There was a network of education centers like Pathshalas, Tols, Madarasas, and Maktabs in India where the young kids learnt from the religious texts , and other ancient literatures for various kinds of knowledge in literature, art, science, law etc, and there was no awareness of the scientific advances happening throughout the world.
Initially EIC remained aloof in the traditional practices of India and they didn’t interfere in the education too. The status quo was maintained and English education was limited to European kids and some Anglo Indians.
In 1771 however,
Charles Grant who is often referred to as ‘father of modern education in India’ made recommendations for introduction of English education in India and English to be official language of the company for the local affairs, but his intentions and methods were not accepted by British Parliament, as he was a part of the Evangelical Sect and wanted Christian missionaries to convert the religion of the locals and teach them English, but British had already faced enough revolts in the past in other colonies for tinkering with the religion and language of local people. Also, the then Governor General of Bengal, Warren Hastings, was a believer in Oriental learning; he didn’t let the proposals of Charles Grant pass through.
But slowly the interest of the Colonial government in education started. The first the support from the government came through in the form of setting up of Madrasa in Calcutta in 1781 by Warren Hastings, Asiatic Society for Oriental learning in 1784 by James Mill, and a Bengal Sanskrit College in 1791 Jonathan Duncan. They were aligned on the lines of ancient Indian history.
The first college set up by the EIC for western education was The Fort William College in 1800-01, initially it served as training center for civil servants in India. The first real support came through the allocation of 1 lakh rupees per year by the Charter Act of 1813.
Soon after, Hindu college was set up in 1817, which later came to be called Presidency College in 1857.
But it took another 20 years for bringing in an Education Policy. It was only after the entry of Thomas Babington Macaulay as law member in the council of William Bentinck that English education picked up its flight. In 1835, in his famous minute, Macaulay declared that Oriental learning was inferior to the Western English learning and introduced an act called English Education Act. He found support from Raja Ram Mohan Roy who fervently advocated Western Education, while he said Western Education, Macaulay interpreted it as English education. And English was declared the official language of the Government and English was to be the medium of instruction in its schools and colleges.
The sum allocated was so meager, it couldn’t suffice for opening new schools and colleges, and appoint teachers for education of masses, to make up for the paucity of expenditure, they came up with the so called “Downward infiltration theory.” They considered educating only a few upper class and middle class men who were expected to assume the task of educating masses and spreading modern ideas. It wasn’t popular, didn’t reach masses.
In 1844, Lord Hardinge declared that Indians who knew English were to be preferred for the jobs and thus English education picked up some impetus and became popular.
Sir Charles Wood, the then President of Board of Control in 1854 issued an order, which came to be called The Wood’s Dispatch, where he asked Government to assume responsibility to educate the masses, that is, it officially called for repudiation of the downward filtration theory, at least on paper. British still did very little to spread education in practice. However, owing to the Wood’s Dispatch, Department of Education was set up in all the provinces, and affiliated universities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay came to be set up in 1857, subsequently Punjab University in 1885, Allahabad University in 1887.
There was no support for scientific and technical education, hardly three medical colleges were started and one good engineering college in Roorke which was too opened only for Europeans and Eurasians.
Thus, the education of masses was neglected by the British, which is evident from the fact that the literacy rate in India was 16% at the time of independence. The education policy whichever was introduced was only to produce “cheap clerks” who could help them in administration in their pursuit of economic subjugation of India. And the only good it did to India was, it introduced the modern principles of democracy, equality, rule of law and soon the educated Indian came to know about the hypocrisy of British and began a fight for more rights which slowly culminated into a large scale freedom struggle for independence through establishment of various organizations by the educated middle class, one such organization was the Indian National Congress.
Chronological Order of landmarks in Indian Education.
0. 1771 Charles Grant recommendation
1. 1781 First Madarasa at Calcutta
2. 1784 Asiatic Society
3. 1791 Benaras Sanskrit College
4. 1801 Fort William College
5. 1813 Sanction of 1Lac Rs per annun
6. 1817 The Hindu College
7. 1833 English as official language
8. 1835 Macaulay’s minute on English
9. 1835, 36, 38 Adam’s report on education in Bengal and Bihar
9. 1844 Preference for Indians who knew English.
10. 1854 Charles Wood’s Dispatch
11. 1857 Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras
12. 1885 Punjab University
13. 1887 Allahabad University