After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Introduction to Indigenous System of Education 2. Extent and Character of the Indigenous System of Education at the Beginning of the 19th Century 3. General Observations and the Causes of Downfall 4. Potentialities.

Introduction to Indigenous System of Education:

The modern system of education came to be established in India during the British period at the cost of the traditional indigenous system. The officers of the East India Company as well as many non-officials believed that the indigenous system of education had little worth or value that it was rather dead and obsolete without any practical significance.

They allowed or helped it to die and replaced it by the modern system of educational institutions. It is necessary to justify their belief and consider the character and extent of the indigenous system of education as it prevailed at the beginning of the 19th century in India, “its merits and demerits and its potentialities to develop into a national system of education by suitable improvement and extension”.

But it is regrettable that the sources of information with regard to the condition of contemporary education prevalent at that time are extremely meagre, inadequate and sometimes doubtful. Even the available sources only refer to the British territories and not the vast areas under the rule of the Indian princes. The available sources even do not refer to the whole of the British territories and the enquiry was conducted in a limited portion of the country-Madras Bombay and Bengal.

Before the British established a new system of education in India both the Hindus and the Muslims had their own systems of education. But both the systems went into oblivion gradually and suffered a set -back because of political turmoil and lack of a strong centralised political authority, and want of suitable patronage. Truly speaking, the indigenous institutions should have formed the basis of the modern system of education in India.

The “Court of Directors” sent a letter in 1813 to enquire into the prevail­ing system of primary education in India. Accordingly, in Madras and Bom­bay enquiries were made with regard to indigenous education in 1822 and 1823, respectively. In Bengal, a special enquiry into the condition of indige­nous education was conducted in 1835 – 38, under the orders of Lord William bentinck, by William Adams, a missionary who had devoted himself to the cause of Indian education.

1. Madras:

In 1822, Sir Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras, gave an or­der to enquire and collect facts regarding indigenous education in Madras In­formation was collected from all the districts except that of Kanara. The Board of Revenue collected the reports of the district collectors on the subject and submitted these to the Government in 1826.

The reports reveal the fol­lowing facts:

The number of schools and colleges in Madras Presidency were 12,498. The number of students was 1, 88,650 and the population was calculated to be was calculated to be 12,850,941. Thus there was one school for every 500 people, excluding women. This means that 1 in 67 was receiving education. There was no suitable arrangement for education for girls. A very few of them were taught in school Teaching work would usually begin with worship of the image of Lord Ganesh and students used to chant hymns in adoration of Goddess Saraswati. Elementary education started at the age of five and continued until the age of ten years.

The mode of education was essentially impressive and effective, though simple. The children would usually assemble in the school at about 6 A.M. Corporal punishment was in vogue. The mode of punishment included caning and sitting and rising incessantly. The smaller children were under the supervision of the elderly and abler students or monitors while the teacher taught the grown-up students himself.

A teacher superintended four classes generally. The teacher controlled teaching and discipline of the whole school with the help of monitors. Dr. Andrew Bell has praised this “Monitor system”. He introduced the system in Scotland and England and it produced good results. Big leaves and wooden boards (Takhtis) were used for the purpose of writing. The students used to learn vowels, consonants and elementary arithmetic.

They learnt the counting of numbers from 1 to 100 by repeating the multiplication tables rhythmically with the monitor. Thus the system was economical and simple, but the standard was far from satisfactory. The books were of a lower standard. The teachers were incapable and untrained. The salary was also too scanty to allure any capable person into the teaching profession. According to Sir Philip Hartog the statistics given by Munro are exaggerated.

2. Bombay:

In 1823, Mountstuart Elphinstone, Governor of Bombay, in­stituted an enquiry into the condition of elementary education in that Prov­ince He directed the Collectors to collect data with regard to primary edu­cation. Facts were collected from different sources in between the period 1824 and 1829 In 1829 facts were collected by the District Judges. The enquiry was almost identical with that of Madras. According to Bombay Report, the number of schools was 1,704 and as many as 35,153 students received educa­tion The population of the province was 46, 81,735.

The centres of domestic instruction were not included in these statistics. Villages without elemen­tary schools were rare, although the school population consisted mainly of boys Contemporary Governmental official held the view that elementary education was widely spread in the province of Bombay.

In 1821, Mr. G. L. Prendergast, a member of the Bombay Governor’s Council, held the view that “there is hardly a village, great or small, throughout our territories, where there is not at least one school.” This official view is supported by the 5th and 6th Annual Reports of the Bombay Education Society in 1819 and 1920 respectively.

