Development of Education under East India Company Rule

Arora IAS Class Notes


Early Company Rule (1757-1813):

  • Limited Company Role:Little focus on education for the first 60 years.
  • Individual Efforts:
    • Warren Hastings (1781): Calcutta Madrasah (Muslim law).
    • Jonathan Duncan (1791): Sanskrit College (Hindu law and philosophy).
    • Richard Wellesley (1800): Fort William College (training for company officials – closed 1802).
  • Motives:
    • Assisting legal administration.
    • Understanding Indian languages and customs.


Shifting Pressures (Late 18th Century onwards):

  • Enlightened Indians and Missionaries:Advocated for modern, Western education.
  • Goals:
    • Social, economic, and political improvement.
    • Religious conversion (missionaries).
  • Serampore Missionaries:Particularly active in promoting education.


Orientalist vs. Anglicist Debate (Early 19th Century)

  • General Committee on Public Instruction:
    • Orientalists:Promote traditional Indian learning alongside Western subjects.
    • Anglicists:Focus solely on modern Western education for practical benefits.
  • Disagreements:
    • Use of English vs. Indian languages as medium of instruction.


Macaulay’s Minute (1835):

  • Favored Anglicists’ view.
  • Advocated for English medium and Western sciences/literature.
  • Believed European knowledge superior (true for some contemporary science and social sciences).

Impact of Macaulay’s Minute:

  • English became medium of instruction in government schools and colleges.
  • Focus on a few English-medium institutions over mass education.
  • Creation of a class “Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes” to serve as intermediaries.
  • “Downward Filtration Theory”: Modern ideas would gradually reach the masses through these elites (partially successful, but not as intended).


Efforts for Vernacular Education:

  • James Thomson (1843-1853):Promoted village schools using vernacular languages.
  • Wood’s Despatch (1854):“Magna Carta of English Education in India”
    • Government responsibility for mass education (repudiating downward filtration theory).
    • Educational hierarchy: village schools -> Anglo-Vernacular high schools -> colleges -> universities.
    • English for higher studies, vernaculars at school level.
    • Emphasis on female and vocational education, teacher training.
    • Secular education in government institutions.
    • Grant-in-aid system for private institutions.


Developments after Wood’s Despatch:

  • Establishment of universities in Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras (1857).
  • Education departments in all provinces.
  • Bethune School (1849): First major initiative for girls’ education.
  • Growth of private Indian educational efforts alongside missionary institutions.
  • Westernization of education system with European leadership for several decades.


After the Crown Takeover (1858 onwards):

Hunter Commission (1882-1883):

  • Focus on neglected primary and secondary education.
  • Recommendations:
    • Emphasize state support for expanding and improving primary education.
    • Use vernacular languages for primary education.
    • Transfer control of primary education to district and municipal boards.
    • Create two divisions in secondary education:
      • Literary (university preparation)
      • Vocational (commercial careers)
    • Address inadequate facilities for female education.


  • Rapid growth of secondary and collegiate education with increased Indian participation.
  • Establishment of more teaching universities (e.g., Punjab University, Allahabad University).


Indian Universities Act (1904):

  • Context: Early 20th century political unrest.
  • Government concerns:
    • Declining quality of education under private management.
    • Educational institutions breeding “political revolutionaries.”
  • Raleigh Commission (1902): Investigated universities (excluding primary/secondary education).
  • Indian Universities Act provisions:
    • Increased government control over universities:
      • Appointing fellows.
      • Vetoing/amending university regulations.
      • Stricter affiliation conditions for private colleges.
    • Five lakh rupees annually for improving higher education (for five years).
  • Government justification: Improve quality and efficiency.
  • Nationalist view: Suppress education and control educated population.


Government Resolution on Education Policy (1913):

  • Compulsory primary education: A debated issue.
  • Gokhale’s Resolution (1910): Advocated for compulsory primary education in qualified areas.
  • Government response: Established central education department but rejected compulsory education.
  • Government Resolution (1913):
    • Reasserted government’s refusal of compulsory education.
    • Focused on reducing illiteracy and encouraging free elementary education for poorer sections.
    • Promoted private efforts in education.
    • Aimed to improve quality of secondary schools.
    • Planned a university in each province.
    • Emphasized practical curriculum and fewer exams for girls’ education.
    • Advocated for more women teachers and inspectors.

