools and an affiliated college at the district level, and affiliating universities in the presidency towns of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras.
    • It recommended English as the medium of instruction for higher studies and vernaculars at the school level.
    • It laid stress on females and vocational, education, and teachers’ training.
    • It laid down that the education imparted in government institutions should be secular
    • It recommended a system of grants-in-aid to encourage private enterprise.
    • In 1857, universities at Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras were set up, and later, departments of education were set up in all provinces. The Bethune School founded by Bethune at Calcutta (1849) was the first fruit of a powerful movement for the education of women which arose in the 1840s and 1850s. Bethune was the president of the Council of Education. Mostly due to Bethune’s efforts, girls’ schools were set up on a sound footing and brought under the government’s grants-in-aid and inspection system.
    • The ideals and methods of Wood’s Des-patch dominated the field for five decades which saw rapid westernization of the education system in India, with educational institutions run by European headmasters and principals. Missionary enterprises played their own part. Gradually, private Indian efforts appeared in the field.
    • HUNTER EDUCATION COMMISSION (1882-83) : When education was shifted to provinces in 1870, primary and secondary education further suffered because the provinces already had limited resources at their disposal. In 1882, the Government appointed a commission under the chairmanship of W.W. Hunter to review the progress of education in the country since the Despatch of 1854. The Hunter Commission mostly confined its recommendations to primary and secondary education. The commission
      • emphasized that the state’s special care is required for the extension and improvement of primary education and that primary education should be imparted through vernacular.
      • recommended transfer of control of primary education to newly set up district and municipal boards.
      • recommended that secondary (High School) education should have two divisions — literary—leading up to university. Vocational — for commercial careers.
      • drew attention to inadequate facilities for female education, especially outside presidency towns, and made recommendations for its spread
    • Raleigh Commission was set up to go into conditions of universities in India: to suggest measures for improvement in their constitution and working. The commission precluded reporting on primary or secondary education. Based on its recommendations, the Indian Universities Act was passed in 1904. As per the Act
      • universities were to give more attention to study and research
      • the number of fellows of a university and their period in office were reduced and most fellows were to be nominated by the Government
      • The government was to have powers to veto universities’ senate regulations and could amend these regulations or pass regulations on its own
      • conditions were to be made stricter for affiliation of private colleges
      • five lakh rupees were to be sanctioned per annum for five years for improvement of higher education and universities
    • Curzon justified greater control over universities in the name of quality and efficiency but actually sought to restrict education and to discipline the educated towards loyalty to the Government. The nationalists saw it as an attempt to strengthen imperialism and sabotage nationalist feelings. Gokhale called it a “retrograde measure”.
    • HARTOG COMMITTEE (1929): An increase in the number of schools and colleges had led to the deterioration of education standards. A Hartog Committee was set up to report on the development of education. Its main recommendations were as follows.
      • Emphasis should be given to primary education but there need be no hasty expansion or compulsion in education
      • Only deserving students should go in for high school and intermediate stage, while average students should be diverted to vocational courses after. VIII standard.
      • For improvements in the standards of university education, admissions should be restricted.
    • SERGEANT PLAN OF EDUCATION The objective was to create within 40 years, the same level of educational attainment as prevailed in England. Although a bold and comprehensive scheme, it proposed no methodology for implementation. Also, the idea of England’s achievements may not have suited Indian conditions.
      • pre-primary education for 3-6 years age group; free, universal, and compulsory elementary education for 6-11 years age group; high school education for 11-17 years age group for selected children, and a university course of 3 years after higher secondary; high schools to be of two types: (i) academic and (ii) technical and vocational.
      • adequate technical, commercial, and arts education. abolition of intermediate course.
      • liquidation of adult illiteracy in 20 years.
      • stress on teachers’ training, physical education, and education for the physically and mentally handicapped.

Journey of Visual Art in India

European artists introduced painting in India which was based on realism – The artist would faithfully render what he observed into a canvas. The oil painting was introduced to Indian artists. However European artists emphasized the superiority of their culture, and traditions in their art. British artists also drew paintings of British territory in India. India was depicted as an ancient grand civilization that was now declining but it could be modernized only by British governance.