According to it “schools were frequent among the natives and abound everywhere”. But both the views have been contradicted by Mr. R V Parulekar in his book entitled “Literacy in India, in Pre-British Days” Poona, 1940.

According to Mr. Parulekar, the condition of general education was extremely bad. Actually the Report of 1829 is somewhat mis­leading and uncertain. In fact, the Education Department of Bombay openly ignored indigenous schools and education in general. Consequently, the ele­mentary education of the province received a set-back.

This is evident from the Report of the Indian Education Commission of 1882 which found only 3,954 schools containing 78,205 students. Thus the Bombay statistics are not reliable, thorough, accurate and authentic and as such these cannot be taken as the measuring rod for elementary education in India as a whole.

Let us now sum up the state of indigenous education in the Province of Bombay. The indigenous schools had no houses of their own. Most of them were held in temples, private dwellings and houses of the teachers them­selves. The number of students per school varied from 2 to 15. But the aver­age number was 15 per school. Most of the schools were single-teacher insti­tutions. Mainly the teacher taught the students.

The monitor system was in vogue here also. The schools, as a rule, were not communal and open to all Hindu castes. There were separate indigenous schools for the Muslim stu­dents. The age of the students varied from 6 to 14. The curriculum included the rudiments of the three R’s and knowledge of the multiplication tables.

There was a complete absence of printed books. The equipment’s were very simple and punishments were both frequent and severe. The indigenous schools were mainly for the boys. Practically there was no provision for edu­cation of girls. The Bombay Reports do not take into consideration the sys­tem of domestic instruction.

The method was chiefly oral. There was no gra­dation of students as the system of examination was conspicuously absent. “The remuneration of the teacher was very scanty and it varied from Rs. 3 to Rs. 5 on the average and consisted of payments in cash and kind. The educa­tional attainments of the teachers were also far from satisfactory”. Thus the system was economical and simple.

“The enquiries in Madras and Bombay were most unsatisfactory in so far as accuracy and thoroughness are concerned and they included neither all the schools in existence nor all the pupils under instruction. Adam’s enquiries, on the other hand, were thorough and almost flawless. But they were conducted in a province which had been subjected to general anarchy for a very long time and where the system of indigenous education was everywhere in a state of decay. But in spite of all these limitations the enquiries conducted by Adam provide a fair picture of the indigenous system of education as it exist­ed at the beginning of the 19th century”.

3. Bengal: Adam’s Reports:

No Govt. initiative was taken in collecting facts with regard to the indigenous system of education in Bengal. Enquiries in Bengal were conducted by a zealous missionary of the Scottish Church, William Adam by name, who came to India in the year 1818. Adam himself undertook the onerous task of collecting facts voluntarily regarding indige­nous education in Bengal at the request of Lord William Bentinck.

He was appointed to enquire into the indigenous education in Bengal in 1835 by the Governor-General-in-Council. It was thus a one-man commission and non- official in character. Adam worked hard for three years from 1835-1838 and submitted three reports. His enquiries were limited to a few districts of Ben­gal and Bihar. But his accounts are fairly comprehensive, methodical, con­crete, reliable, accurate, thorough and full of minute details.

Adam’s first report is a mere digest of the earlier reports on the subject and of all the educational data then available. It is neither comprehensive nor reliable like his two later reports. The second report is a thorough en­quiry of one Thana (Natore police station) in the district of Rajshahi now in Bangladesh. It is, however, much more comprehensive and detailed, the third report presents statistics of five districts in Bengal and Bihar. The system of indigenous education as revealed in these reports is a fair sample of the whole country.

a) Adam’s First Report – 1st July, 1835:

It is a digest of all the earlier reports on the subject and of all the educational data then available. Indig­enous schools are those schools which are established and supported by the Native themselves. “The number of such schools is supposed to be very great. There are 100,000 such schools in Bengal and Bihar, and assuming the popu­lation of those two provinces to be 40,000,000 (four crores), there would be a village school for every 400 persons”.

The above statement of facts is a subject of great controver­sy. Sir Philip Hartog, a noted educational expert and a staunch critic of Adam, has criticised the report as a “myth” or a “legend’. But Shri R V. Pa­rulekar forcefully defends it and opines that the report is substantially cor­rect.

This difference is perhaps due to the interpretation of the term “school” Mr Hartog uses the term in its modern sense. To him a school means a permanent institution conducted by a person who teaches a certain number of students in return of fees and perquisites from the pupils and who is paid by the community for his service. “If the word is used in this sense, the idea of 100 000 schools in Bengal is a fantastic exaggeration of facts”.

