Reforms in Education
Let us now read about the system of local schools before Macaulay’s system was introduced in India.
There was a Scottish missionary, named William Adam. He surveyed the districts of Bihar and Bengal and made a report on vernacular schools in 1830s. As per this report, there were over one lakh pathshalas in Bihar and Bengal. Each such pathshala was having not more than 20 students. But the total number of students in such institutions was more than 20 lakh. Such pathshalas were set up by wealthy people, or the local community, or by a guru.
The pathshalas had a flexible system of education. Unlike modern schools, there were no fixed fee, no printed book, no separate building, no benches or chairs, no system of separate classes, no roll-call 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. There were no buildings for the school.
Fee depended on the income of parents. While the wealthy paid the fee, the poor generally got free education. 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. During harvest time, rural children generally worked in the farms. So, classes were not held during harvest time. Once the harvesting season was over, classes resumed.
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, along with a system of annual examination. Students were asked to pay a regular fee, attend regular classes and obey the new rules of discipline.
Some of the pathshalas accepted the new rules, while some other preferred to retain their independence. Those which accepted the new rules were given grants by the government. Those who did not accepted the new system did not get government support. With passage of time, Gurus who wanted to retain their independence found it tough to compete with the government aided and regulated pathshalas.
Children of peasants, especially the poor one were badly affected by the new rules and systems. Harvest season meant skipping classes for such children. 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 was of the view that once a person got education in English he began to view all the British things as superior. He wanted an education system which could help the Indians rediscover their past glory and culture. He believed that merely 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.