Essay on the Role of British in the Growth of Education in India


The British followed the policy of non-interference in the social and religious life of India till 1813. Of course, they did not intend to take the risk for the infant empire in India. Interference in the socio-religious life would have created resistance against the Company rule. Also being a trading concern, the company was concerned with profit-making and paid little interest towards education.

During these years India had its own system of education. Of course, establishment of the Calcutta Madrasha in 1781 by Warren Hastings was needed to teach Muslim law and its related subjects. Likewise Jonthan Duncan opened a Sanskrit College at Varanasi in 1791 for the study of Hindu Law and philosophy. There was need for qualified Indians to work in courts of the Company for administration of law. The products of these two institutions were expected to meet the requirement.

But the British realized that the introduction of Western secular education would accomplish the objective of modernizing socio-cultural life of India. Modernized India would be better consumer of the British industrial products and the Government would Bengal supplied with qualified persons to help administration at a low cost.


By this time, Christian missionaries advocated for introduction of western education to encourage the spread of Christianity. On the other hand, some progressive and humanitarian Indians were in favor of modern education.

To them, modern education would be the right means to provide remedy for the ills of the society. Both groups, though with different objectives, exerted pressure on the Government for a change in the policy and for introduction of modern education. It suited to the British interest of getting qualified persons to work in offices at low salaries in comparison to the European employees.

Therefore, The Charter Act of 1813 made provisions for funds to encourage modern education. This was the first official attempt in this direction and unfortunately this amount was not received by the Company for a long period.

By this time, a great controversy came up over the Western education. One group laid emphasis for the promotion of modern education, the other advocated in favour of traditional Indian learning.


Even controversy came upon over the medium of instruction. While some preferred English to be the medium of teaching in schools and colleges, others recommended for the Indian languages or the vernaculars. Those who supported English language as medium of instruction were called the Anglicists and the Orientalists argued in favour of the Indian languages like Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian etc.

Raja Ram Mohan Ray was a leading Anglicist to plead for liberal and enlightened system of instruction through English language. Ram Mohan Ray and others considered the Western education and English language as the carrier of “scientific and democratic thought of modern West”. They depicted traditional education superstitious and stagnant for which the Indian culture continued to be static.

The ideas of Anglicists were supported by the Government in 1835 when Lord Macaulay made the stand of the British clear through the famous minute called “Macaulay’s Minute”.

He considered the oriental learning inferior to European learning and Indian languages were not up to standard to promote Western education as the medium of instruction. Of course, Macaulay’s view was prejudiced one and he was not aware of the details of Indian learning. However, Macaulay’s recommendation opened a new epoch for education in India. Macaulay came to India as the Law Member of Governor General’s Council in 1834. Bentinck assigned him the responsibility of preparing education policy for India.

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