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History Today, No.15, 2014

The Educational Policy in Colonial India:

Causes and Effects
Ankit Agarwal*

Education is the basic element for development of any

society. India has a long and prosperous tradition since the
Vedic age. During the Vedic and post-Vedic era, Indian
education was based on Shruti tradition and continued
through the temples, mathas, viharas and other religious
and social institutions. Gradually, these religious centres
were converted into educational institutions such as
Takshashila, Nalanda and other universities, which were
the backbone of education in India. During the medieval
period, these educational patterns continued along
with Islamic educational system. In the colonial period,
tralatitious education system was drastically changed. In
this paper, author has tried to give an outline about the
changes in education system during the colonial period
and the factors responsible for these changes along with
the positive and negative impacts on contemporary
society as well as the present day educational system of
the country.
First of all, we have to understand the objectives of
colonial powers in their colonies. The main objectives
were to utilize the resources of colonies for promoting the
needs and interest of their own nation. Generally, these
powers shaped and guided the educational policies and
institutions of their colonies according to the needs of the
colonizer and ignored the aspiration of the colonized.
Therefore, the policies of different colonizers had certain
common characteristics. Sometimes the same colonial

power had differing policies in different countries and

in the same country at different times. While there were
some similarities in the education policies of the African
colonies of two different colonizers British and French,
some fundamental differences were also there.1 Again,
the British policy in India in the eighteenth century was
different from that in the nineteenth or twentieth century.
In Indonesia, the Dutch had followed two different
educational policies in the first four hundred years and
thereafter in twentieth century.2
In Indian context, British were the main colonizers,
who came as a trading company to India after receiving
a Royal CharterfromQueen Elizabethin 1600. This
Company was known as English East India Company.
Formally known as Governor and Company of Merchants
of London Trading into the East Indies (16001708),
orUnited Company of Merchants of England Trading
to the East Indies (17081873), it was formed for the
exploitation of trade with East and Southeast Asia and
India. Before the Battle of Plassey (1757), the primary
interest of Company was to trade and get economic
benefits from India such as exploiting their prosperous
resources and exploring a market for her products. For
fulfilling these motives, Company did not feel any need
for promoting education and did not take any initiative to
promote the educational institutions during the first two
hundred years in India.

Research Associate, Indian Archaeological Society, New Delhi. Email:

The Educational Policy in Colonial India: Causes and Effects

During this time, traditional education system

existed in India. The ancient Indian educational system,
Gurukula continued in the colonial phase, which led to
the origin of Monitorial System. This system was very well
understood and appreciated by the officials of the East
India Company.3 Some other educational institutions such
as maktabs (part-time schools that offered basic instruction
in reading the Quran and basics of Islam) and madrasahs
(institute of comprehensive study of Islamic education),
mosques, khanqahs (Sufi centers), and private houses
were also providing education. All kinds of institutions
existed in harmony.4 Local Nawabs, political entities and
other well-to-do people considered it an act of virtue to
build educational institutions and to support teachers
and students.
After the Battle of Plassey, East India Company
emerged as a supreme political power in north India.
Gradually, British entities and English East India Company
realized the need for educational expansion in India. The
author has divided the Indian colonial education system in
five phases on the basis of the changes and effects of their
education policies to analyze the ideological conflicts,
policy decisions, effects of the pressure from Indians and
changes during these different phases.
First Phase (1758-1812 CE)
One can ponder why British took interest in the Indian
education after the Battle of Plassey. Several changes came


into the position as per the needs of the British colonizers

in the first phase. The Bengal province came under their
control with the defeat of the Nawab of Murshidabad at
Plassey in but the British set their administration only in
1772-1773 CE, beginning with a judicial system.5 After
1772-73 CE, the Company required more skilled and
educated indigenous people for lower administration and
for interpreting the religious laws.
During this phase, the English East India Company did
not show any interest directly into the promotion of the
education in India but the senior officials of the Company
personally took interest and put efforts for establishing
some new educational setups for providing a regular
supply of qualified Indians to help in the administration of
law in the courts.6 Warren Hastings established Calcutta
Madrasah in October, 1780 for the study and teaching
of Muslim law and subjects, whereas Jonathan Duncan
set up Sanskrit College at Varanasi in 1791 for the study
of Hindu Law and Philosophy.7 During this period, The
Maulavie and Pundit sit with the Judge on the Bench, and
give their opinion as to the Mahomdan or the Hindu law
in particular case.8
In the later half, several British scholars also
pressurized the Company and British entities for the
expansion of education in India. Gradually, British
entities and Company realized the need for expansion
of education in India. Behind this approach, a broader
economic, political, administrative and religious interest

Fig. 1: British interest in the expansion of education in India


of British entities and Company were hidden (Fig. 1).

During this time, the Company faced serious financial
problems due to theBengal famine of 1770 and
commercial stagnation and trade depression throughout
Europe.9 Due to financial crisis, the Company was not
able to afford the expenditure on the high salaries of
English officers. So the Company required local Indian
employees, who were able to read, write and speak
English. It was also hoped that education would provide
a positive bond between rulers and the ruled and lead to
the permanence and stability of the British Raj.
In the 18th century, Christian missionaries spread
religious education pertaining Christianity in India. But
the East India Company felt that it would encourage
adversely religious sentiments among the Indian masses
that could affect the business policy and the diplomatic
role of the East India Company. Therefore, they did
not support the missionaries for the propagation of the
religious education to the common people in India during
the period from1793 to 1812.10 Thus, missionaries and
Evangelicals (evangelical Christian) created an agitation
and opposed the Company for disrupting the teachings of
Christ and reluctance to provide education for the Indians.
Interestingly, this agitation was supported by many in
England and pressurized the Company for taking interest
in the Indian education sector.
Second Phase (1813-1853 CE)
In 1813, the Charter of the East India Company was
renewed and from here, the second phase of colonial
education started in india. Christian Religious institutions
pressurized the British Parliament so that the Company
Charter contained a clause setting aside a lakh of rupees
for education. The British Parliament insisted, in spite of
opposition from the Directors of the Company on inserting
a clause in the Charter, giving missionaries full freedom
to settle and work in India. Soon afterwards, there was a
great influx of missionaries into India.11 These missionaries
frequently opened schools, hospitals and orphanages.
Behind their generosity, the hidden reason of missionaries
was not related to any humanitarian motive but they
used education as a vehicle to westernize the indigenous
people in every aspect of human life.
During the first part (1813-1835) of this phase, two
controversies about the nature of education arose between
the British scholars and the administrators. These were:
Whether to lay emphasis on the promotion of modern
western studies or on the expansion of traditional
Indian learning?

