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Education in British India  

Deepak Kumar

Education was always given a place of pride in Indian civilization and culture. It was the process through which different kinds of knowledge were acquired and disseminated. Its significance was always recognized, but its structures varied according to time and place. Ancient Indian texts and mythologies are full of references to erudite gurus and their gurukulas (hermitages), wherein both the poor and the princes studied. Post Buddha, the viharas and the mahaviras were also centers of learning. Examples are the learning centers at Taxila, Nalanda, and Vikramshila. Interactions with Islamic culture brought maktabs and madrasas, and these were not very different from the previous learning centers. They all emphasized the significance of knowledge and conceived it in terms of temporal and spiritual (this worldly and otherworldly, i.e., para-apara, laukik-alaukik, maqul-manqul, ilm-i-duniya, and ilm-i-adyan). This was true of Europe as well. The great shift comes with the Renaissance and the Reformation, and these heralded some kind of an age of reason and modernity leading to the scientific and industrial revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. India was not aloof to these changes but could not keep pace with them. Education here suffered severe limitations in terms of caste, creed, theology, and so on. The result was India’s gradual colonization. Big changes in both knowledge production and generation came riding the wave of colonization. Here it is important to note that under the East India Company, perhaps for the first time in Indian history, the state emerged as the producer of knowledge and the sole arbiter of what was to be delivered and to whom. The Company’s education policies in India had become more interventionist. The downward filtration policy, which was chosen as the course to transform Indian society, started neglecting the vernacular schools, thereby neglecting popular education, and it was the entry of the Christian missionaries, from the second decade of the 19th century onward, together with the activities of native educational societies that promoted popular education through new contents and methods of education. The beginning of the 20th century brought new hopes for middle-class Indians. Their “vision” of a new India, as evident in the writings in periodicals, pamphlets, and other contemporary publications, included the growth of technical and medical education, scientific research, and agricultural experiments, as well as the institutional dissemination of knowledge, among others. Although this vision was unitary, in a broad “national” sense it was discursive, with controversies and differences of opinions shadowing “national” goals in education and at times stunting its clear growth.