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Education System during British India

Education System during British India


  • Education is a powerful tool to unlock the golden door of freedom which can change the world. With the advent of the British, their policies and measures breached the legacies of traditional schools of learning and this resulted in the need for creating a class of subordinates. 
  • To achieve this goal, they instituted a number of acts to create an Indian canvas of English colour through the education system.
  • Initially, British East India Company was not concerned with the development of education system because their prime motive was trading and profit-making. To rule in India, they planned to educate a small section of upper and middle classes to create a class “Indian in blood and colour but English in taste” who would act as interpreters between the Government and the masses. This was also called the “downward filtration theory”. 

1813 Act & the Education

  • Charles Grant and William Wilberforce, who was missionary activists, compelled the East India Company to give up its non-invention policy and make way for spreading education through English in order to teach western literature and preach Christianity. 
  • Hence, the British Parliament added a clause in 1813 charter that Governor-General-in-Council less than one lakh for education and allowed the Christian Missionaries to spread their religious ideas in India.
  • Act had its own importance because it was first instance that British East India Company acknowledged for the promotion of education in India.
  • With the efforts of R.R.M Roy, the Calcutta College was established for imparting Western education.  Also three Sanskrit colleges were set up at Calcutta.

General Committee of Public Instruction, 1823

  • This committee was formed to look after the development of education in India which was dominated by Orientalists who were the great supporter of Oriental learning rather than the Anglican. 
  • Hence, they created paramount of pressure on the British India Company to promote Western Education. 
  • As a result, spread of education in India got discursive between Orientalist-Anglicist and Macaulay’s resolution come across with clear picture of British education system.

Lord Macaulay’s Education Policy, 1835

  • This policy was an attempt to create that system of education which educates only upper strata of society through English.
  • English become court language and Persian was abolished as court language.
  • Printings of English books were made free and available at very low price.
  • English education gets more fund as compare to oriental learning.
  • In 1849, JED Bethune founded Bethune School.
  • Agriculture Institute was established at Pusa (Bihar)
  • Engineering Institute was established at Roorkee.

Wood’s Dispatch, 1854

  • Sir Charles Wood was the President of the Board of Control of the company in 1854 when he sent a despatch to the then Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie.
  • This is called the ‘Magna Carta of English education in India.’
  • Recommendations of the Wood’s Despatch:
    • Regularise education system from the primary to the university levels.
    • Indians were to be educated in English and their native language.
    • Education system was to be set up in every province.
    • Every district should have at least one government school.
    • Affiliated private schools could be granted aids.
    • Education of women should be emphasised.
    • Universities of Madras, Calcutta and Bombay were set up by 1857.
    • University of Punjab – 1882; University of Allahabad – 1887
  • This despatch asked the government to take up the responsibility of education of the people.

Hunter Commission (1882-83)

  • It was formed to evaluate the achievements of Wood Dispatch of 1854 under W.W Hunter in 1882.
  • It underlined the state’s role in the extension and improvement of primary education and secondary education.
  • It underlined the transfer of control to district and municipal boards.
  • It recommended two division of secondary education- Literary up to university; Vocational for commercial career.

Sadler Commission

  • It was formed to study on the problems Calcutta University and their recommendations were applicable to other universities also.
  • Their observations were as follows:
    • 12-year school course
    • 3-years degree after the intermediate stage
    • Centralised functioning of universities, unitary residential-teaching autonomous body.
    • Recommended extended facilities for applied scientific and technological education, teacher’s training and female education.
  • Hence, we can say the British education system were influenced by the aspiration of Christian Missionaries. It was injected to ensure a cheap supply of educated Indians to increase a number of subordinate posts in administration and in British business concern. That’s why, they emphasis on English as a medium of instruction and also to glorified British conquerors and their administration.


  • Although there were a few Englishmen who wanted to spread education for its own sake, the government was chiefly concerned only with its own concerns.
  • There was a huge demand for clerks and other administrative roles in the company’s functioning.
  • It was cheaper to get Indians rather than Englishmen from England for these jobs. This was the prime motive.
  • No doubt it spread western education among Indians, but the rate of literacy was abysmally low during British rule.
  • The state of women education was pathetic. This was because the government did not want to displease the orthodox nature of Indians and also because women could not generally be employed as clerks.
  • In 1911, the illiteracy rate in British India was 94%. In 1921, it was 92%.
  • Scientific and technical education was ignored by the British government.


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