UPSC History Arts and Cultural Movements NCERT Extracts - Civilizing the "Native", Educating the Nation

NCERT Extracts - Civilizing the "Native", Educating the Nation

Category : UPSC

 The Tradition of Orientalism


  • In 1783, a person named William Jones arrived in Calcutta. He had an appointment as a junior judge at the Supreme Court that the Company had set up.
  • In addition to being an expert in law, Jones was a linguist.
  • Englishmen like Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel Halhed were also busy discovering the ancient Indian heritage, mastering Indian languages and translating Sanskrit and Persian works into English.
  • Together with them, Jones set up the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and started a journal called Asiatick Researches.
  • Jones and Colebrooke came to represent a particular attitude towards India. They shared a deep respect for ancient cultures, both of India and the West.
  • In order to understand India it was necessary to discover the sacred and legal texts that were produced in the ancient period.
  • So Jones and Colebrooke went about discovering ancient texts, understanding their meaning, translating them, and making their findings known to others.
  • Influenced by such ideas, many Company officials argued that the British ought to promote Indian rather than Western learning. They felt that institutions should be set up to encourage the study of ancient Indian texts and teach Sanskrit and Persian literature and poetry.
  • With this object in view a madrasa was set up in Calcutta in 1781 to promote the study of Arabic, Persian and Islamic law; and the Hindu College was established in Benaras in 1791 to encourage the study of ancient Sanskrit texts that would be useful for the administration of the country.
  • Not all officials shared these views. Many were very strong in their criticism of the Orientalists.


"Grave errors of the East"


  • They said that knowledge of the East was full of errors and unscientific thought; Eastern literature was non-serious and light-hearted.
  • James Mill was one of those who attacked the Orientalists.
  • By the 1830s the attack on the Orientalists became sharper. One of the most outspoken and influential of such critics of the time was Thomas Babington Macaulay.
  • He saw India as an uncivilised country that needed to be civilised. No branch of Eastern knowledge, according to him could be compared to what England had produced.
  • Who could deny, declared Macualay, that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”.
  • With great energy and passion, Macaulay emphasised the need to teach the English language.
  • Following Macaulay's minute, the English Education Act of 1835 was introduced. Education for commerce
  • In 1854, the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London sent an educational despatch to the Governor-General in India.
  • Issued by Charles Wood, it has come to be known as Wood’s Despatch.
  • European learning, it said, would enable Indians to recognise the advantages that flow from the expansion of trade and commerce, and make them see the importance of developing the resources of the country.
  • Wood's Despatch also argued that European learning would improve the moral character of Indians. It would make them truthful and honest, and thus supply the Company with civil servants who could be trusted and depended upon.
  • Following the 1854 Despatch, several measures were introduced by the British. Attempts were also made to bring about changes within the system of school education.


What Happened to the Local Schools?

The report of William Adam

  • In the 1830s, William Adam, a Scottish missionary, toured the districts of Bengal and Bihar. He had been asked by the Company to report on the progress of education in vernacular schools. The report Adam produced is interesting.
  • Adam found that there were over 1 lakh pathshalas in Bengal and Bihar. These were small institutions with no more than 20 students each. But the total number of children being taught in these pathshalas was considerable - over 20 lakh.
  • The system of education was flexible. Few things that you associate with schools today were present in the pathshalas at the time.
  • In some places classes were held under a banyan tree, in other places in the comer of a village shop or temple, or at the guru's home.
  • Fee depended on the income of parents: the rich had to pay more than the poor.
  • Teaching was oral, and the guru decided what to teach, in accordance with the needs of the students. students were not separated out into different classes: all of them sat together in one place. The guru interacted separately with groups of children with different levels of learning.
  • Adam discovered that this flexible system was suited to local needs. For instance, classes were not held during harvest time when rural children often worked in the fields. The pathshala started once again when the crops had been cut and stored. This meant that even children of peasant families could study.

 New routines, new rules

  • Up to the mid-nineteenth century, the Company was concerned primarily with higher education. So it allowed the local pathshalas to function without much interference education.
  • It felt that this could be done by introducing order within the system, imposing routines, establishing rules, ensuring regular inspections.
  • The discipline of the new system demanded regular attendance, even during harvest time when children of poor families had to work in the fields. Inability to attend school came to be seen as indiscipline, as evidence of the lack of desire to learn.

The Agenda for a National Education


  • From the early nineteenth century many thinkers from different parts of India began to talk of the need for a wider spread of education.
  • There were other Indians, however, who reacted against Western education. Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore were two such individuals.


"English education has enslaved us"

  • Mahatma Gandhi argued that colonial education created a sense of inferiority in the minds of Indians. It made them see Western civilisation as superior, and destroyed the pride they had in their own culture.
  • There was poison in this education, said Mahatma Gandhi, it was sinful, it enslaved Indians, it cast an evil spell on them.
  • Charmed by the West, appreciating everything that came from the West, Indians educated in these institutions began admiring British rule.
  • Mahatma Gandhi wanted an education that could help Indians recover their sense of dignity and self-respect.
  • Mahatma Gandhi strongly felt that Indian languages ought to be the medium of teaching.
  • Education in English crippled Indians, distanced them from their own social surroundings, and made them "strangers in their own lands”.
  • Western education, Mahatma Gandhi said, focused on reading and writing rather than oral knowledge; it valued textbooks rather than lived experience and practical knowledge.
  • He argued that education ought to develop a person's mind and soul.
  • Literacy - or simply learning to read and write - by itself did not count as education.
  • People had to work with their hands, learn a craft, and know how different things operated. This would develop their mind and their capacity to understand.


"Literacy in itself is not education”

  • Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in child and man - body, mind and spirit. Literacy is not the end of education nor even the beginning. It is only one of the means whereby man and woman can be educated. Literacy in itself is not education. I would therefore begin the child's education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to produce from die moment it begins its training.


Tagore's “abode of peace"

  • Many of you may have heard of Santmiketan. Rabindranath Tagore started the institution in 1901. As a child, Tagore hated going to school. He found it suffocating and oppressive.
  • On growing up, he wanted to set up a school where the child was happy, where she could be free and creative, where she was able to explore her own thoughts and desires.
  • Tagore felt that childhood ought to be a time of self-learning, outside the rigid and restricting discipline of the schooling system set up by the British.
  • Teachers had to be imaginative, understand the child, and help the child develop her curiosity. According to Tagore, the existing schools killed the natural desire of the child to be creative, her sense of wonder.
  • Tagore was of the view that creative learning could be encouraged only within a natural environment. So he chose to set up his school 100 kilometres away from Calcutta, in a rural setting.
  • He saw it as an abode of peace (santiniketan), where living in harmony with nature, children could cultivate their natural creativity.
  • In many senses Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi thought about education in similar ways. There were, however, differences too.
  • Gandhiji was highly critical of Western civilisation and its worship of machines and technology.
  • Tagore wanted to combine elements of modem Western civilisation with what he saw as the best within Indian tradition.
  • He emphasised the need to teach science and technology at Santiniketan, along with art, music and dance.

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