LOCAL SCHOOLS AND NATIONAL EDUCATION- CIVILISING THE NATIVE, EDUCATING THE NATION
In the 1830s, William Adam, a Scottish missionary, toured the districts of Bengal and Bihar, he had been asked by the Company to report on the progress of education in vernacular schools.
Adam found that there were over 1 lakh pathshalas with over 2 lakh students in Bengal and Bihar. These were small institutions with no more than 20 students each.
These institutions were set up by wealthy people, or the local community or at times by a teacher(guru).
These pathshalas were somehow similar to the present system but there was no fixed fee, no printed books, no separate school building, no benches or chairs, no blackboards, no system of separate classes, no roll- call registers, no annual examinations, and no regular time-table.
Fee depended on the income of parents: the rich had to pay more than the poor. Teaching was oral, and the guru decided what to teach, in accordance with the needs of the students.
Students were not separated out into different classes instead all of them sat together in one place.
Adam discovered that this flexible system was suited to local needs, Example, classes were not held during harvest time when rural children often worked in the fields.
The pathshala started once again when the crops had been cut and stored. This meant that even childrenof peasant families could study.
Till the mid 19th century, the Company was concerned primarily with higher education. So it allowed the local pathshalas to function without much interference.
After 1854’s Dispatch, the Company decided to improve the system of vernacular education.
It felt that this could be done by introducing order within the system, imposing routines, establishing rules, ensuring regular inspections.
The Company appointed a number of government pandits, each in charge of looking after four to five schools, his role was to visit the pathshalas and try and improve the standard of teaching.
Each guru was asked to submit periodic reports and take classes according to a regular timetable. Teaching was now to be based on textbooks and learningwas to be tested through a system of annual examination.
Students were asked to pay a regular fee, attend regular classes, sit on fixed seats, and obey the new rules of discipline.
Government grants were given to those pathshalas who supported the system while the unsupported once were not given any government grants.
The gurus who wanted to retain their independence found it difficult to compete with the government aided and regulated pathshalas.
The new rules impacted those students who belonged to poor peasant familiesdue to fixed timetable and the fees. Absent to school was considered a lack of desire towards education.
Impressed with the developments in Europe, some Indians felt that Western education would help modernise India.
They urged the British to open more schools, colleges and universities, and spend more money on education.
There were other Indians, however, who reacted against Western education. Mahatma Gandhi
and Rabindranath Tagore were two such individuals.
Mahatma Gandhi argued that colonial education created a sense of inferiority in the minds of Indians. It made them see Western civilisation as superior and destroyed the pride they had in their own culture.
Gandhi wanted an education that could help Indians recover their sense of dignity and self-respect.
During the national movement, he urged students to leave educational institutions in order to show to the British that Indians were no longer willing to be enslaved.
He wanted Indian languages as the medium of teaching, he stated that Education in English crippled Indians distanced them from their own social surroundings, and made them “strangers in their own lands”.
He believed that western education focused on reading and writing rather than oral knowledge; it valued textbooks rather than lived experience and practical knowledge.
According to him, education ought to develop a person’s mind and soul. Literacy – or simply learning to read and write – by itself did not count as education.
Gandhi said that people should know practically how things work and they should learn a craft with their hands and this will enhance their understanding of the world.
In 1901, Rabindranath Tagore established an institution called Shantiniketan. As a child, Tagore never liked school and found it oppressive and prisoned.
The experience of his schooldays in Calcutta shaped Tagore’s ideas of education. On growing up, he wanted to set up a school where the child was happy, where they could be free, creative and explore themselves.
Tagore believed that childhood should not be restrictive and schools should be more liberal. Teachers should understand the imagination of the student and not just the book-based knowledge.
On this idea, he set up his school 100 km away from Calcutta in rural settings. He saw it as an abode of peace (Santiniketan), were living in harmony with nature, children could cultivate their natural creativity.
Although Gandhi and Tagore were similar in their approach there were dissimilarities too.
Gandhiji was highly critical of Western civilisation and its worship of machines and technology. Tagore wanted to combine elements of modern Western civilisation with what he saw as the best within the Indian tradition.
He emphasised the need to teach science and technology at Santiniketan, along with art, music and dance.
There was a mixed population, one who believed the new education system and another one who criticised the British system so much and were against the English education system.