History Today, No.15, 2014

Whether to adopt Indian languages or use English

as the medium of instruction in modern schools and
colleges to spread western learning?
On these controversies, opinions of British scholars
and administrators were divided into three groups. First
group was headed by H.T. Princep (1792-1878) who
supported the traditional Indian learning system.12 Second
group was headed by Thomas B. Macaulay (1800-1859),
he supported the Modern Western Studies system. 13
The third group was headed by Sir Thomas Munro
and Elphistonson, who supported the Modern Western
Studies in indigenous Language. These controversies got
settled in March 1835, when William Bentinck applied
Modern Western Studies system in English language on
the suggestion of his legal advisor Thomas Macaulay.14
Indicating the purpose of contemporary western education
system in India, Macaulay said that We must at present
do our best to form a class who may be interpreters
between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of
persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes,
in opinions, in morals and in intellect.15
Some scholars pushed Macaulays Minutes on Indian
Education into the background and argued instead,
that Bentinck had already made his Anglicist decision
effectively before Macaulay even arrived. Suresh Ghosh
argued that Bentinck had been steadily pursuing a policy
of gradual introduction of English education in India since
1829.16 Even before Macaulay, Bentinck had opened
subordinate positions in judicial and revenue sections of
the government to natives who were able to understand
English. It is the wish and admitted policy of the British
Government to render its own language gradually and
eventually the language of public business throughout
the country, wrote Bentinck.17 Overall, we cannot deny
or ignore the importance of Macaulay in introducing the
western education system in India.
Secondly, the East India Company had to renew its
Charter after every twenty years. While renewing the
Charter in 1833, the British Parliament increased the
sum of money from one lakh rupees in 1813 to one
million yearly to be spent on education in India. In
1844, Lord Hardinges administration announced that
all those educated in English would be preferred in office
appointments.18 Given the new importance placed upon
English training, English education began to flourish in
India through both government and private schools.19 It
made good progress in the three Presidencies of Bengal,
Bombay and Madras where the number of schools and
colleges increased. During this phase, education of girls

The Educational Policy in Colonial India: Causes and Effects

was officially sanctioned. In fact, Lord Dalhousie offered

open support of government for educating girls.
Establishment of medical and engineering colleges
was the other notable event of this phase, which marked
a beginning in professional education. Having given the
expense of training to European doctors and engineers
for service in India with their relatively high salaries, it
was imperative from the standpoint of the Company in
the respective fields that Indian subordinates perform
routine duties. To fulfil the growing need for health
professionals, Calcutta Medical College was established
by an order in February 1835 during the regime of Lord
William Bentinck, which was the first institute of western
medicine in Asia.20 With the establishment of Thomason
Civil Engineering College by Colonel Cautley in 1847
at Roorkee on the suggestion of James Thomason,
Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Provinces,
education in Engineering was introduced in India.21
During this Phase (1813-1853 CE), the colonial entity
opened a few English schools and colleges instead of a
large number of elementary schools, this led to the neglect
of the education of the masses. This policy of colonial
ruler was called Downwards Filtration Theory, which
meant coming down of education or knowledge from
the top to the bottom, i.e., from the higher class people
to the lower classes or the general people.22 This policy
was well supported by the contemporary higher officials
such as Lord Macualay. Behind this policy, Company
officials had several reasons. One of the main reasons
for supporting this policy was the need of educated
indigenous lower staff and forming a loyal Indian class
for Company under the limited expense of their money
resources. Filtration Theory fulfilled the aim of Lord
Macaulay and the directors of the Company.
Third Phase (1854 -1900 CE)
The British educational policy continued on the basis of
recommendations of Macaulay till changes were made
under Dalhousie, although it was officially abandoned
in 1854 and hence began the next phase of Colonial
education in India. The British Empire had grown to full
shape when Dalhousie came to India. Lord Dalhousie
realized the need of mass education and desired to
establish a complete class of vernacular schools to
expand throughout the whole of India, with a view to
convey instruction to the masses of the people.23 When
the time of renewal of Charter came in 1853, the directors
of the Company decided to lay down a definite policy
for education in India and made a comprehensive survey


of the entire field of education. As such, a Selection

Committee of the British Parliament was set up in order to
institute an inquiry into the measures for their reforms. The
Committee studied the issue thoroughly and reported that
the question of Indian education should not be ignored
and its development would not in any case be harmful to
the British Empire. The suggestions of the Committee were
favourably considered by the Board of Directors. As Sir
Charles Wood was the president of the Board of Control,
so the declaration was christened as Woods Educational
Despatch though it was written by the famous thinker
John Stuart Mill.24
Educational despatch of 1854 (Woods Despatch) was
a long document of 100 paragraphs which deals with the
various aspects of educational importance and holds a
unique place in the history of Indian education. Therefore,
it is often described as the Magna Carta of modern
education in India and then the third phase of Colonial
education (1854 -1900 CE) started in India. For the first
time, it clearly accepted the responsibility of the British
Government for education in India.25 It officially rejected
the filtration theory and laid stress on mass education,
female education and improvement of vernaculars,
favoured secularism in education and teachers training.
As a result of the Despatchs recommendation, the
first secondary training school for teachers in the country
was established in March, 1856 in Madras.26 Woods
Despatch also paid attention to vocational education
and encouraged Muslim education27 and presented a
comprehensive scheme of education embracing primary,
secondary and higher education. It recommended the
creation of a separate Department of Public Instruction in
five provinces and scholarships for the poor and deserving
students.Indian elite class people have shown great
urge for higher education and learning. To satisfy this
urge, three universities were set up in Calcutta (January
1857), Bombay (July 1857) and Madras (September 1857)
on the model of the University of London as affiliating
university.28 Thereafter, there was a continuous stream to
set up universities one after the other. Thus India had 21
universities at the time of Independence (Appendix I).
In 1882, the Government of India constituted a
Commission with the objective to enquire into the
manner in which effect had been given to the principles
of the Despatch of 1854 and to suggest such measures
as it may think desirable in order to the further carrying
out of the policy therein laid down.29 The Commission
was constituted by Lord Ripon under Sir W. W. Hunter,
and therefore, it is also known as Hunter Commission.