Portrait painting – Face and expression of the Person is prominent and became popular now. Indian art used to paint miniature portraits but now life-sized portraits were made. Some were used to show grandeur and majesty and indicated the status and lifestyle of the subject. Englishmen were the center of such portraits and Indians were shown as servants or submissive. Some portraits were made by the Princes of India who used to portray themselves as figures of authority although they had lost it to the British.

History paintings too were a form of popular art. The British victories were shown in them. They were appreciative of British valor, courage, and victory however they never showed the true story behind the victory which would be the cunning and the treachery.

Effect on Indian Artists

  • Some rulers like the Tipu Sultan rejected European art and continued to patronize Indian artists. Murals of Wars where the English were defeated continued to grace his palace.
  • Indian miniature artists were encouraged by some rulers to absorb European features of art like Perspective painting.
  • Some artists were painted by the Company officials who wished to collect information about colonial life. The pictures were of local plants, animals, monuments, communities, and festivals.
  • A new form of art developed in Calcutta villages which was adopted by local artists. Since Calcutta was becoming a hub of development it attracted many looking for opportunities. The artists saw the changes in society by the British and painted them. These mocked the western babus, and corrupt officials, and ridiculed the system. The painting made by them were three-dimensional with the use of shades to give the appearance of a rounded object. The figures were larger than life i.e. unrealistic depictions.
  • As Nationalism grew paintings got a religious aspect with Bharatmata or Durga personified.
  • English-educated artists used European style to make paintings of Indians in front of beautiful scenery. The printing press too was used for large-scale printing so paintings could be bought by the poor too.

Search for Modern Indian Art

Raja Ravi Verma

A search for modern art that would be nationally emerged and Raja Ravi Verma became the first to qualify for such a distinction. He had mastered the western style of oil painting and realistic paintings. But he used this to paint scenes from Indian mythologies like Ramayan, and Mahabharat. The popularity of such paintings was so high that Princes, Nawabs filled their courts with his paintings. He also started a printing press so that color paintings could be mass printed and cheap painting copies could be obtained. Even the poor could afford this.

Fig 1: Painting

Abanindranth Tagore

People rejected Ravi Verma’s art in some parts as they felt a truly nationalist art must be obtained from nonwestern forms. They felt the Ravi Verma couldn’t capture the essence of Eastern art. Indian art should draw inspiration from traditional art forms like miniatures and murals paintings like the Ajanta caves.  

Abanindranath Tagore drew art inspired by such forms and drew images of mythologies and old stories. But he too was criticized as some felt that mythology wasn’t the center of Indian art and that artists should depict real life.


Journey of Indigo in India

British felt that India could be used to grow crops needed in Britain. The dyed blue was needed for rich blue color in clothes. The tropical indigo plant gave this color. However, the indigo that reached Europe was in small quantities and costly. Hence Europeans preferred a temperate plant called woad. The European textile owners asked the government to ban the entry of indigo into their countries.

However soon it was realized that woad gave a dull blue unlike the richer variety given by indigo. Hence the indigo trade resumed. Initially, Caribbean countries and India were the only sources but revolt in Caribbean nations made India the sole source of indigo.

Plantation system of indigo

  • Nif: Under this system, the planter purchased or leased land and cultivated indigo with hired labor. But under this many problems were faced like difficulty to expand land, high cost of labor, and investment in plows and bullocks. Indigo and ice had the same cycle so labor was difficult to obtain.
  • Ryoti: Under this system, the indigo trader gave loans to plant indigo to the farmer. He would reserve 25% of his farmland for indigo and after harvest sells indigo to traders. However here too the farmer was at a loss as the price indigo fetched was very low and the cycle of loans never ended. He had to reserve the best soil for indigo and so food crops suffered.

Ryoti system became the reason for peasant oppression. Riots followed in such areas as discontented peasants protested against the European traders. The British government wanted to avoid a large-scale uprising so soon after the 1857 riots and so formed a commission for looking into the matter. The commission recommended an end to this system and so the indigo riots ended.

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