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Point out the salient features of the indigenous education system prevalent in India before the British rule.

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Question – Point out the salient features of the indigenous education system prevalent in India before the British rule. Also, briefly explain the various factors responsible for the introduction of modern western education in India by the British Government. 26 March 2022

AnswerBefore the British colonial rule, India had a famous indigenous education system. These included a well-distributed gurukul and pathshalas to promote the education of the Hindus, and a system of madrassas for the Muslim community.

The system of education in Pre-British times

  • Bengal and Bihar alone had more than 1 lakh Pathshalas. These were small institutions with no more than 20 students each. But it is estimated that the total number of children being taught in these schools was more than 20 lakhs. These institutions were established by a teacher (guru), and were patronized and financed by wealthy people, or the local community.
  • In this indigenous education system, instead of the study of science and technology, more emphasis was placed on the scholarship of languages.
  • The indigenous education system was flexible enough. There was no fixed fee, no printed text books, no separate school building, no bench or chair, no blackboard, no separate classrooms, no roll call register, there were no annual exams, and no regular schedule. There was a complete absence of any modern symbols of the education system.
  • The reason for the absence of a uniform education fee system was that it depended on the income of the parents – rich students had to pay more for education than the poor.
  • The learning in this system was verbal, and in the absence of a well-defined curriculum, it was decided by the guru (teacher) what to teach according to the needs of the students.
  • There was no class division of the students: they all sat together in the same place. The mentor interacted individually with groups of children with different levels of learning.

The British East India Company which gained control of the area and became the political master did not intervene in the educational sector until 1813. The East India Company limited itself to trade. After 1813, with the support of a limited number of Indians, the British colonial rulers introduced the western system of education in India.

The various factors that played an important role in the introduction of modern western education in India by the colonial government were:

  • The most important reason was the government’s concern for reducing the cost of administration by obtaining a cheap supply of educated Indians for the large and growing number of subordinate positions in the administration and British commercial concerns. This was necessary, as the geographical spread of British rule and the constant influx of Europeans made the administration unstable, and impractical.
  • The British colonial government believed that educated Indians would help expand the market for British-made products in India. English as a form of modern education will help introduce Indians to the values and cultures of Britain.
  • Christian missionaries also played an important role and were the first to introduce western modern education in India. He believed that modern knowledge would be the best remedy for the social, economic and political ills of the country. He also hoped that modern education would destroy people’s faith in their own religions and lead them to embrace Christianity.
  • East India Company’s perpetual prime motive was trading and profit-making. 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”. Education, and modem ideas were supposed to filter or radicate downwards from the upper classes.

Various policies taken by the British colonial government in support of Western modern education were:

  • The British Parliament in the Charter of 1813 allowed the Governor-General-in-Council to give one lakh rupees for education and Christian missionaries to spread their religious ideas in India. This was the first instance where the British East India Company accepted the promotion of education in India.
  • The Christian missionaries propounded the theory of ‘White Man’s Burden’ and considered it their divine duty to educate and liberate the masses from orthodoxy.
  • Macaulay’s minutes mentions Lord Macaulay’s proposals for education for Indians. He considered Eastern education to be inferior to European education. He considered European knowledge in the physical and social sciences to be superior to existing Indian knowledge, which, though advanced at one time, had stagnated for a very long time and lost touch with reality.
  • Wood’s Despatch is also known as ‘Magna Carta of English education in India.’ It rejected the downward filtration theory approach of Lord Macaulay.

Recommendations of the Wood’s Despatch were:

  • Regularise the 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.

Education Commission in British India:

  • Charles Wood’s Dispatch(1854), Lord Dalhousie
  • Hunter Commission (1882), Lord Ripon
  • Rall Commission (1902), Lord Curzon
  • Sadler Commission(1917), Lord Chelmsford
  • Inchcap Commission(1923), Lord Reading
  • Hertog Committee (Elementary Education), 1929, Lord Irwin
  • Lindsay Commission (Adult Education), 1929, Lord Irwin
  • Sergeant Commission(1944), Lord Wavell

In this way, the traditional education system and educational institutions of India, which suffered a tremendous setback after the fall of the Mughal Empire, and due to political instability in the country, continuously used the education environment under British rule for their own benefit.

The British government wanted to use modern education to strengthen the foundation of their political authority in the country by highlighting the superiority of their culture and by creating a class of Anglicist Indians but eventually, with the passage of time modern Indians used the tool of education to question the legitimacy and validity of their rule in India.

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