The Commission adopted the Policy of Laissez faire and

advocated the gradual withdrawal of the state from the
direct support and management of institutions of higher
Hunter Commission suggested that local bodies
(district boards and municipalities) should be entrusted
with the management of primary schools. The Commission
advised for increasing the number of High Schools and
colleges31 and emphasized that they should not only be
maintained by government but some of them should also
be run by private bodies. After the recommendations of
Hunter Commission, Punjab University was formally
constituted under the Act of 1882 and Allahabad
University under the Act of 1887.32 The number of
colleges was also increased. In 1882 the total number
of colleges were less than 75 (68 of them were regularly
affiliated) whereas during 1901-02 the number of colleges
increased to 126. 33 When the recommendations of
the Hunter Commission (1882) were implemented, a
phenomenal growth of secondary and higher education
took place and both college and secondary education
expanded enormously.
During this phase, emphasis on western education
also had some important effect on the mind-set of Indian
people. One of these effects was described by Anand K.
Coomarswamy in 1908 by a graphic description of the
Indians educated under Macaulays education system.
He said that Speak to the ordinary graduate of an Indian
University, of the ideals of the Mahabharata- he will
hasten to display his knowledge of Shakespeare: talk to
him of religious philosophy- you find that he is an atheist
of the crude type common in Europe a generation ago:
talk to him of Indian music he will produce a gramophone
or a harmonium, and inflict upon you one or both; talk to
him of Indian dress or jewellery - he will tell you that they
are uncivilized and barbaric He is indeed a stranger in
his own land.34 These words of Coomarswamy clearly
show that the colonial education policy of the third phase
was successful in forming a class of persons who were
Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, opinions,
morals and intellect.
Colonial education during this phase had also a
domino effect on the Indian Independence movement
and the mind-set of indigenous people. Due to the
emphasis on western education during this phase, Indians
could understand Western thoughts such as nationalism,
equality, independence, organization etc. and their
values. These thoughts encouraged the Independence
movement, nationalism and social political organizations

History Today, No.15, 2014

in India. During this phase, Arya Samaj was established

in 1875,35 whose founder Swami Dayanand made a
forceful plea for Indias political independence and
said that self-government is by far the best. Arya Samaj
played a very important role in spreading awareness
and education among the Indians. The Indian National
Congress was founded in1885, which also played a key
role in independence movement.36
From the closing years of the nineteenth century,
there was a growing awareness among British officials
of the political dangers of English education. Awareness
was also growing among them about the impact of English
education on emerging social-political organizations and
their growing influence among the indigenous people.
British thinkers and officials felt that most of the leaders
of these social-political fronts were educated in western
system and well aware about the western thoughts. They
also felt that familiarity with western ideas, not enough
jobs for the educated and unemployment was breeding
political discontent and sedition among the Indians.37 So
they stressed on the review of educational system in India.
Fourth phase (1901 1920 CE)
This phase of colonial education started in 1902, when
Lord Curzon tried to introduce some administrative
reforms of the university education by instituting a
University Education Commission in 1902, followed
by India University Act, 1904. Lord Curzon appointed
University Commission under Chairmanship of Thomas
Raleigh (Law member of the Viceroys Executive Council)
on 27th January, 1902. The purpose of the committee
was to enquire into the conditions and prospects of
the universities. The committees main finding was:
no change had been seen in university education
because they failed to follow the guidelines of London
University.38 In addition to this, some other findings
were with regard to defects noticed in the development
of collegiate education in India. These were lopsided
development of liberal education and the neglect of
professional education in general and technical education
in particular, uneven spread of higher education among
different communities and followers of different sections,
neglect of women education and Indian languages. The
Commission submitted its report in June 1902 and its
major recommendations were39:
The existing universities should be reorganized as
teaching bodies and enlarge their legal powers.
No new university should be set up.

The Educational Policy in Colonial India: Causes and Effects

The undergraduate work should be left to affiliated

colleges and only advanced courses should be
provided in the university campus.
The number of Senators should also be reduced and
the period of their tenure should be 5 years at the
University and college teachers, renowned scholars
and Government officials should get adequate
representation in the senate.
The territorial jurisdiction of a university should be
The number of members on the Syndicate should
be reduced to 9 and to 15 in exceptional cases. All
members should be elected.
Rules of affiliation should be strict and affiliation
should not be granted to second grade colleges. The
affiliation rules have to be framed in such a way as
to secure (a) That no institution shall be admitted to affiliation
unless on the fullest information;
(b) That no institution once admitted be allowed to
fall below the standards of efficiency required for
affiliation and the Syndicate should satisfy itself
from time to time on this point.
Every affiliated college should be under the control
of a Governing Body which should pay attention to
staff, library, hostel and buildings.
The recommendations invited severe criticism
both by press and public opinion in India. It was
considered as a step towards checking the spread and
the scope of education and virtually destroying the
limited independence of the Indian Universities. The
recommendations of the Indian Universities Commission
(1902) were incorporated in the Indian Universities Act,
1904 which limited the size of the senate, authorised
teaching by the university (hitherto they were mainly
examining bodies), periodic inspection of institutions,
speedier transaction of business, strict conditions for
affiliation and imposed more close supervision on its
work etc.40 Universities Act of 1904 was criticized by
nationalists for its tightening government control over
The Act conferred on the Universities of India a
working constitution investing them with the authority to
control and supervise higher education in accordance with
the principles and policy approved by the Government


