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Indian education: How India made Britain more literate

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Image soucre: anglotopia.net

 

by Aravindan Neelakandan

“It wasn’t India which improved its schooling system by imitating Britain’s. Rather, it was the other way round.”

New Delhi: Every Indian learns at some point about how India was educated by the British and how that brought about a cultural renaissance to a degenerated and stagnant India. This had allowed Europe in general and Britain in particular to assume the role of civilizing the heathen world. How true is this grand narrative of the civilizing mission of the British?

Linked to this, Indian students also learn how two centuries prior to the colonization of India, Europe had undergone a renaissance and Lutheran reformation.

The missing links

England also fared no better in the treatment of its labour population which was mostly hereditary. Illiteracy of labourers was intentional, justified with religious reasons. In 1807, in the House of Commons, a British scientist Davies Gilbert vehemently opposed attempts to school the masses claiming that the education for the labouring classes.

Education – as a tool for social control
Even those who supported education for the peasant labourer community considered it as a means of social control than any means of social emancipation of the toiling masses.

Often, education was taken up by churches and bundled with Sunday Bible classes. As such, the educational standards were abysmally low.

The teachers were chosen not for their expertise in the subjects they taught but how well they had “a thorough knowledge of the saving powers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.

The trends continued well into the nineteenth century and the malaise also affected the colonies. However, by the first quarter of the 19th century, there was another wave building up from London and its suburbs. And their origins were from the coasts of India.

Re-discovery of the ‘Beautiful Tree’

The remark by Gandhi at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, on 20 October 193, about the more literate India is today well-known thanks to the pioneering work done by Dharampal. The metaphor of ‘beautiful tree’ for the Indic educational system has become famous at least among the Indophiles. Sir Philip Hartog, the vice-chancellor of Dhaka University joined issue with Gandhi.

He commenced a correspondence with him, spanning almost a decade. Hartog was invited to give a series of lectures at the University of London in order to allay the rising feeling among Indians that the British systematically destroyed the indigenous education. His lectures were promptly published as a book.

Reports after reports that the East India Company had made in the early nineteenth century in an exhaustive survey of indigenous education system commissioned by Col T Munroe revealed a far decentralized, more egalitarian system of education than the one existing in contemporary England.

When Dharampal wished to publish his work the only person who was ready to do it was a Hindu nationalist historian and a publisher, Sitaram Goel. Dharampal’s book ‘The Beautiful Tree’ contains an 1823 report by Ballari district collector. The collector mentions a curious fact:

“The economy with which children are taught to write in the native schools, and the system by which the more advanced scholars are caused to teach the less advanced and at the same time to confirm their own knowledge is certainly admirable, and well deserved the imitation it has received in England.”

This is the British acknowledgement of Indian system being imitated in Britain. With respect to how the saplings of ‘the beautiful tree’ were transported and transplanted in India, Dharampal provides a mention of one Andrew Bell.

Carrying forward the work of Dharampal

Some decades after Dharampal’s work was published, James Tooley a British educationist was given a copy of “The Beautiful Tree” by an old book vendor in the old city of Hyderabad. That opened up new doors for Tooley who was already working on cost-effective quality education with specific focus on the developing countries. The result is a book titled “The beautiful tree: a personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves” (Penguin Books India 2009)

Tooley started with Andrew Bell who was a “reverend”. In the words of Tooley, as he researched on the life of this Rev Andrew Bell, what he discovered ‘seemed like dynamite’ to him.

“For they vividly showed how the ‘economical’ method of teaching in the private schools for the poor in India became translated into a method that transformed education in Victorian England and beyond.”

Rev Bell was in India to work in the asylum for the progeny of British soldiers through native Indian women, whom of course the soldiers abandoned. The imported teachers for these children were not exactly enthusiastic.

Tooley further elaborates:

“the cost-effective teaching methods used in the indigenous private schools of 19th century India were, in fact, a manifest strength; so much so…they were imitated in Britain , then across Europe and then the world and did so much to raise educational standards.”

Funding of schools in England, Tooley observes, was done through school fees and private schools for the poor were increasing in Victorian England. By 1851 of the 2,144,278 children put in day schools 85 percent were in private schools funded the same way the private schools of early 19th century India were funded. The horses of literacy were galloping in England.

But in India…

In India in 1854, Thomas Babington Macaulay had established his first school in India.

The rate of growth of literacy in India under the British controlled Macaulay education system began to fall way back compared to the rate of growth of literacy in Britain under the Indic method of private school enrolment. The Macaulay system itself needed 60 years to improve upon the enrolment figures of Indian educational system. Tooley observes wryly:

“If the dynamics of the India private education system had been anything like those of the parallel system in England we would have seen a much larger growth in enrollment than had the British not intervened at all.”

