Modern Education System (आधुनिकविद्याविधानम्)

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Comparison of Educational Systems

We see in the cultures of ancient Greece and Europe that the ideal of personal culture loomed large in the educational system. Ancient Indian system, however, focused on the fact that an individual exists more for society than otherwise. From a very young age, a child is groomed into the socio-cultural fabric of the society with less emphasis on personal subjects such as music, painting and fine arts which were not taken as mainstream education topics. Education was also not dominated by the military ideal hence it was not part of the mainstream topics.

Jesuitical education aimed at creating an army of faithful and resolute servants of the Catholic church, the goal of which was to establish missionaries and spread the religion. It may be clarified that Ancient Indian system of education colonially projected to be tainted with lines such as "Brahmanas controlled education", was never so narrow in aim, for the youth they trained often were not subservient unquestioning blind followers but often questioned the traditional beliefs and sought for the rationale in the system. Many new theories of Indian knowledge systems, and siddhantas of subjects stand proud witness to the fact that Indian education always promoted dynamic dharmik thought processes. Prabhakara Guru's school of Mimamsa developed as he believed in perspectives different from those of Kumarila Bhatta's Mimamsa theories and convincingly articulated them. The Vedic shakas themselves arose due to slight differences in pronunciation or arrangement of mantras which were preserved by the particular group of people. It is clear that no other nation had so many original, ingenious ideas, concepts and supporting explanations (vadas) as seen in the land of Bharatavarsha for a vast majority of subjects of study.[1]

Ancients believed that education was primarily for piety and wisdom, virtue, manners and learning for a useful profession. The more recent education system of the Industrial Revolution age laid emphasis on building a robotic skilled worker, creating a mechanical workforce, working skillfully, justly in both public and private enterprises. Standardization and automatisation has further brought down creative thinking and ingenuity. However, our ancients gave more importance to personal capabilities and held that not all people are versatile in a particular skillset and thus differentiation of functions and training was enforced for different classes of people performing various duties.

Nations such as America which had a relatively recent national culture stressed on moral character and social efficiency (personal development) and not mere erudition and culture as the important goals of education system. Indian system had achieved these two (character and social efficiency) characteristics and hence sought to preserve the qualities by enforcing the cultural preservation.

Social fabric was well-knit in our ancient society system (Varna System) and different classes of people complemented each other in bringing about social efficiency. Thus ancient Indian education provided education to each class, suitable for its own needs and family traditions, without repressing talent, unlike the Soviet nations' system of education which directed education to bring about equality in the society by upliftment of the weaker sections. Modern education system in India brought in by the English Colonial rulers is dominated by the aim of passing examinations with highest honours; an aim which was practically non-existent in ancient India.[1]

Historical Aspects

Prior to 18th century with Muslim invasions, the ancient education system was declining slowly and gradually. The advent of the European interest in India led to scholarly attention and debate about India in the western society. Prominent amongst these were members of several Christian monastic orders, the most well known being the Jesuits, who were specialising in the fields of the sciences, customs, manners, philosophies and religions. There were some others with interests of a more political, historical or economic nature. Those connected to the Universities were particularly interested in politics, laws, philosophies and sciences, especially the Indian Astronomy. Adam Ferguson of University of Edinburgh, William Roberson, John Playfair were a few interested in collecting the complete information about India, its people (to the minute detail), the occupations, the resources, and the way of life of each of the communities that existed. Discussion and debates about India, its literacy spread far and wide. Prof. Maconochie also stated that the centre of most of this learning was Benares, where ‘all the sciences are still taught’ and where ‘very ancient works in astronomy are still extant.’29 Three approaches (seemingly different but in reality complementary to one another) began to operate in the British held areas of India regarding Indian knowledge, scholarship and centres of learning from about the 1770s.

The first resulted from growing British power and administrative requirements which (in addition to such undertakings that men like Adam Ferguson had recommended) also needed to provide a garb of legitimacy and a background of previous indigenous precedents (however farfetched) to the new concepts, laws and procedures which were being created by the British state. It is primarily this requirement which gave birth to British Indology.

The second approach was a product of the mind of the Edinburgh enlightenment (dating back to around 1750) which men like Maconochie represented. They had a fear, born out of historical experience, philosophical observation and reflection (the uprooting of entire civilizations in the Americas), that the conquest and defeat of a civilisation generally led not only to its disintegration, but the disappearance of precious knowledge associated with it. They advocated, therefore, the preparation of a written record of what existed, and what could be got from the learned in places like Varanasi.

The third approach was a projection of what was then being attempted in Great Britain itself: to bring people to an institutionalised, formal, law-abiding Christianity and, for that some literacy and teaching became essential. To achieve such a purpose in India, and to assist evangelical exhortation and propaganda for extending Christian ‘light’ and ‘knowledge’ to the people, preparation of the grammars of various Indian languages became urgent. The task according to William Wilberforce, called for ‘the circulation of the holy scriptures in the native languages’ with a view to the general diffusion of Christianity, so that the Indians ‘would, in short become Christians, if I may so express myself, without knowing it.’30

However, British interest was not centered on the people, their knowledge, or education, or the lack of it. Rather, their interest in ancient texts served their purpose: that of making the people conform to what was chosen for them from such texts and their new interpretations. Their other interest (till 1813, this was only amongst a section of the British) was in the christianisation of those who were considered ready for such conversions (or, in the British phraseology of the period, for receiving ‘the blessings of Christian light and moral improvements’). These conversions were also expected to serve a more political purpose, in as much as it was felt that it could establish some affinity of outlook and belief between the rulers and the ruled. A primary consideration in all British decisions from the very beginning, continued to be the aim of maximising the revenue receipts of Government and of discovering any possible new source which had remained exempt from paying any revenue to Government.