of India. But the unfortunate result of Curzons reforms

was the exorbitant officialisation of the University
administration. It did not encourage the policy of laissez
faire. No doubt, Curzon was trying to bring education
under the control of the Government to suppress the
nationalist movement in India, but his educational policy
introduced efficiency and improvement in the quality of
education and was the basis of the educational system
for many years to come.
The educational progress received another impetus
with the initiation by G.K. Gokhale with the introduction of
a Bill to make elementary education free, compulsory for
children aged between 6 and 10 years. Gokhales efforts
had far-reaching consequences in the subsequent period.
His efforts were responsible for the creation of a separate
education department in 1910 and the strengthening of
the movement in favour of mass education.
The Calcutta University Commission was appointed
by ViceroyLord Chelmsford, the Government of India
in 1917, under the Chairmanship of M.E.S. Sadler, to
study its working. Two Indians Dr. Zia Uddin Ahmed and
Sir Asutosh Mukerji were appointed as members of this
Commission. Sir Asutosh Mukerji was the most influential
member of the Commission. It is said that most of the
recommendations of the Commission were patterned
on his views. The Commission submitted a voluminous
report in 1919, practically dealing with every problem of
Secondary and University Education, which was a great
turning point, since its recommendations were adopted
by several other universities. The Commission discussed
the main weaknesses of Higher Education in Bengal and
offered the following recommendations41:
The intermediate classes of the University were to be
transferred to Secondary Institutions and Secondary
and Intermediate Education was to be controlled
by a Board of Secondary Education and not by the
The government interference in the academic matters
should stop.
University course divided into pass course and
Honours and duration of the Degree Course should
be three years after the Intermediate stage.
The teaching resources of the city of Calcutta were to
be organised to create a real teaching university and
the project of a university at Dacca was to be carried
into effect at the earliest possible moment.
Special attention was to be paid to womens


History Today, No.15, 2014

education and a Board constituted for the purpose.

The medium of instruction for most subjects up to
High School stage was to be Vernacular but for
late stages it should be English (except in dealing
with Classical and Modern English Language).
7 new universities were opened (total 12 now) at
Banaras, Mysore, Patna, Aligarh, Dhaka, Lucknow
and Osmania.
Kashi Vidyapeeth and Jamia Milia Islamia were
During this phase, new universities, colleges and
schools were opened rapidly by the colonial entities.
Here, some questions can be raised in ones mind. First
question raised is why did Indians go to the new schools
and colleges? Primarily Indians were going to the new
educational institutions for economic self-betterment.
During the colonial period, knowledge of English
was necessary for traders and businessmen. People in
the colonies joined the new educational institutions
because this was means for entering government service
and professions such as law, medicine, teaching or
journalism.42 English education was also a means of social
mobility. Men from lower castes could raise their social
status by acquiring western education.
Second question raised in mind is who were the
Indians who availed of the new schools and colleges?
While in theory, English education was available to all,
but in reality, it was not equally diffused in all regions or
among all communities and castes. Everywhere it was
more widespread among men than women, in cities than
in villages and among the higher castes. The first impact
of English education was felt by the three Presidencies
because Britain was a sea empire and these were the first
areas to be captured. Literacy varied enormously between
provinces.43 The residents of these three Presidencies were
not equally availing the benefits of the new educational
system and institutions. The first beneficiary group of it
was the traditionally literate castes, such as the Brahmins
in Madras and Maharshtra, the Kayasthas, Baidyas and
Brahmins in Bengal or the Kayasthas and Sayeeds in
United province. Usually the higher castes stood at the
top of the education ladder and the scheduled castes
and tribes at the bottom.44 Caste was not the only scale
of education but the level of education depended on
occupation and dwelling place. In many cases, middle
class engaged in trade were more literate than others
which had a higher social ranking.45 We can say that the
distribution of education during the colonial period was
not equal.

Fifth phase (1921 1947 CE)

The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) was
established in 1921 to bring consensus on policy matters
among provincial governments, but it was not operational
till1935. During this phase, education system came under
the Indian control officially, as it became a provincial
subject administered by provincial legislature under
the provision of the Government of India Act of 1919.46
Thus, expansions started everywhere. Most of the Indian
people and parties were dissatisfied with the act of 1919.
Gradually, dissatisfaction of Indians was converted into
storm of protest and agitation against the rulers. Then,
the Britishers felt necessary to give due importance to
education in India. By responding to the dissatisfaction
of Indian people, Indias government appointed Indian
Statutory Commission on November 8, 1927, which
was commonly referred as Simon Commission.47 This
Commission was made to enquire into the working of the
administration under the Government of India Act, 1919.
The government authorised Simon Commission
to appoint a committee to help in preparing a report
on education known as Hartog Committee, under
the leadership of Sir Phillip Hartog48 to enquire into
the conditions of education in India. In 1929, Hartog
Committee submitted its report and recommended
the policy of consolidation, improvement of primary
education. In the opinion of this Committee, the
Matriculation of the University still dominated the whole
of the secondary course. In order to obviate this defect, the
Committee recommended the diversified curriculum in
the schools. The Committee also recommended diversion
of more boys to industrial and commercial careers at the
end of the middle stage, preparatory to special instruction
in technical and industrial schools and a selective system
of admission to universities (Fig. 2).
The work initiated by the Sadler Commission
was further carried on by the Hartog Committee. The
Committee was primarily concerned with primary
education but it also reviewed the problems relating
to the teachers training and the service conditions
of the secondary teachers, and made far-reaching
recommendations for teacher training as well. It rightly
observed that the success of education depended on the
quality of the training, the status and the pay of teachers.
On the basis of the recommendations of the Committee,
13 out of 18 universities setup faculties for education.
Andhra University started a new degree, the B.Ed. in
1932. Bombay launched a post-graduate degree, the
M.Ed. in 1936.49

