Destruction of The Indian System of Education by British

During the time of the East India Company and later, in the British rule, there seem to have been two motives working in the minds of the rulers: plundering the wealth of this land and the ‘white man’s burden’ of civilizing the natives (the term used by them to refer to all Indians). We shall see, how in order to achieve these ends, the British so cleverly played their cards that even after 60+ years of independence we still continue to exist in a state of stupor, unable (and even unwilling!) to extricate ourselves from one of the greatest hypnoses woven over a whole nation.

Perhaps many of us do not know that India was the richest land till the British came here. Whereas Britain’s share in world exports before was only 9% as against India’s share of 19% today our share is only 0.5%. Most of the foreigners came to India in search of her fabulous wealth. Ernest Wood, in the book ‘A Foreigner defends Mother India’ states, “In the middle of the eighteenth century, Phillimore wrote that ‘the droppings of her soil fed distant regions“. No traveller found India poor until the nineteenth century, but foreign merchants and adventurers sought her shores for the almost fabulous wealth, which they could there obtain. ‘To shake the pagoda tree’ became a phrase, somewhat similar to our modern expression ‘to strike oil’.”

In India 35% to 50% of village lands were revenue free and that revenue was utilized for running schools, conducting temple festivals, producing medicines, feeding pilgrims, improving irrigation etc. The British in their greed brought down the revenue free lands down to 5%. When there was a protest they assured Indians that the government would create an irrigation department to take care of irrigation, an educational board to take care of education. etc. The initiative of the people was destroyed. But the rulers found to their chagrin, that though they had conquered this nation, it was still strongly rooted in its own culture. They found that as long as the nation was aware and even proud of its traditions, their ‘white man’s burden’ remained as ‘heavy and cumbersome as ever’! India had, at that time, a very well spread system of education and that system had to be made ineffective for their purposes. Now, most of us are taught to believe that the education was in the hands of the Brahmins and in Sanskrit medium and that the other castes had no education. But here are the facts about how the British destroyed the Indian educational system and made one of the most literate nations illiterate.

In the Round- table conference in 1931, Mahatma Gandhi in one of his speeches said, The beautiful tree of education was cut down by you British. Therefore today India is far more illiterate than it was 100 years ago. Immediately, Philip Hartog, who was a parliamentarian stood up and said, “Mr.Gandhi, it is we who have educated the masses of India. And therefore you must take back your statement and apologise or prove it.” Gandhi said he would prove it. But the debate did not continue for lack of time.

Later one of his followers, Shri Dharampal, went to the British museum and examined the reports and archives. He published a book “The Beautiful Tree” where this matter has been discussed in great detail. By 1820, the British had already destroyed the financial resources that supported our educational system- a destruction that they had been carrying out for nearly twenty years. But still the Indians persisted in continuing with their system of education. So, the British decided to find out the intricacies of this system. Therefore a survey was ordered in 1822 and was conducted by the British district collectors. In the survey it was found that the Bengal presidency had 1 lakh village schools, in Madras there was not a single village without a school, in Bombay, if the village population was near 100, the village had a school. Teachers as well as students of all castes were in these schools. The Brahmins accounted 7% to 48% of the teachers, and the rest of the teachers in any district, came from other castes. Further all children had their education in their mother tongue.

The equivalent of the present day primary education lasted 4 to 5 years. We all know that it is universal primary education that is important for taking the nation ahead, not just a few getting higher education. The British administrators admired the dedication and capacity of the Indian teachers. By the time the students came out of the schools they had acquired the capacity to be competitive, and to understand and have proper insight into their own culture. One Mr.Bell, a Christian missionary in Madras took the Indian system of education back to England, and introduced it there. Until then, only the children of the nobles were given education there and he started education for the masses in England. So, we gather that it is from India that the British adopted the system for educating the masses.

The Cause of Degradation: The Downward Filtration Method.

But what happened in India? Foreign Christian missionaries even resented the nominal amount of one lakh rupees kept aside for the education of Indians. The British cut down the financial resources and brought in several regulations one after the other- regulations like “there has to be a ‘pucca’ building etc. That was not the end. They invited T.B. Macaulay to decide how to divert the money, what should be the medium of instruction and the mode of educating the Indian. He made English the medium of instruction and diverted the money for English education. G.D.Trevelyan writes in “Life of Lord Macaulay”(vol 1 pg164) “A new India was born in 1835″.

What Alexander, Ashoka and the western missionaries had failed to do was accomplished by Macualay’s educational minutes, decreeing that India was to receive through English education, the language of the West. “The very foundations of her ancient civilization began to rock and sway. Pillar after pillar in the edifice came crashing down.” But Macaulay did a more harmful thing, which is not generally known. He adopted the “downward filtration method” for educating the Indians. What is this method? The problem facing Macaulay was that Indians were numerous and The British were a handful. How were they going to educate the Indians? How could this nation be weakened so that in self-forgetfulness it would support the British Raj?

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Ashwin Arun

Awesome articles.Long Read ,but truly worth it. Those who praise the British for “uniting” us should read this

You write : “Today they stand discredited in general, and are no longer considered to be the examples to be followed. But although the Brahmins became corrupted, it is to the credit of all the other castes that though they too were targeted, they stood firm, and thus foiled the designs of the British.” It ought to be realized how divisive this attitude is, by pitting the “sellout” brahmins (all of them?) against the rest of the “castes”. ALL elites (many of them non-Brahmins) got co-opted / “sold-out”. Please be perceptive enough to see the hidden Macaulayism at work here.… Read more »