Thus control of education system moved from the Academician to the Government.

It is important to emphasize that indigenous education was carried out through pathshalas, madrassahs and gurukulas. Education in these traditional institutions—which were actually kept alive by revenue contributions by the community including illiterate peasants—was called shiksha (and included the ideas of prajna, shil and samadhi). These institutions were, in fact, the watering holes of the culture of traditional communities. Therefore, the term ‘school’ is a weak translation of the roles these institutions really played in Indian society. The most well-known and controversial point which emerged from the educational surveys lies in an observation made by William Adam. In his first report, he observed that there exist about 1,00,000 village schools in Bengal and Bihar around the 1830s.32 Thomas Munro, had observed that ‘every village had a school.’33 G.L. Prendergast noted ‘that there is hardly a village, great or small, throughout our territories, in which there is not at least one school, and in larger villages more.’34

Observations made by Dr G.W. Leitner in 1882 show that the spread of education in the Punjab around 1850 was of a similar extent. The conditions under which teaching took place in the Indian schools were less dingy and more natural;37 and, it was observed, the teachers in the Indian schools were generally more dedicated and sober than in the English versions. The only aspect, and certainly a very important one, where Indian institutional education seems to have lagged behind was with regard to the education of girls. The data reveals the background of the teachers and the taught. It presents a picture which is in sharp contrast to the various scholarly pronounce- ments of the past 100 years or more, in which it had been assumed that education of any sort in India, till very recent decades, was mostly limited to the twice-born38 amongst the Hindoos, and amongst the Muslims to those from the ruling elite. The actual situation which is revealed was different, if not quite contrary, for at least amongst the Hindoos, in the districts of the Madras Presidency (and dramatically so in the Tamil- speaking areas) as well as the two districts of Bihar. It was the groups termed Soodras, and the castes considered below them39 who predominated in the thousands of the then still-existing schools in practically each of these areas. The last issue concerns the conditions and arrangements which alone could have made such a vast system of education feasible: the sophisticated operative fiscal arrangements of the pre-British Indian polity. Through these fiscal measures, substantial proportions of revenue had long been assigned for the performance of a multiplicity of public purposes. These seem to have stayed more or less intact through all the previous political turmoils and made such education possible. The collapse of this arrangement through a total centralisation of revenue, as well as politics led to decay in the economy, social life, education, etc.

The collector of Cuddapah stated:

Although there are no schools or colleges supported by public contribution, I ought not to omit that amongst Brahmins, instruction is in many places gratuitously afforded and the poorer class obtain all their education in this way. At the age of from 10 to 16 years, if he has not the means of obtaining instruction otherwise, a young Brahmin leaves his home, and proceeds to the residence of a man of his own caste who is willing to afford instruction without recompense to all those resorting to him for the purpose. They do not, however, derive subsistence from him for as he is generally poor himself, his means could not of course give support to others, and even if he has the means his giving food and clothing to his pupils would attract so many as to defeat that object itself which is professed. The Board would naturally enquire how these children who are so destitute as not to be able to procure instruction in their own villages, could subsist in those to which they are strangers, and to which they travel from 10 to 100 miles, with no intention of returning for several years. They are supported entirely by charity, daily repeated, not received from the instructor for the reasons above mentioned, but from the inhabitants of the villages generally. They receive some portion of alms daily at the door of every Brahmin in the village, and this is conceded to them with a cheerfulness which considering the object in view must be esteemed as a most honourable trait in the native character, and its unobtrusiveness ought to enhance the value of it. We are undoubtedly indebted to this benevolent custom for the general spread of education amongst a class of persons whose poverty would otherwise be an insurmountable obstacle to advancement in knowledge, and it will be easily inferred that it requires only the liberal and fostering care of Government to bring it to perfection.48 The collector of Guntoor was equally descriptive and observed that though there seemed to be ‘no colleges for teaching theology, law, astronomy, etc. in the district’ which are endowed by the state yet, These sciences are privately taught to some scholars or disciples generally by the Brahmins learned in them, without payment of any fee, or reward, and that they, the Brahmins who teach are generally maintained by means of maunium land which have been granted to their ancestors by the ancient Zamindars of the Zillah, and by the former Government on different accounts, but there appears no instance in which native Governments have granted allowances in money and land merely for the maintenance of the teachers for giving instruction in the above sciences. Should people be desirous of studying deeper in theology, etc. than is taught in these parts, they travel to Benares, Navadweepum,49 etc. where they remain for years to take instruction under the learned pundits of those places.50

Four Stages of School Instruction

Adam divided the period spent in elementary schools into four stages. According to him these were: the first stage, seldom exceeding ten days, during which the young scholar was taught ‘to form the letters of the alphabet on the ground with a small stick or slip of bamboo’, or on a sandboard. The second stage, extending from two and a half to four years, was ‘distinguished by the use of the palm leaf as the material on which writing is performed’, and the scholar was ‘taught to write and read’, and commit ‘to memory the Cowrie Table, the Numeration Table as far as 100, the Katha Table (a land measure Table), and the Ser Table’, etc. The third stage extended ‘from two to three years, which are employed in writing on the plantain-leaf.’ Addition, subtraction, and other arithmetical rules were additionally taught during this period. In the fourth, and last stage, of up to two years, writing was done on paper. The scholar was expected to be able to read the Ramayana, Mansa Mangal, etc., at home, as well as be qualified in accounts, and the writing of letters, petitions, etc.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Altekar, A. S. (1944) Education in Ancient India. Benares : Nand Kishore and Bros.,