The Educational Policy in Colonial India: Causes and Effects


Fig. 2: The main recommendations of Hartog committee

Since 1931 there had been a slump in the economic

field in India resulting into much unemployment. Much
of the unrest was primarily due to mass unemployment.
Therefore, the U.P. (United Provinces) Government
appointed a Committee, known as Sapru Committee
in 1934 to enquire about the causes of unemployment
in U.P. This committee came to the conclusion that
the system of education commonly prevalent prepared
students only for examinations and degrees and not for
any vocation in life and suggested that:50
Diversified courses at the secondary stage should
be introduced, one of these leading to the university
The intermediate stage be abolished and the
secondary stage be extended by one year;
The vocational training and education should begin
after the lower secondary stage;
The degree course at the university should extend
over a period of three years.
In 1935-36, the Central Advisory Board of Education
(CABE) was revived and it recommended the appointment
of a committee to advise the Government on certain
problems of educational reorganization and particularly

on problems of Vocational education. One of the basic

reasons for instituting this enquiry was the fact that a
large number of University graduates were not securing
employment of a kind for which their education qualified
them. So the Government of India invited two British
experts, A. Abbott51 and S. H. Wood52 for preparing a plan
on vocational education in the country. The committee
strongly believed the problem of unemployment in India
could be solved only through industrial development of
the country.
In June 1937, Abbott and Wood submitted their report
in two parts viz., Technical and General, which was based
on the experience of their visits to UP, Delhi and the
Punjab and known as the Abbot-Wood Report. On the
technical parts, the report suggested a complete hierarchy
of vocational institutions parallel general education.53 On
the general part, the report suggested about the medium
of education, which was similar to the earlier committee
reports. One important result of their recommendations
had been that a new type of technical institution called
the Polytechnic came into existence for training of middle
level technical personnel. Delhi Polytechnic (1941) which
has now been converted into an Engineering College was
the first in the chain of such polytechnics.54


In 1937, the Congress Ministry assumed responsibility

of administration in seven major Provinces of India and
concentrated their attention on educational reforms.
In October 1937, an all-India National Educational
Conference was summoned at Wardha under the
presidentship of Mahatma Gandhi and the following
resolutions were adopted:
Free and compulsory education to be provided for
seven years on a nation-wide scale.
Medium of instruction to be the mother- tongue.
Conference endorses the proposal made by Mahatma
Gandhi, in which Gandhiji proposed that the process
of education should centre around some form of
manual and productive work, and all other abilities
to be developed or training to be given should be
integrally related to the central handicraft chosen with
due regard to the environment of the child.
The conference expected that this system of education
will be gradually able to cover the remuneration of
The conference then appointed a committee, with
Dr. Zakir Hussain, Principal of Jamia Millia Islamia,
Delhi, as its chairman, to formulate a scheme of basic
education on the lines suggested by its resolutions. The
British Government had now commenced to understand
the seriousness of the situation of education in India.
On 28th January, 1938, meeting of CABE was held and
appointed a Committee under the chairmanship of the
Honble B. G. Kher, Premier and Education Minister,
Government of Bombay, to examine the scheme of
educational reconstruction incorporated in the Wardha
Scheme in the light of the Wood-Abbott Report on general
and vocational education and other relevant documents,
and to make recommendations. Dr. Zakir Hussain was
the member of this committee. This Committee submitted
its report to the Board on 3rd December, 193855 and the
scheme of education suggested by it is popularly known
as the Wardha Scheme, the main features of which are
as follows: A basic craft is to serve as the centre of instruction.
The idea is not to teach some handicraft side by side
with liberal education, but the entire education is to
be imparted through some industry or vocation.

History Today, No.15, 2014

may learn to earn his living through it in later life. It

is also considered non-violent, since an individual
does not snatch away the living of others with the
help of a machine.
Instruction is closely coordinated with the childs life,
i.e., his home and village crafts and occupations.
In the middle forties, the Government of India realized
that it could no longer be indifferent to the problem of
Indian education and there was the need of bringing
about radical reform in all aspects of Indian education.
During 1937-1944, eight meetings of CABE (Appendix II)
were held in various important centers of India and their
various recommendations were published as proceedings.
In 1943-44, as the British became hopeful of its victory
in the Second World War, it directed its attention to do
something for the Indian people in the field of education
and advised Sir John Sargent, the Educational Advisor to
the Government of India, to prepare a comprehensive
scheme for educational reform in India.
In 1944, CABE submitted a comprehensive report
on post-war educational development, popularly known
as the Sargent Report. It was a full fledged educational
plan for the future educational reconstruction in India.
For the first time in India, official attention was given
towards the pre-primary stage of education. The report of
the committee consisted of 12 different chapters covering
from pre-primary to university education. In the II nd
chapter of report, suggestions were given for this stage.56
Some of the major recommendations in this regard may
be summarised below: Provision should be made for free pre-primary
education in the form of nursery schools for the
success of National Scheme of Education.
Children from 3-6 years of age should be admitted
in these schools.
The basic aim of these schools should be to impart
social experience and education of general behaviour
rather than giving formal education.
The nursery schools may be attached to junior basic
schools in the rural areas. But in the urban areas
where there are sufficient numbers of children,
nursery schools should have separate existence.

The scheme is to be self-supporting to the extent of

covering teachers salaries and aims at making pupils
self-supporting after the completion of their course.

Sargent Report also made suggestions and certain

policy regarding primary education to university
education.57 They may be outlined below:

Manual labour is insisted on so that every individual

Universal, compulsory and free primary or basic

The Educational Policy in Colonial India: Causes and Effects

education for all children between the ages 6-11

(junior basic) and 11-14 (senior basic).
High school education for six years for selected
children between the years 11-17.
Degree course for three years beginning after the
higher secondary examination for selected students.
Technical, commercial, agricultural and art education
for full time and part time students, girls schools are
to teach domestic science.


some provinces. The aim of providing compulsory and

free education to children between 6-11 years of age was
accepted. Overall, it was the first comprehensive report
embracing all aspects of education. For the first time, this
report had drawn the attention of the Government towards
the education of the handicapped and equal educational
opportunities to all students at various stages.
Discussion and Concluding Remarks

The use of mother tongue is to be used as the medium

of instruction in all high schools.