Sadler University Commission (1917-1919):

  • Focus: Improvement of Calcutta University (recommendations applied to others).
  • Reviewed school to university education.
  • Emphasized improved secondary education for better university education.
  • Recommendations:
    • 12-year school course with intermediate stage before university.
      • Purpose: Prepare students, reduce under-qualified students in universities, offer collegiate education beyond university prep.
    • Separate board for secondary and intermediate education.
    • More flexible university regulations.
    • Universities as centralized, residential teaching bodies (instead of scattered colleges).
    • Expansion of female education, applied science/technology education, teacher training.


  • Significant influence on education development in following decades.
  • Seven new universities established (1916-1921).
  • Rise of teaching and residential universities.
  • Introduction of honors courses leading to increased academic activity.
  • Growth in Indian language studies and facilities for research.
  • Creation of professor positions and improved university administration.
  • Establishment of Academic Councils for curriculum, exams, and research.
  • 1925: Inter-University Board for coordination among universities.
  • Increased focus on student welfare (boards established).
  • Criticisms: Recommendations seen as too advanced for the time.

Education Under Dyarchy (1919 onwards):

  • Education transferred to provincial ministries under Montagu-Chelmsford reforms.
  • Reduced government involvement and financial grants.
  • Limited educational expansion despite financial difficulties.
  • Reliance on philanthropic efforts to support education.


Hartog Committee Report (1929)


  • Established by Simon Commission to assess educational decline due to rapid expansion.

Findings and Recommendations:

Primary Education:

  • Issues:
    • Wastage (children leaving school before becoming literate).
    • Stagnation (repeating grades).
    • Poor quality teachers (often single teacher schools, lack of women teachers).
    • Short-lived schools.
    • Inadequate inspection.
  • Recommendations:
    • Government control and inspection of primary schools.
    • Four-year primary education.
    • Curriculums and schedules adapted to local contexts and needs (practical subjects).
    • Teacher training programs and refresher courses.
    • Increased and improved school inspection.
    • Primary schools as community centers (adult education, healthcare, recreation).

Secondary Education:

  • Issues:
    • Excessive focus on exams.
    • High failure rates in matriculation exam.
  • Recommendations:
    • More diversified curriculum with elective courses based on student aptitude.
    • Inclusion of industrial and commercial subjects.

Higher Education:

  • Issues:
    • Low standards.
    • Overcrowded universities.
    • Poorly equipped libraries.
  • Recommendations:
    • Establish affiliated universities alongside existing unitary and residential universities.
    • Improve university libraries.
    • Introduce honors courses.
    • Select students based on abilities and aptitudes.
    • Develop well-rounded, critical-thinking individuals.

Women’s Education:

  • Recommendations:
    • Equal emphasis on education for boys and girls.
    • More primary schools for girls.
    • Secondary school curriculum to include hygiene, home science, and music.
    • Focus on training women teachers.


  • Improved quality of primary education (to some extent, quantitative expansion suffered).
  • Improved secondary education.
  • Increase in affiliated colleges.


Sargent Plan of Education (1944)

  • Author:Sir John Sargent, Educational Advisor to Government of India
  • Purpose:Develop a long-term plan for educational reconstruction after WWII.
  • Goal:Achieve universal literacy in India within 40 years.


  • Pre-primary Education (ages 3-6):
    • Free and focused on social experience.
    • Women teachers with proper training.
  • Primary Education (ages 6-14):
    • Universal, compulsory, and free.
    • Two stages: Junior Basic (6-11) and Senior Basic (11-14).
    • “Learning through activity” approach.
    • Emphasis on practical skills and local crafts.
    • Senior Basic to include physical training and organized games.
  • Secondary Education (ages 11+):
    • Selective (based on ability and aptitude for higher studies).
    • Six-year duration.
    • Fees with scholarships and financial aid options.
    • Two streams: Academic and Technical/Vocational.
      • Academic: Arts and pure sciences.
      • Technical/Vocational: Applied sciences, industrial/commercial subjects.
    • Mother tongue as medium of instruction.
    • English as a compulsory second language.
    • Art, music, and domestic science (for girls) included in curriculum.
    • No leaving school before age 14.
  • University Education:
    • Three-year degree course after higher secondary exam (abolish intermediate course).
    • Improved standards and stricter admission procedures.
    • Financial assistance for poor students.
    • Emphasis on competent teachers, improved service conditions.
    • High standards in postgraduate studies and research.
    • All-India organization to coordinate universities (similar to UK’s University Grants Committee).