Mr. Parulekar contests this interpretation. In his opinion the word “school” in those days was used to mean a place where instruction was given and included even cen­tres of domestic instruction. According to Adam almost every village in Ben­gal had a school, public or private. Now the point is that Adam himself did not point out the falsity of the legend of one lakh schools. In reply to this Sir Philip argues that “Adam could not summaries his statistics clearly. Mr. M. R Paranjpe supports the contention of Mr. Parulekar. He argues that “the legend of 100,000 schools had persisted in official and non-official circles for the simple reason that it was not a legend”.

He further argues that “Adam admitted the existence of a school in every village.” In Madras Presidency Sir Thomas Munro found a primary school in every village. In Bengal, Ward discovered that almost all villages possessed schools for teaching 3R’s..

In Malwa Malcolm noticed that every village with about a hundred houses had an elementary school. Even Macaulay admitted that there were at least 80,000 schools in Bengal and Bihar. Hence we cannot ac­cept the view of Sir Philip Hartog.

(b) Adam’s Second Report – 23rd Dec., 1835:

Adam made a thorough and comprehensive enquiry of one Thana, Natore police station, in the district of Rajshahi. The population of the Thana was 1,95,296 of which 1,29,640 were Muslims and 65,656 Hindus. Adam writes that there were only 27 ele­mentary schools with 262 pupils in 485 villages. Besides, Adam found 1,588 domestic or family schools in 238 villages with a enrolment of 2,342 students.

The media of instruction was varied, viz., Bengali, Persian, Arabic, Hindi. Moreover, there were 38 Sanskrit Tols with 397 students. Women education was almost non-existent. The average age of admission in elementary schools was 8 years. It was eleven in the Tols. The chronological age of the students varied from 8 to 14 in elementary schools.

The average pay of the teachers in elementary schools was Rs. 5 – 8 per month. Adam calculated that the total number of instructed adults in Natore was 6,121. This reveals that the percentage of literacy only in menfolk was 6.1 and it was 3.1 in the whole population, men and women combined. The statistics furnished by Adam further reveal that the domestic education was much more popular than the institutional education. Education was considerably economical.

(c) Adam’s Third Report – 28th April, 1838:

“The third report of Adam is the most important of all and reliable. It is divided into two parts. In the first part Adam gives the statistics collected by him for five representative districts, viz., Murshidabad, Birbhum, Burdwan, South Bihar and Tirhut. In the second part, he gives his proposals for the reform of indigenous schools”. (Nurullah and Naik – History of Education in India, Sixth Edition, 1974).

Adam at the outset admits that the statistics given in the third report were “underestimated”.

The causes were mainly two:

(i) Adam himself con­ducted the investigation in one Thana in each district and employed agents to collect information from other Thanas. The reports of his agents were not quite reliable as they did not visit all the villages. In many cases they de­pended on here say information.

(ii) The people got frightened at the enquiry and concealed many facts, particularly the exact number of females in the house and even schools and colleges.

The following table summarises the general statistics given by Adam and supported by Sir Philip Hartog later:

General Statistics Given By Adam and Supported By Sir Philip Hartog

These statistics “exclude” the centres of domestic instruction and it is obvi­ous that the report of one lakh schools in Bengal can only be a “myth” ac­cording to Sir Philip Hartog. According to Adam’s report the population of Hartog has regarded these statistics of Adam purely as mythical or imagin­ary and full of exaggeration. As a matter of fact, this doubt arises from dif­ferent definitions and interpretations of the term “School”. Adam has in­cluded centres of domestic instructions in the category of schools.

In fact Adam’s statistics had given rise to controversy. Truly speaking Adam gave the number of schools later less than one lakh. Centres of domestic instruction were excluded from his later figure. Furnishing statistics in the third report, Adam states that there were 2,567 schools in Bengal and Bihar in all out of which six were girls’ schools.

The total number of students getting education therein was 30,915. The ratio of pupils to total population was 1:73; and ex­cluding female population it was about 1: 36, “Rev. Adam divided the liter­ates into six categories under the sixth of which he enumerated all persons who could decipher or sign names”. The Census definition of “literacy” is “ability to read and write a letter” and judged from this point of view, these persons cannot be considered to be literate. Hence Sir Philip Hartog excludes the sixth category persons (5,519) as literates who could only “decipher or sign their names”.

This view, however, is challenged by Shri R. V. Parulek­ar and others. They accept Adam’s figures of literacy and accept all persons whom he himself regarded as literate because of the fact that the standard of literacy in early 19th century cannot be the standard a century later. The percentage of literacy as given by Adam was 5.8 in 1838.