Colonizer prepared the policies of colony according

to their needs, various conditions of the colony and
the pressure of the people of colony. We saw clearly
the impact of these factors in the different educational
policies, which were adopted by Britishers in India (Fig.
3) in different time period. For example, Britishers wanted
to form a class of faithful Indian people of western mindset. For fulfilling this need, Macualay introduced English
as a medium of instruction in India. Gradually, it was
found that knowledge of English familiarized the local
population with ideas of liberty and western thoughts
or made them potential competitors for superior jobs
reserved for Europeans. So, Britishers made attempts to
de-emphasize the use of English in India58 and Woods
Educational Despatch (1854) gave emphasis on the
development of vernacular languages.

This report was criticized by many scholars and

did not satisfy ardent educationists on several issues.
It had suggested an educational development in India
which required 40 years to be implemented. According
to the need of contemporary India, an acceptable plan
of educational development had been spread over a
much shorter time. It recommended a national pattern
of education which was completely based on the pattern
practiced in England. This pattern was not appropriate in
the social, political and economic conditions of India and
wrongly called a national scheme of education. The report
was also criticised on the ground that it was only a patchwork of the recommendations of different committees.

Macualay introduced modern western studies

system and adopted the Downwards filtration theory
in the second phase. During the third phase of Indian
colonial education system, Revolt of 1857 and origin
of Congress were the major events of the Indian history,
which changed the approach of Britishers and left definite
impact on British policies. Due to these nationalist events,
Britishers emphasized mass education and adopted the
Policy of Laissez faire. So, we say that Indian colonial
education system was not only based on Britishers, needs
and approaches but also depended on their experiences
in India and the pressure from Indian agitation and
Nationalist feelings.

Due to criticism the Government of India decided that

the scheme should be implemented within 16 years instead
of 40 years but in principle the Government accepted the
recommendations of the report and tried to implement
some of them. According to the recommendations
of the committee, an education department and
University Grants Committee was established in 1945.
The committee of polytechnic school and the All India
Technical Education Committee were set up in Delhi.
In 1946, the Provincial Governments were advised to
make five year plans for education, which were made in

In India, British Colonial education policies

were criticized on several grounds such as literacy
ratio, quantitatively inadequate, qualitative defects,
predominantly literary bias and employment opportunities
etc. During the colonial rule, the diffusion of education
was very disparate in India. Literacy varied enormously
between provinces. 59 The first impact of colonial
education was felt by the three Presidencies because
these were the first areas to be annexed by Britishers.
But this education was not equally diffused in all parts of
these presidencies or among all communities and castes.

The liquidation of adult illiteracy and the development

of public library system in about 20 years.
Full provision for the proper training of teachers.
Educational provision made for the physically and
mentally handicapped children.
Provision for social and recreational activities and
compulsory physical education.
The creation of employment bureaus.
The creation of Department of Education in the centre
and in the states.

Fig. 3: Phases of Colonial Education System in India

History Today, No.15, 2014

The Educational Policy in Colonial India: Causes and Effects

Everywhere it was more widespread among men than

women, in cities than in villages and among the higher
castes. Usually the higher castes stood at the top of the
education ladder and the scheduled castes and tribes at
the bottom.60 However, much depended on occupation
and in many cases, middle castes, engaged in trade, were
more literate than others who had a higher social ranking.
During the Colonial period, not only quantitative
inadequacy was shown but several qualitative defects
were also revealed in education system. As regards
content, there was an over-emphasis on the study of
languages and humanities. In schools there was little
provision for vocational training and in colleges, the
number of students enrolled in the humanities was far
greater than that in the sciences or professional courses. So
much time of a student was spent on mastering a foreign
language that often the main purpose of education was
defeated. Most of the students picked up only smattering
of English and a tendency towards repetition of halfunderstood sentences from this education system.61 This
encouraged memorizing and did not train a student to
think for himself. To some extent, Britishers abolished
Indian traditional research oriented education system
and established an education system, which helped
them convert Indians as a follower of western knowledge
and traditions. The side-effect of minimized research
orientation in colonial education system and somehow
continuation of that education system after independence
appears in present Indian society.
Another great drawback India inherited from colonial
times is literacy ratio. At the time of independence, literacy
in India was about 12 percent. During the colonial time,
the employment opportunities for qualified and highly
trained Indians were very few. All higher appointments
in the engineering service, railway service, irrigation
department, ordinance factories, posts and telegraphs
and in fact in all superior services were reserved for
Europeans. In the private sector, except in Bombay,
modern industries were owned by Europeans, who when
they required men with technical knowledge, always
preferred their own countrymen.


As the well-known American author Napoleon Hill

famously wrote that every negative event contains within
it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.62 Similarly, the
colonial education, which had negative effects on the
Indian education system, also had their positive effects
on India. In the initial days of British seigniory, Britishers
needed some reputed people, who were able to control
the people. So, they gave land and titles to small rulers
for making them more powerful and got their support
against the local people. These small rulers started to
send their children in U.K. for higher education, from
the money collected from land revenues. Gandhi, Nehru,
Jinnah received western thoughts and knew the value
of independence. When they came back to India, they
spread an understanding about the value of swaraaj
among general people and led the people in Indian
independence movement. Of the participants of these
movements, most of the people were well qualified
Indians, who did not get employment according to their
ability. Due to unemployment, discontent and feelings of
sedition rapidly increased among the educated Indians.
So, definitely employment opportunity which was one
of the biggest problems of Colonial India had a positive
effect on Indian National movements.
In the field of medical education, Britishers
had changed the traditional Indian system such as
ayurvedic medicines and encouraged the modern
medical education. They opened modern hospitals for the
treatment of their own countrymen, who worked in India.
In present days, both the modern medical system and the
traditional Indian medical system exist simultaneously
in India. After the pressure of Indians, Britishers also
encouraged engineering and other vocational education
in India, which was the base of present vocational
education system in India. In conclusion, we can say
that the colonial education system, which started as the
fulfillment of colonial needs, had several positive and
negative effects. After Independence, the need was to
utilize the beneficial aspects of colonial education system
and remove their negative impacts from our present
education system.

