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Education in India - Colonial India

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dysprosium to Electrophoresis - Electrophoretic TheoryEducation in India - Ancient, Medieval, And Early Modern India, Colonial India, Independent India, Bibliography

Colonial India

The ideas and pedagogical methods of education during the colonial period, from 1757 to 1947, were contested terrain. The commercial British East India Company ruled parts of India from 1764 to 1858. A few eighteenth-century company officials became scholars of Sanskrit, Persian, and Tamil and promoted "Oriental" learning, which was classical, demotic learning in indigenous languages. However, they were outnumbered by "Anglicists," those who denigrated "Oriental" learning and advocated the introduction of institutions for Western learning based upon the British curriculum with English as the medium of instruction. By the early nineteenth century, when English was made the official language of government business, British policy promoted a cheap, trickle-down model for colonial education. When the British crown abolished company rule in 1858, government universities existed at Bombay (contemporary Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkutta), and Madras (Chennai); about two thousand students studied at thirteen government colleges in all of British India, and another 30,000 students were in government secondary schools. Direct rule did not change the decision to deemphasize primary education to provide occupational training for young Indian men who took jobs both in the lower tiers of the government and in urban, Western-style legal and medical services.

Nongovernment schools established by Western Christian missions and Indian social and religious reform organizations provided the only opportunities for elementary education in the nineteenth century. American and English missionaries founded men's colleges, and by the twentieth century, Lucknow, Lahore, and Madras all had Christian women's colleges as well. Foreign teachers staffed these institutions, offering a Western curriculum in English with financial support for the children of Christian converts. Reformist societies also started schools, partly to provide Western education without the threat of Christian conversion. The curricula in private girls' schools ranged from the Urdu, Persian, writing, arithmetic, needlework, and Islamic studies of the Punjabi Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam primary schools in northwestern India to the Western-style liberal arts curriculum of Bethune College, founded by liberal Brahmo Samajists (Hindu reformers) in Calcutta. Even voluntary societies' members who wanted to provide educational alternatives for their children disagreed about the advantages and disadvantages of the colonial educational model for both content and the language of instruction.

When British officials who represented direct rule by the crown introduced modest self-government in the 1860s, they shifted financial responsibility for education to a growing Indian middle class. Educating urban sons for professions dominated local educational spending, to the detriment of rural and women's education. Families of respectable middling status usually chose to send their daughters to gender-segregated educational institutions once there were schools taught in vernacular languages with general curricula. While older historians narrated the "insidious, total and transparent" domination of the educational system by the colonial state, more recent scholarship delineates the "'creative' resistance" to state agency and suggests that there was a "combat" between "consciously opposed sides" (Kumar). As the nationalist movement gained supporters in the twentieth century, Indian leaders developed several nationalist educational paradigms to challenge the colonial model. Mahatma Gandhi wanted the state to teach basic literacy in vernacular languages to the majority of the population. Rabindranath Tagore, India's first recipient of the Nobel prize for literature, believed that the English language provided Indians access to the sharing of knowledge across international borders and that education should include the teaching of India's cultural traditions. The fight for freedom from colonialism preempted decisions about educational ideologies until after 1947.

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