Additional Recommendations:

  • Adult literacy programs (within 20 years).
  • Comprehensive adult education (general & vocational).
  • Medical checkups for students.
  • Special education for disabled children.
  • Employment bureaus.


  • Long timeframe for achieving universal primary education (40 years).
  • Exorbitant implementation costs.
  • Unrealistic expectations of replicating English education levels in India.
  • Considered impractical and unsuitable for Indian context.

Wardha Scheme of Basic Education (1937)

  • Origin:All India Education Conference organized by Congress (1937).
  • Formulated by:Zakir Hussain Committee.
  • Philosophy:“Learning through activity” based on Gandhi’s ideas.
  • Criticisms of Existing System:
    • Created a gap between educated elite and masses.
    • Rendered educated elite ineffective.
  • Scheme Proposals:
    • Free and compulsory education for ages 7-14.
    • Inclusion of a basic handicraft (spinning, weaving, carpentry, etc.) in curriculum.
    • Mother tongue as medium of instruction (Hindi in non-Hindi speaking areas).
    • Establishing connections with local communities through service projects.
    • Integrating social and scientific aspects of chosen crafts.
    • Curriculum including mathematics, science, social studies, arts, music, and physical education.
    • Exclusion of religious and moral education.
  • Goals:
    • Foster a child-centered and cooperative learning environment.
    • Create a self-reliant and non-violent society through education.
  • Impact:
    • Limited development due to WWII and resignation of Congress ministries (1939).


Development of Vernacular Education (1800s-1930s)

  • Early 19th Century:
    • Poor state of vernacular education, reliant on wealthy patrons.
    • 1835-1838: William Adam’s reports exposed flaws in Bengal and Bihar systems.
  • 1843-1853:James Jonathan’s initiatives in North-West Provinces:
    • Model government schools in each tehsildari.
    • Normal schools for vernacular teacher training.
  • 1853:Lord Dalhousie advocated strongly for vernacular education.
  • 1854:Wood’s Despatch provisions for vernacular education:
    • Improved standards.
    • Government supervision.
    • Normal schools for teacher training.
    • Led to increased focus on vernacular education (1854-1871).
      • Five-fold increase in vernacular schools.
    • 1882:Hunter Commission emphasized state efforts for vernacular education.
      • Mass education through vernacular languages.
    • 1904:Education policy prioritizes vernacular education with increased funding.
    • 1929:Hartog Committee report highlighted issues in primary education.
    • 1937:Congress ministries supported vernacular schools.

Development of Technical Education (1800s)

  • Engineering Colleges:
    • 1847: Roorkee Engineering College established.
    • 1856: Calcutta College of Engineering founded.
  • 1858:Poona Overseers’ School upgraded to Poona College of Engineering (affiliated with Bombay University).
  • Medical Training:
    • 1835: Medical college established in Calcutta.
  • Lord Curzon’s Contributions:
    • Expanded professional courses: medicine, agriculture, engineering, veterinary science.
    • Established agriculture college at Pusa (parent institution for others).


Evaluation of British Educational Policy in India

Motives Behind British Education Measures:

  • Not purely philanthropic.
  • Influenced by:
    • Demands for modern education (enlightened Indians, missionaries, officials).
    • Need for cheap, educated Indian labor (administration, businesses).
    • Hope to expand British market in India.
    • Expectation of creating loyalty to British rule.

Impact on Indian Education System:

  • Decline of traditional learning due to lack of support, especially after English became mandatory for government jobs (1844).
  • Neglect of mass education, leading to high illiteracy rates (84% in 1911, 92% in 1921).
  • Educational elitism – focus on upper classes and urban areas due to costs.
  • Neglect of women’s education due to fear of angering conservatives and lack of perceived benefit for colonial rule.
  • Limited scientific and technical education – only 3 medical colleges and 1 engineering college (for Europeans/Eurasians) by 1857.





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