Education Under British Government- History Guide for Class 8

Education Under British Government- History Guide for Class 8

Information about Education Under British Government


Education under British Government


Class 8


Class 8 History

Topics Covered

  • Education under the British
  • Positive Impact of British System of Education
  • Negative Impact of British System of Education
  • Social Impact

The British era is the most eventful era in the history of India. It brought changes in every aspect of the Indian society—education, public institutions, reforms in caste system and the condition of women. Most of these changes were brought about by the efforts of English educated Indians.

A number of pathshalas, maktabs for elementary education and toll and madarsas for higher education were imparting education in India before the rule of East India Company began. Education was limited to reading of religious books in vernacular languages and learning arithmetical tables. Higher education covered subjects like Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, law, logic, medicine and astronomy, based on old texts. 

Education under the British

The main objective of the East India Company was to make profit and not to take over the responsibility of educating Indians. Though the missionaries opened a few English schools, their purpose was to promote Christianity.

  • Some stray efforts were made in the field of education but the Charter Act of 1813 was the first significant step wherein the British sanctioned a sum of one lakh rupees for education in India.
  • The Hindu and the Elphinstone colleges were established in Calcutta and Bombay respectively.
  • These institutions produced English educated Indian elite class, who aped western etiquettes, dress and eating habits.

The British wanted psychological slavery of the elite class of the Indian society. In 1835, Thomas Macaulay (Member Legislative Council) said, 'We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millinos whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste and opinion.'

The British decided to take steps in the field of education in India. But a controversy arose between the Orientalists and the Anglicists regarding medium of education.
  • The Orientlists favoured the 'traditional' system with Sanskrit and Persian as the medium of instruction while the Anglicists favoured English as medium of instruction.
Lord Macaulay supported the Anglicists as the British wanted a class of Indians who would act as a link between the rulers and ruled, and provide cheap manpower for lower levels of the administration. He also believed that teaching of western education through English as a medium would civilise the people of India. This would change their taste, value and culture and develop a taste and desire for the British commodities and thus, they could earn huge profit which was the main objective of East India Company. 

  • Wood's Despatch of 1854 issued by Charles Wood, made major changes in the education policy of the British.
  • It gave a detailed plan for separate department of education.
  • Universities were set-up at the presidency towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.
  • Institutes for training the teachers were also set-up and assistance was given to vernacular schools. 

In 1882, Hunter Education Commission was appointed to look into the non-implementation of Wood's Despatch, position of primary education, secondary education, work of missionaries in the field of education and vocational training in secondary education.
Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, revised the whole system of education because he believed that educational institutions in India were producing political revolutionaries. With this view, the Indian Universities Act of 1904 was passed to check the growth of higher education in India. It annoyed the Indians.

On the whole, universal education in India was neglected by the British till Wardha Education Scheme (1937) was initiated by Gandhiji. He believed that English education created a sense of inferiority and developed master-slave mentality among the Indians. So, a National Education System was proposed that would inculcate morals like truth, goodness, justice, a sense of self-respect and dignity among the Indian masses.

In 1943, the British appointed John Sargent to prepare a National System of Education. It proposed universal, compulsory and free education for children between 6-14 years of age for all-round development of the students. Most of the recommendations of this plan were implemented by the Government of India after independence.

Positive Impact of British System of Education

  • The English language united the people of different regions. People now rose above narrow regional prejudices and started thinking of India as their motherland.
  • A surge of nationalism spread in all parts and all sections of India.
  • It created awareness about the ideals of equality, liberty, fraternity and democracy.
  • It created awareness about the need of social and religious reforms.
  • Educated women like Sarojini Naidu joined the national movement. 

Negative Impact of British System of Education

  • It created a division between English educated Indians and the rest of Indians.
  • Indigenous literature and thought were ignored.
  • British textbooks glorified the British administration and philosophy.
  • Education became the priority of those who could afford it and hence, only the rich Indians benefitted. 

Social Impact

The British did not like the customs, traditions and culture of Indians. They considered Indians as barbarians, inferiors and discriminated against them.

  • English-educated Indians wanted to free the Indian society from evils, superstitions and rituals.
  • Many reform movements were started. Reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Swami Dayanand Saraswati wanted to eradicate the evils from Indian society.

They even compelled the British to pass some laws to introduce social reforms in India:
  • Sati was an inhuman practice where a widow was forced to burn herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. It was abolished in 1829 by the Governor-General, William Bentinck, at the insistence of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, a social reformer and a crusader for the cause of women.
  • Female Infanticide, killing of infant girls, was banned by law in 1870.
  • Child-Marriage of children as early as one or three years of age was banned by law in 1891 and again in 1929. The Sharda Act of 1929, after amendment, fixed the age of marriage at 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. It applied to all people living in British India and not only Hindus. It was the result of social reform movement in India. It was also a great victory of Hindu and Muslim women's groups, who opposed child marriage. 
  • Widow Remarriage Act was passed by the British Government in 1856. It was with the persistent efforts of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar that widow remarriage was legalised.

Up to 1920, only the enlightened Indian men worked for the welfare and upliftment of women. They not only opposed discrimination against women but also dedicated their lives to the cause of religious and social reforms. Later on, many educated women also joined welfare programmes. In 1927, an All India Women's Conference was organised. Gradually, the Indian society came to accept equality of men and women.
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