The census of 1921 gave this percentage as 7.3. In 1931, at the Round Table Conference Gandhiji cited the percentage of literacy given by Adam to prove the wretched condi­tion of education during British rule in India. Sir Philip Hartog contradicted this view of Gandhiji and described the statistics of literacy given by Adam as myth and less than the actual percentage. Yet Mr. Hartog regarded the statistics of literacy given by Adam as “the first systematic census of litera­cy in India”.

Extent and Character of the Indigenous System of Education at the Beginning of the 19th Century:

There were mainly two types of indigenous institutions – higher and elementary. There was no secondary type of education.

Institutions for higher learning included:

(a) Tols for the Hindus and

(b) Madrashas for the Muslims.

Elementary institutions were of four categories:

(1) Pathsalas of the Hindus,

(2) Maktabs of the Muslims,

(3) Persian and Arabic schools and

(4) Schools teaching through the modem Indian languages.

A. Institutions of Higher Learning:

Both the Hindus and Muslims had separate institutions of higher learning, but there were several important features common to both the types of institutions. The total number of Tols was 1,800 and the total number of Madrasas was 29 in the Province. Both the types of institutions received pe­cuniary help from rulers and wealthy citizens. Both were staffed by learned teachers who received very low remuneration. Instruction was mostly given in gratis, i.e., higher education was free. No tuition fees were charged from the students. Both used classical languages as the media of instruction.

In case of the Tols Sanskrit was the medium of instruction and the Madrashas used Persian or Arabic as the medium of instruction. Teachers were remuner­ated by grants of lands by rulers, occasional voluntary presents from pupils and wealthy members of the public. The remuneration was both in cash and kind. Many teachers had to provide both food and lodging to their students. Both the types of higher learning had not separate buildings of their own Local temples, mosques, houses of zamindars, Talukdars and teachers were used as educational institutions.

These were built either by teachers them­selves or by patrons or by subscriptions from the public. Very few people could receive higher education which was costly and at the same time un­practical. The state had nothing to do with the day-to-day work of the in­stitutions. They enjoyed complete academic freedom. The Hindu schools of higher learning (Tols) were conducted almost exclusively by Brahmins. Most of the students were also Brahmins. There were no women students.

The Hin­dus had the superstition that the husbands of educated girls face mortality and the Muslims regarded education of girls as inauspicious. In Madrashas most of the teachers were Muslims but there were some Hindu teachers in Persian and Arabic schools. Some Hindu students also attended Persian schools because Persian was then the Court language. Traditional subjects were included in the curricula of both the institutions. Languages, Theology Naya, Grammar, Puranas, Philosophy, Moral Science or Ethics were taught.

B. The Indigenous Elementary Schools:

Most of these schools were religious in character. Their chief object was to produce Moulavis and Pandits. These were really weaker and obsolete ed­ucational institutions because of their conservative tone and obsolete ideas and methods of teaching. Both the Hindus and Muslims had separate educa­tion institutions. These schools were practically useful and the main agen­cies for the spread of mass education.

The instruction given in these schools was of a practical type and mostly limited to the three R’s. Literacy in those days meant only mastery on the three R’s. These schools had no relig­ious veneration attached to them and no endowments either from the state or from the public. Teachers in these schools were men of ordinary attainments.

Their remuneration was very scanty and as such they used to receive occa­sional presents both in cash and kind from parents and the general public Some teachers followed some other profession or trade for their mainte­nance. A section of teachers was also maintained by well-to-do persons. The pupils in these schools included a small percentage of girls. There was no separate arrangement of education for girls.

The indigenous elementary schools had no buildings of their own. Schools were held in local mosques temples, houses of rich persons and teachers. These schools were open to all castes except Harijans. Their equipment was extremely simple. There were no printed books. The instructional materials included chiefly the slates or pencils. Use the school was generally small.

The number used to vary from one to fifteen. There were consequently no classes, no regular period of admission no usual time-table, no gradation. The hours of instruction and the days of working were adjusted to local requirements. The Monitorial system or Prefect sys­tem was in vogue in the bigger schools.

The basic feature of the system was that the senior pupils were appointed to teach junior ones. Dr. Bell was greatly attracted by this system and he introduced it in England as a cheap and efficient method of educating the poor. “The curriculum was very narrow and consisted of reading, writing and arithmetic and simple accounts based on Suvankari”.

There was no fee in the modern sense, but each parent made some payment to the teacher either in cash or in kind. There was no public system of examination. Rote-learning was the only method. Chorus reading of multiplication table was in vogue. The mother-tongue was the medium of instruction. Severe physical punishment was inflicted on the pupils.