Macaulay system also perpetuated and amplified the social distances among the different occupational groups in India. Tooley states:

“Though Government spoke of the resentment of upper-class Indians the fact is that the British educational system in its very nature was elitist and often prevented people form lower strata of the society into echelons of higher education. It was almost a universal phenomenon of colonialism.”

It should also be noted that while British policy of education to masses was as a means of social control, the indigenous education in India was for empowering and liberating the individuals and the society.

But here the most successful social revolutionaries were all (Ayya Vaikundar, Sri Narayana Guru and Ayyan Kali – to name a few) those who studied in the native educational system.

The cost-effective universal education, which gave England its advantages over other European nations, also owes its positive features to that beautiful tree that stood in India, which as Gandhi stated was destroyed by the very British who benefited by it.

(The article was originally published in swarajyamag.com)

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Cameroon Starts a Program to Save Its Native Languages

Here's How Cameroon Plans to Save Disappearing Languages

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Native languages
A teacher writes in Ewondo, one of Cameroon's native languages, at a school in Yaounde. VOA

Cameroon is commemorating International Mother Language Day, February 21, by launching what it calls an ambitious program to save its endangered national languages.

The central African state has over 260 national languages, but only 40 are taught in schools.  Cameroonians speak mostly French and English, which are foreign but official languages and part of an entrenched separatist conflict that has cost about 3,000 lives since 2017.

At the multilingual and inclusive government primary school Yaounde, 150 children between the ages of five and 11 years old learn how to count in Ewondo, a Cameroon national language spoken in the country’s central and southern regions. The students are also taught the national anthem and patriotic songs in Cameroon national languages.

Businessman Emmanuel Mbom, 31 years old, says he is satisfied at the progress made by his six-year old son at the school.

Native languages
Fabienne Freeland, director general of the nongovernmental organization Summer Institute of Linguistics, helps Cameroon in promoting the teaching of its native languages. VOA

“In my situation, my wife and I speak two different languages, native languages so my children try to pick what they can pick,” Mbom said.

Mbom says he is confused about which language to teach his children because his language is Sawa, spoken in the Littoral and Southwest regions of Cameroon, and his wife is from the Northwestern town of Nkambe, where the Limbum language is spoken.

Cameroon’s secretary of state in the ministry of basic education, Asheri Kilo, says she is satisfied with the level of interest the children display at speaking their national language.

“It is very impressive the way the children are taken into learning their languages, and I decided to check how many children are from other regions rather than Yaounde and I figured that there were children from all the 10 regions in Cameroon,” she said.

Cameroon has 260 national languages spoken by an estimated 25 million people in the 10 regions of the country. It is one of the countries the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) classifies as a distinctive cultural density on the linguistic map of the world.

However, the central African state inherited two foreign languages from its French and English colonial masters as official languages, with 80 percent of the population speaking French and 20 percent English.

Fabienne Freeland, director general of the nongovernmental organization Summer Institute of Linguistics that helps Cameroon in promoting the teaching and learning of its national languages, says the official languages have not been effective tools of communication.

“French and English has its limits on development in this country,” Freeland said. “When there was a cholera outbreak in the far north, it is only when the information started coming in Fufulde that people started changing behavior and the cholera was stopped.”

Native languages
Asheri Kilo, secretary of state in Cameroon’s ministry of basic education, is encouraged by students’ interests in learning their native languages. VOA

Cameroon’s national institute of statistics reports that four percent of the central African states’ local languages — including the Mbiame language spoken in the country’s English-speaking Northwest Region and the Ekung language in the South — have disappeared since 1950. Ten percent of the 260 languages are neglected and seven percent are threatened.

Seraphine Ben Boli, who heads the program to promote the use of Cameroon national languages, says a pilot program that is being implemented in the 10 regions of the country to save the remaining mother tongues from disappearing.

She says the ministry of basic or elementary education is experimenting with the teaching of five national languages in 43 schools throughout Cameroon. The languages chosen, for now, are Ewondo, Bassa, Douala, Womala and Fufulde, because of their national popularity. She says apart from the experimental schools, teachers in all educational establishments have received instructions and training to teach Cameroon national languages spoken in the areas where their schools are found.

Boli said Cameroon will decide by 2030 on which of the languages can be used as an official language, added to English and French. She said by so doing, they intend to solve the separatist crisis that has within the past four years claimed at least 3,000 lives just because people are divided as a result of two inherited colonial languages.

Separatists have been fighting to create an English-speaking state out of the French-speaking majority. The separatists say the education, legal system and cultural practices they inherited from their British colonial masters are different from those left by the French, who colonized the French-speaking regions of the country. Cameroon believes by having its own national language as an official language, many of its citizens will feel like Cameroonians, unlike in the past when they considered themselves either French or English.

Also Read- France Takes Steps to Shift to More Renewables For Energy

UNESCO says it celebrates mother tongue day because it believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies and it is within its mandate for peace that it works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others. (VOA)