The present day higher and formal education in our country is based on the system introduced by the British rulers in the last century. It is well known that, in introducing this system of education in India, the main objective of the Britishers was to prepare and train personnel to help in the administrative system they had evolved to rule India. Still, if today the impression persists in some of our countrymen that formal, organized and higher education is one of the 'advantages' arising out of the colonial rule, it is only due to our ignorance of the various social institutions and practices of the pre-colonial period. It is often stated that all we had earlier was an unorganized "Gurukula" type of education which was restricted to a privileged minority constituting the upper castes, and whose purpose was merely to impart instruction in the Vedic lore. To show how unfounded such a belief is, we present here some data on our indigenous education in early 19th century which has been collected by Dharampal. 1
In table I is presented data on schools and colleges in the various collectorates of South India, which is gleaned from the reports made by the various collectors to the Board of Revenue sometime around 1825. It should be noted that the terms ‘schools’ and ‘colleges’ were employed (of course with the prefix 'native’ added) by the collectors themselves, in order to describe these institutions. In one report made by F. W. Robert¬son, the collector of Rajahmandry (Rep. dated 19th Sept. 1823; vide MRO: LQP vol 963, prs. 2-10-1823, pp. 8520—23, Nos. 29—30), it is stated that the school education started at the age of 5 and the period of study ranged from 5 to 7 years. Already in 1825, our local fiscal system had been so thoroughly distorted that Robertson could not find any of these schools being supported by public funds. The scholar had to pay a monthly fee which varied from 2 Annas in some places to as 'high' a fee as one Rupee. On the other hand, the colleges, which were mostly one-man institutions of higher learning in Theology, Law, Astronomy etc., were run on public allowances either in land or in money and even otherwise, the scholars were always taught 'free of any fee or reward '.
We are grateful to Sri Dharampalji for making this data available to us. We understand that he is writing a book on the indigenous education system, which will be published by Impex India, New Delhi. We have no doubt that this is also going to be an important contribution to the study of precolonial Indian society as his earlier book “Indian Science and Technology in the 18th century” (Impex India, 1971).
Though it is clear from the table that there was a wide network of schools and colleges all over South India, it might appear that the overall school-going population is not particularly high. For example, in the 1,200 villages comprising the zillah of Rajahmandry, where the total population was estimated to be 7,38,308, there were only 391schools with the total number of students being 2658. However, it must be noticed that in the same zillah there were 279 colleges with as many as 1454 scholars. This seems to suggest that the 'schools' that have been catalogued are only those institutions where scholars who wanted to go for formal, higher education were trained. In any case, the figures that have been given should not be taken as any kind of an estimate of the extent of literacy -in the population. It should be remembered that traditionally training in the practice of various crafts was acquired in the process of apprenticeship and hence never formed a part of the formal school education network.
One of the most important features of table I is that it gives the distribution of students in terms of caste and sex—and here we let the data speak for themselves on the various hypotheses that have been made on the education pattern in India before the Britishers brought in their 'Universal' education.
In the light of this data we do not know what to make of the sweeping generalizations that have often' been made on the state of education in eighteenth and early nineteenth century India. For example, here is an extract from 'A Concise History of Science in India' (INSA, New Delhi 1971) compiled by the National Commission for the History of Sciences in India :
"Education in India in the early part of the nineteenth century was neither widespread nor designed towards the promotion of science as well as technical arts and crafts. A few centers of learning then functioning in Bengal, Bombay and Madras were largely concerned with traditional learning and narrow scholasticism. In the first two decades of the century a number of missionary schools sprang up, in and near Calcutta, as well as in the presidencies of Bombay and Madras. The distressing fact was that all those institutions, besides being ill-equipped, did not attempt to enthuse the young minds to develop a rational spirit beyond the confines of the traditional ideas". (B.V. Subbarayappa, "Western Science in India" in loc. cit. pp. 541-542).
In table II we give the list of textbooks as were in use in the schools and colleges of Rajahmandry, which was appended by Robertson to his report. This important document gives an idea of the variety of subjects that were taught in these institutions. About the school education, Robertson states that "the scholar is barely taught so much' of the Vedam as will enable him to perform the usual ceremonies of his religion." As regards the 279 colleges in Rajahmandry, the following are the details of the various specializations.
|Specialization||No. of Colleges||No. of Scholars|
|Sastrams (Grammar, Logic, Law etc.)||76||358|
The overall picture that emerges from all this is that of a broad - based educational system that has often been claimed to be the ideal discovered by Europe in its modern phase.
In the end we should emphasise that all this data describe the situation as it was in South India after nearly 70 years of colonial rule which divested most of ,our local institutions of their financial support and state assistance. It may be appropriate to quote here a passage from Robertson's report.
"In those villages under my immediate management where there are no schools, I have found the inhabitants very willing to have such established among them, but some assistance from government will be necessary to get things going, say a monthly allowance of Rs. 2/- to each teacher, the scholar to make up the remainder. I shall be prepared to address your Board fully upon the subject should this proposal meet your approval."
Robertson did not have to wait long for the East India Company to make its policy on indigenous education more explicit. In 1823 the General Committee of Public Instruction was set up by the Company. In his report, (Feb. 1835), as President of the Committee, Macaulay stated:
"I think it is clear that we are not fettered by pledge expressed or implied 3; that we are free to employ our funds as we choose; that we ought to employ them in teaching what is best worth knowing; that English is better worth Knowing than Sanskrit or Arabic; that the natives are desirous to be taught English4 and are not desirous to be taught Sans¬krit or Arabic; that neither as the languages of Jaw nor as the languages of religion have Sanskrit and Arabic any peculiar claim to our encourage¬ment; that it is possible to make the natives of this country thoroughly good English scholars and to this end our efforts ought to be directed" (pp. 546 of 'A Concise History of Science in India')
—May we add that our efforts are continuing to be directed to the same end— Long live Macaulay!