Reforms in Education

Local Schools

William Adam was a Scottish missionary. He toured the districts of Bengal and Bihar and prepared a report on vernacular schools in 1830s. According to his report, there were over 1 lakh pathshalas in Bengal and Bihar. These were smaller institutions; with each having no more than 20 students. But the total number of children studying in these pathshalas was a whopping 20 lakh. These pathshalas were set up by wealthy people or the local community or by a teacher.

The pathshalas followed a flexible system of education. There were no fixed fee, no printed book, no separate building, no benches or chairs, no system of separate classes, no rollcall registers, no regular examinations and no regular time-table. Classes could be held under a banyan tree, in a village shop or temple, or at the guru’s home.

Fee depended on the income of parents. Teaching was oral and curriculum was decided by the guru; as per the need of the individual student. Students were not segregated into different classes, rather all the students sat together in one place. The guru interacted separately with different groups of children as per the level of learning of the group.

This system was flexible enough to suit the local needs. Classes were not held during harvest time because at such times the rural children usually worked in the farms. The pathshala resumed after the harvesting and threshing was over.

New Routines, New Rules

After 1854, a decision was taken to improve the system of vernacular education. The Company appointed a number of government pundits. Each pundit was given the charge of four to five schools. Each guru was asked to submit periodic reports and take classes according to regular time-table. Textbooks were introduced and a system of annual examination was also introduced. Students were asked to pay a regular fee, attend regular classes and obey the new rules of discipline.

Those pathshalas which accepted the new rules were given grants by the government. Those who did not want to work within the new system did not get government support. Gurus who wanted to retain their independence found it tough to compete with the government aided and regulated pathshalas.

The new rules and systems affected the children of peasants; especially those from poor families. Children had to skip the classes during harvest season. But irregular attendance was seen as indiscipline.

The Agenda for a National Education

Many Indians were also thinking about the need of a proper education system for Indians. While some of them favoured the European system of education, some others favoured the traditional Indian system.

Mahatma Gandhi thought that colonial education created a sense of inferiority in the minds of Indians. He wanted an education system which could help the Indians rediscover their past glory and culture. He believed that an ability to read and write did not mean education. He argued the skill development and understanding the moral and practical ethos of life were more necessary aspects of education.

Rabindranath Tagore considered the environment of British controlled schools as stifling. He thought that such an environment killed the creativity of a child. Tagore established a school; called Santiniketan near Calcutta. This school was set up in rural settings where the students could be closer to the nature. He was in favour of allowing the student to explore natural creativity.

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