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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)

Next Story

A School That Challenged The Claustrophobic Orthodoxy of Purdah System For Women

Archana S. Mankotia, Principal of the school, says: "With a huge historical legacy, the principals from time to time have tried to infuse modernity and progressive attitude among girls which the erstwhile queen had once dreamed."

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A school that challenged the claustrophobic orthodoxy of 'purdah'.

By Archana Sharma

Located in the heart of the capital of Rajasthan, this all-girls school, started by an erstwhile queen, began a silent revolution in 1943 when the region was steeped in the claustrophobic orthodoxy of the ‘purdah’ system for women.

With an objective to liberate girls from the clutches of purdah system (the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a veil or curtain), the Maharani Gayatri Devi School has been able to realise the dream of the queen after whom the school was named.

The school, which has now completed 75 years of its existence, helped its students become financially independent and step out into the mainstream world with confidence.

Not only has the school liberated girls from the purdah system, graduates of Maharani Gayatri Devi School have made a mark in all streams be it politics, Army, administration services, sports and even art and culture, says Colonel S.S. Sangwan (Retd.), Administrative Officer of the Maharani Gayatri Devi School.

A student of this very school, Meira Kumar, served as MP five times and also served as Speaker of the Lok Sabha in 2009-14. Rajnigandha Shekhawat has been a well-known sufi singer; Savitri Candy from 1959 batch became the first lady from Rajasthan to join the Indian Foreign Service in 1967.

Apurvi Chandela (2003 batch) won gold medal in Commonwealth Games while Shagun Chaudhary became the first woman to qualify for Olympics trap shooting event.

Even today, the school stands tall when it comes to grooming talent. Manashvi Katta, Yashasvi Katta and Manvi Gargoti were selected for Juniors IPL Cricket and Vasundra Chandrawat has been selected for International Karate Tournament to be held in 2019 in Bangladesh, Sangwan says.

Started by Rajmata Gayatra Devi, the seeds of the idea of the school were sown when Jaipur’s king Sawai Man Singh brought home Princess Ayesha (formally Gayatri Devi) of Cooch Behar as his bride. The well-educated queen, with her global outlook and exposure, was sad to see girls spending their lives in purdah.

When the king, who was concerned that Jaipur was far behind other states and provinces when it came to girl education, sought advice from her queen to find a solution, she suggested a school for girls. The idea was that once girls go to a school, there will be no purdah in a few years.

The queen herself made door to door visits asking the elites to send their daughters to school since at that time education for girls in the desert state was an unheard of idea. Initially, there were 24 girls on its rolls.

“The parents were apprehensive of sending girls to schools. Hence the queen promised a �purdah’ bus for their girls. This highly curtained bus had a teacher escorting each girl into the waiting bus. The curtains were immediately fastened to the windows,” says Jane Himmeth Singh, a first-batch graduate of the school.

A school girl crossing over the hurdle.

“There was also a curtain between the driver’s cabin and the rest of the bus where the girls, teacher and the maid sat,” she said.

Going down memory lane, Singh said: “We were introduced to a uniform. The senior girls’ uniform was a blue saree with maroon pallu (veil) and blue blouses. The juniors’ uniform was maroon pleated skirts with buttoned down straps, blue blouses, white socks, black buckled shoes and maroon ribbons.

“While taking measurements, the tailor used to stand on other side of the curtain while our teachers took our measurements and called out the inches. Also, the fathers and brothers were not allowed in the school till 1950,” she said.

Till 1976, Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls School was the only girls public school in India.

Eventually its uniform evolved to a chic tunic, replete with tie and belt; sports were played in divided skirts which soon became shorts. In winters, there were blazers.

The first principal, Miss Lutter, brought in first Rajasthan Olympics for girls and started literary and debating activities, and drama and photography competitions which exposed girls to the new world.

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“Even after 75 years, the school maintains its rich legacy, perfectly blending the progressive approach and traditional values to ensure the girls have a strong foundation,” Sangwan says.

“Following cosmopolitan approach, our girls sing Christmas carols and learn to celebrate each and every festival without getting biased or inclined to any particular creed. The discipline is yet another perceptive which we focus upon,” he adds.

Laxmi Singh, MGD’s most loved teacher, says: “What makes this school different is the family system being followed here among students. Everyone calls their elders as �jija’, meaning elder sister, which binds the students in a value system.”

Arushi Sharma, a 2009 graduate serving as the Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax, Mumbai, says: “When I had joined the school in 1996, I was a shy, withdrawn and an afraid young girl. When I left the school, I was a boisterous, forthright and fearless young woman being a successful swimmer, debater and a theater artist all at once.”

Captain Navita Kashyap, a 2012 graduate, says: “The education I got outside the classroom, in the sports fields, during the various debates and cultural fests made me realise my calling.”

Archana S. Mankotia, Principal of the school, says: “With a huge historical legacy, the principals from time to time have tried to infuse modernity and progressive attitude among girls which the erstwhile queen had once dreamed.” (IANS)