Appendix I



Foundation year



Calcutta University


January, 1857

Affiliating and teaching


Bombay University


July, 1857

Affiliating and teaching


History Today, No.15, 2014


Madras University


September, 1857

Federative, affiliating and teaching


Punjab University,





Allahabad University





Banaras Hindu University





University of Mysore



Affiliating and teaching


University of Patna



Affiliating and teaching


Osmania University





Aligarh Muslim University





Lucknow University





Dhaka University





Delhi University



Federative and teaching


Nagpur University



Affiliating and teaching


Andhra University



Affiliating and teaching


Agra University





Annamalai University

Chidambaram, Tamil




University of Travancore
(now University of Kerala)



Affiliating and teaching


Utkal University





Saugor University



Affiliating and teaching


Rajputana University (now

University of Rajasthan)




Appendix II




Main Considerations


New Delhi

28 Jan.,

Kunwar Jagdish

The Report of the Vernacular Education Committee connected with the

administration and control of Primary Education in India,
The Report of the Womens Education Committee on the curriculum of
Girls Primary Schools in India,
The Abbott-Wood Report on Vocational Education in India.


New Delhi

3rd Dec.,

Kunwar Jagdish

The Report of the Wardha Education Committee,

Another important question was the removal of illiteracy, Adult Education
and Village Libraries.

Sir Girija
Shankar Bajpai,

Action taken by Provincial Governments on the recommendations of the

Vernacular Education Committee,
Report of the Adult Education Committee,
Report of the Second Wardha Education Committee,
A draft scheme (received from Sir Francis Younghusband, the Chairman
of the Indian Village Welfare Association, Westminster) for the
establishment of a centre in India for the study of Social Service and
Public Administration.




6-7th May,

The Educational Policy in Colonial India: Causes and Effects











Jan., 1941

Jan., 1942

Sir Girija
Shankar Bajpai,

Sir Maurice


The Report of Scientific Terminology Committee,

The question of School Buildings.
Action taken by Provincial Governments on the recommendations of the
Report of Scientific Terminology Committee,
The Report of the School Building Committee,
The Uniform Braille Code Committee,
The Report of the Joint Committee of the Central Advisory Boards of
Education and Health.


Jan., 1943

Sardar Jogendra

Report of the committee on examinations in India,

Report of the committee on recruitment, training and service conditions
of teachers,
Report of the committee on the recruitment of education officers,
The Report of the committee to advise the Government of Bombay in
regard to basic education,
Question of promotion of technical and industrial education.


Oct., 1943

Sir Maurice

Memorandum prepared by the Educational Adviser to the Government

of India (lately designated as Educational Commissioner) on Post-War
Educational Development in India.

Sardar Jogendra

Reports of the Committees on Technical Education, Textbooks and

Technique of Examinations,
The question of Basic English in relation to the Indian educational
A proposal for making adequate arrangements for the study of Chinese,
Japanese and Russian languages at selected centres.


Jan., 1944


Jan., 1945

Sardar Jogendra

The reports of the Committees on (i) Training, Recruitment and Service

Conditions of Teachers in Universities, (ii) Agricultural Education and
(iii) Administration,
The Report of the Joint Committee of the Central Advisory Boards of
Education and Health.


Jan., 1946

Right Rev. G.D.


The views of the reconstituted Committee on Religious Education,


9-11th Jan.,

Shri C. Raja


The Report of the Committee on Basic English,

The Report of the Committee appointed to examine the formation of a
Secondary Schools Examination Council for India.

Notes and References

1 Khapoya, Vincent B., The African Experience:an Introduction (4th
edition), Pearson, 2010, pp. 99-134.

Basu, Aparna, Essay in the History of Indian Education, concept,

New Delhi, 1982, p. 60.

Bose, Sujatha Freeda Nesamani and L. Selvamuthu Kumarasami,

Evolution of Colonial Educational Policy In India And Madras
Presidency, Review of Research, Vol. 2, Issue. 1, October 2012,
p. 1.

Bashir, Aamir, Some Aspects of the Muslim Educational System

in Pre-Colonial India.

Kochhar, R., Muslims and English Education in Colonial Bengal:

Calcutta Madrasa and Hooghly Mohsin College in a historical
perspective, Hooghly College 175, Hooghly Mohsin College,
Hooghly, 2011, pp. 18.

Ibid, p. 22.

Ibid, pp. 22, 27.

Thomas, Alexander, Wise before the Select Committee of House

of Lords, 30 June 1853, in Lords 1853, p. 223, para 6925.

Snyder, Michael R., A Victim of Circumstance: The Timber Bill of

1772 and the East India Company, Past Imperfect, Vol. 1, 1992,
pp. 27-47.

10 Ingham,Kenneth, Reformers in India, 1793-1833: An account
of the work of Christian missionaries on behalf of social reform,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1956, P. 6.

History Today, No.15, 2014

27 Sharma, Ram Nath and Rajendra Kumar Sharma, op.cit., pp. 102103.

11 Farquhar, J.N., Modern Religious Movements in India, The

Macmillan Company, New York, 1915, p. 15.

28 Mandal, Madan Mohan, op.cit.; Sharma, K.R., Accounting

Education in South Asia, New Delhi, Concept Publishing
Company, 2004, pp. 102-103.

12 Kachru, Braj B.,The Alchemy of English. The Spread, Functions

and Models of Non-Native Englishes, Pergamon Press Ltd., Oxford,
1986, p. 35.

