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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 34, New Delhi, August 7, 2021

The Lord Macaulay’s Minute, 1835: Re-examining the British Educational Policy | Ajit Mondal

Saturday 7 August 2021


by Ajit Mondal *

Development of education system during the British period was determined by the needs of the colonial powers. If we analyse the development, we will find that the colonial interests of the British always shaped the then educational policies of India. European trading companies began their commercial activities in India from 1600 A.D. Gradually the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and the English settled in some parts and commercial centres of India. Among them the English East India Company was ultimately able to establish their rule in India. Till the 19th century, they did not evolve any definite educational policy (Ramana, 2012, p. 81).

One should not suppose that there had been no educational system before the coming of the East India Company. When the British came to India and were gradually establishing themselves in Bengal, they met such a system (Ghosh, 1989:2). F. W. Thomas was of the opinion that “Education is no exotic in India. There is no country where the love of learning had so early an origin or has exercised so lasting and powerful an influence” (Thomas, 1891, p. 1). The modern system of education came to be established in India during the British period at the cost of the traditional indigenous system. Before the British established a new system of education in India both the Hindus and the Muslims had their own systems of education. The Tols and Madrassas were the highest institutes of learning meant for the specialists. These institutions were not meant for education of an elementary kind. For primary education, there were in the villages, Patsalas and Maktabs where the Gurus and Maulavis imparted knowledge of the three “R”s to the boys of the locality.

The East India Company became a ruling power in Bengal in 1765. The Court of Directors refused to take on itself the responsibility for the education of the people of India and decided to leave education to private effort. However some half-hearted efforts were made by the Company’s Government to foster oriental learning. The early attempts for the education of the people were the establishment of Calcutta Madrasa in 1781 and Sanskrit College (1791) at Benares. Development of education system during the British period was always determined by the needs of the colonial powers.

The development of modern system of education in India begun with the Charter Act of 1813 which provided through the Section 43 that

“a sum of not less than one lac of rupees in each year shall be set apart and applied to the revival and improvement of literature and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories in India” (Sharp, 1920, p.22).

The Charter Act made it obligatory on the part of the East India Company to spread education in India; it laid the foundation of State System of Education in India.

The vagueness of the clause 43 of the Charter Act of 1813 intensified the Oriental and Occidental educational controversy in India. This fund was kept unspent till 1823 due to the controversy. That’s why the recommendations of the Charter Act of 1813 were delayed until 1823 when the Governor General in Council appointed a G.C.P.I. for the Bengal Presidency to look after the development of education in India. As a result of the Orientalist-Anglicist controversy, the spread of education in India was halted until 1835, when Macaulay’s Resolution provided a somewhat clear picture of the British education policy.

The Charter was eventually renewed in 1833 for another term of 20 years. It added a Law Member to the Executive Council of the Governor General of Bengal which had hitherto consisted of three members only. Macaulay was appointed as the first Law Member to the Executive Council of the Governor General of Bengal. Lord Macaulay attempted to provide a solution to the dilemma posed by the educational clause in the Charter Act of 1813. In his Minute dated the 2nd of February, 1835 Macaulay wrote:

This lakh of rupees is set apart not only for ‘reviving literature in India’, but also ‘for the introduction and promotion of the knowledge of the Sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories’ — words which are alone sufficient to authorize all the changes for which I contend (Sharp and Richey, 1920, Vol.1, pp.107-08).

Macaulay also wrote in his Minute, “We must at present do our best to form a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” His Minute ultimately decided the policy, medium, means and aims of education in India. The colonial interests of the British shaped the then educational policies of India through Macaulay’s Minute. They are —

  • Ultimately Macaulay in his Minutes of 1835 instituted an education policy in support of the British Raj which denigrated Indian languages and knowledge, established the hegemonic influence of English as medium of colonial ‘instruction’ (not education) in order to “form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern”. Thus a natural consequence of Macaulay’s theory was the development of vernacular languages as secondary to the teaching of English.
  • English education was also seen as an important basis for expanding the British market in India by harnessing English values and tastes. Anglicized Indians would be potential customers of British goods.
  • Acquainted with them by means of their literature and medium of English, the Indian youth would almost cease to regard them as foreigners. Spreading English education provided a positive bond between the rulers and the ruled.
  • In 1833 when the Charter Act was passed, the East India Company was in acute financial crisis. The 1833 Charter opened the lower order Civil Service jobs to English educated Indians.
  • By adopting Downward Filtration Theory, the British Government wanted to make higher classes blind followers of the Government. The educated people educated on British lines through English medium would get higher post in Government services and in return they would use their influence in controlling the masses from going against the Government rule.
  • The Macaulayian system was a systematic effort on the part of the British Government to educate the upper classes of India through the medium of English language. Education of the masses was not the aim of Macaulay. This Minute gave birth of a new class division — English knowing class and English not knowing class among Indians.
    Lord William Bentinck (1828-1838) endorsed the Minute On the 7th of March 1835 by writing one line beneath it, “I give entire concurrence to the sentiments expressed in the Minute”. He passed the Resolution of March 1835 which was the first declaration of the British Government in the sphere of education in India. Ultimately Bentinck was greatly influenced by the views of Macaulay. Bentinck’s proclamation gave birth to the following results in Indian education:
  • The aims of education in India were determined by the British.
  • The promotion of Western arts and sciences was acknowledged as the avowed object.
  • The printing of oriental works was to be stopped.
  • New grants or stipends to students of oriental institutions were to be stopped in future.
  • The medium of education would be English.
  • This proclamation promised to supply Government with English educated Indian servants cheap but capable at the same time.
    In line with the Bentinck’s Resolution, 1835, in 1844, Lord Hardinge proclaimed that for services in public offices, preference would be given to those who were educated in English schools. It clearly showed that education was imparted with the limited object of preparing pupils to join services. The emphasis was on producing good clerks (Kochhar, 1982:7). This proclamation had also far-reaching consequences. It gave rise to two new castes in a caste — ridden country — English —knowing caste and non-English knowing mass of people.

Professor S. N. Mukherji commented that,

“The Proclamation marks a turning point in the history of education in India. It was the first declaration of the educational policy, which the British Government wanted to adopt in this country ... The barriers of caste, conservatism and religious orthodoxy which had blocked the cultural progress of the country were done away with and new vistas were opened through the study of English for those persons ‘Indian in blood and colour but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect’. This brought about the dawn of a cultural renaissance after centuries of confusion and darkness” (Mukherji, 1974: 73-74).

The researcher is of the opinion that his analysis was not fully acceptable because Bentinck’s resolution was not at all cultural renaissance but aggression and earlier centuries of India did not belong to dark ages. It may be, however, said that Bentinck’s declaration tried to put an end to the oriental occidental controversy. This minute influenced British’s educational policy in this country for more than a century. It must be admitted that the new knowledge through Western learning brought India into contact with scientific researches of the West, and developed Indian languages to standards in which a university education became possible.

* (Author: Dr. Ajit Mondal is with the Department of Education, West Bengal State University, Barasat, Kolkata-700126, West Bengal, E-mail: mondalajit.edn[at] )


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