29 The Report of the University Education Commission, (December

1948 August 1949), Volume I, Ministry of Education, Government
of India, 1962 (First Reprint Edition), p. 17.

13 Ibid.

30 Ibid, p. 18.

14 Caton, Alissa, Indian in Colour, British in Taste: William Bentinck,

Thomas Macaulay, and the Indian Education Debate, 1834-1835,
Voces Novae: Chapman University Historical Review, Vol. 2, No.
2, Chapman University, USA, 2011, p. 39.

31 Ibid, p. 19.

15 Macaulay,Thomas Babington, Minutes Dated Feburary 2, 1835, in

H. Sharp (ed.) Bureau of Education: Selections From Educational
Records, Part I, 1781-1839, National Archives of India, Delhi,
1965, p. 107-117.

32 Ibid, pp. 17-18.

33 Ibid, p. 19.
34 Coomaraswamy, Anand K., Modern Review, Vol.4, Calcutta,
Oct.1908, p. 338;
35 Hasting, James and John A. Selbie (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion
and Ethics, Part 3, Kessinger Publishing, 2003, p. 57.

16 Ghosh, Suresh, Bentinck, Macaulay and the Introduction of English

Education in India, History of Education, Vol. 24, issue 1, 1995,
p. 17.

36 Bevir, Mark, Theosophy and the Origins of the Indian National

Congress, International Journal of Hindu Studies 7, 2003, pp. 99115.

17 Ibid, p. 22.

37 Basu, Aparna, op.cit., p. 66.

18 Sharma, Ram Nath and Rajendra Kumar Sharma, History of

Education in India, New Delhi, Atlantic Publishers & Dist,
1996, p. 86.

38 Report of the Indian Universities Commission, 1902, Shimla:

Printed at the Government Central Printing Office, 1902, p. 7.

19 Mukherjee,Sumita,Nationalism,Education and Migrant Identities:

The England-returned, Routledge, London and New York, 2010,
p. 13.
20 Centenary of Medical College, Bengal, 1835-1934, Medical college
of Bengal, Calcutta, 1935, pp. 6-7; Basu, B.D., Education in India
under Rule of the East India Company, Calcutta, Modern Review
Office, 1867, p. 136.
21 The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. 21, Oxford, Clarendon Press,
1908, p. 325; For detail- Account of Roorkee College Establishment
for the instruction of Civil Engineering, with a scheme for its
enlargement, Secundra Orphan Press, Agra, 1851, pp. 3, 5.
22 Sharma, Ram Nath and Rajendra Kumar Sharma, op.cit., p. 85.
23 Sarma, Bina Kumari, Development of Modern Education in India:
An Empirical Study of Orissa, M D Publication, New Delhi, 1996,
p. 40.
24 Sharma, Ram Nath and Rajendra Kumar Sharma, op.cit., p. 102.
25 Mandal, Madan Mohan, A Critical Note On Wood`s Educational
Despatch of 1854, Indian Streams Research Journal, Vol. 3,
Issue 9, Oct. 2013.
26 Bose, Sujatha Freeda Nesamani and L .Selvamuthu Kumarasami,
op.cit., p. 3.

39 Ibid, p. 57; The Report of the University Education Commission,

op.cit., pp. 19-20; Nurullah, Syed and J. P. Naik, A Students History
of Education in India - 1800-1947, Macmillan, Bombay, 1949, p.
40 A Collection of the Acts passed by the Governer General of India
in Council in the year 1904, Act no. VIII of 1904, Calcutta, Office
of the Superintendent of government Printing, 1905, pp. 59-82.
41 The Report of the University Education Commission, (December
1948 August 1949), Vol. I, p. 22.
42 Basu, Aparna, op.cit.
43 Census of India, 1931, Vol. I, pt. I. p. 326.
44 Ibid, p. 330.
45 Bombay Gazetteer, Vol. II, Bombay, 1877, P. 526; Vol. IV,
Ahmedabad, 1879, pp. 34-35.
46 Mitra, H. N. (ed.), The Govt. of India Act 1919 Rules Thereunder
& Govt. Reports, 1920, Annual Register Office, Calcutta, 1921,
pp. 125-126, 130-132.
47 The Indian Statutory Commission was a group of seven
BritishParliamentary Members ofUnited Kingdomthat had been
dispatched toIndiain 1928 to study constitutional reform in
Britains most important colonial dependency. Member of the
Commission were Sir John Simon, Clement Attlee, Harry LevyLawson, Edward Cadogan, Vernon Hartshorn, George Lane-Fox
and Donald Howard.

The Educational Policy in Colonial India: Causes and Effects


48 Sir Phillip Hartog had served as a member of the Sadler

Commission. He had also been a Vice-Chancellor of the Dacca
University in 1921. Since he was the chairman of the Committee,
the Committee was known as Hartog Committee.

55 Bureau of Education, pamphlet no. 6; Sargent, John, Progress of

Education in India, 1937-1947, Vol. I, p. 220-221.

49 Mohanty, Jagannath, Teacher Education, Deep & Deep Publication,

New Delhi, 2007 (First Published 2003), p. 10.

57 Ibid, pp. 231-237.

50 Report of the Secondary Education Commission, October 1952

To June 1953, Ministry of Education, Government of India, p. 12.

56 Sargent, John, op.cit., p. 232.

58 Zvobgo, R., Racism and Education in Southern Rhodesia (18801965), Unpublished M. Phil. Dissertation, J.N.U., 1977, p. 145.
59 Census of India, 1931, Vol. I, pt. I, p. 326.

51 Former Chief Inspector of Technical Schools, Board of Education

in England.

60 Ibid, p. 330.

52 Director of Intelligence, Board of Education in England.

61 Basu, Aparna, op.cit., pp. 65-66.

53 Report of the Secondary Education Commission, op.cit., p. 13.

62 Hill, Napoleon, Think and Grow Rich, 1937.

54 Rao, V.K., Higher Education, in Encyclopaedia of Educational

Development, Vol. IV, APH Publishing Corporation, New Delhi,
2008, pp.180-81.