General Observations and the Causes of Downfall of the Indigenous System of Education:

“The chief merits of the indigenous system of elementary schools were their adaptability to local environment and the vitality and popularity they had earned by centuries of existence under a variety of economic condi­tions and political vicissitudes. Schools were found in every part of the coun­try and almost in every village”.

Some higher castes were wholly literate while several lower castes that formed the bulk of the population were il­literate. But in spite of all these good features the indigenous elementary schools gradually went into oblivion. “At the beginning of the 19th century when the British rule had firmly been established in India, the indigenous system of elementary education was fast decaying on account of the prevail­ing anarchy or the growing impoverishment of the people under the British rule.”

There were other causes too behind the decay of the indigenous schools. They had their own inherent defects the chief of which was the ex­clusion of girls and Harijan pupils. Teachers had no training or sound educa­tion. Unsatisfactory attainments and ignorance of the teachers contributed considerably to the downfall of indigenous education. Their remuneration was non-attractive from the point of view of livelihood. The curriculum was extremely narrow and limited. The form of punishment inflicted on the stu­dents was very serious.

The English system of education was greatly encour­aged by the officials of the East India Company at the utter neglect of the indigenous system. They allowed the indigenous institutions to die a natural death and created a new system of education. Thus the State was quite in­different towards the existing educational institutions. Another cause was the increasing use of English in official business.

In place of Persian, English became the Court language. Knowledge in English was considered as the passport for getting lucrative services in govt. offices. The indigenous schools also lost the patronage of the native princes and the business-men. The dete­riorating economic conditions of the Indian masses aggravated the situation.

In this way, the indigenous system of education which existed for centuries in the country slowly died out of existence. But this system of education was of considerable importance at that time. It was wholly suited to the contemporary conditions of the country. It was popular, economical and full of vitality and potentiality.

The superstructure of the modern system of education should have been built upon the foundations of the indigenous system of education. But things happened otherwise. The net result was that no considerable rise in the percentage of literacy of the Indian masses could be effected.

Potentialities of the Indigenous System of Education:

The indigenous system of education had sure and sound potentialities to develop into a national system of education by suitable extension and im­provement.

This contention may be supported on the basis of two generalizations:

(1) “In most educationally progressive countries of the world the na­tional system of education was built upon the foundations of the traditional system inspite of its admitted defects. For example, in England mass educa­tion was spread by gradual expansion and improvement of the defective vol­untary schools which already existed……… What the voluntary school did to the cause of mass education in England, the indigenous schools could certainly have done to the cause of education in India as a whole”. For this reason Sir Michael Sadler, a great educational authority, supported the view of Adam.

(2) “The above view was also supported by several Brit­ish officers and workers. Adam, for instance, was thoroughly convinced that a national system of education could be built up in India on the foundation of the indigenous schools”.

Adam observed:

“To whatever extent such institutions may exist, and in whatever condi­tion they may be found they present the only true and sure foundations on which any scheme of general or national education can be es­tablished All schemes for the improvement of education, therefore, to be efficient and permanent, should be based upon the existing institutions of the country, transmitted from time immemorial, familiar to the conceptions of the people and inspiring them with respect and venera­tion”.

Adam, further, recommended that – existing native institutions from the highest to the lowest, of all kinds and classes, were the fittest means to be employed for raising and improving the character of the people” (Adam’s Reports, Calcutta Edition, PP. 349 – 50).

Proposals of Adam:

Adam suggested some concrete proposals for the working of his plan for the improvement of indigenous schools in the following seven stages:

(a) The first step was to select one or more districts in which the plan could be tried as an experiment.

(b) The second step was to hold a thorough educational survey of the district or districts selected,

(c) The third step was to prepare a set of books in modern Indian languages for the use of teachers and pupils,

(d) The fourth step was to appoint an “Examiner” to conduct examinations and to survey his area, for each district, as the chief executive officer of the plan,

(e) The fifth step was to distribute the books to teachers and stimulate them to study them by the holding of examinations and the granting of rewards to successful candidates. Adam also recommended the estab­lishment of Normal schools for teacher-training,

(f) The sixth step was to encourage the teachers to impart the newly ac­quired knowledge to their pupils by holding examinations for them and by granting rewards.

(g) The seventh step was to grant endowments of lands to village schools in order to encourage teachers to settle down in villages and to educate the rural children. “But these proposals mostly went unheeded; the offi­cials of the Education Department allowed the indigenous system to die and spent their time and energy in creating a new system of education, ab-initio”.

“The modern educational system in India should have been built upon the foundations of the indigenous system and all educational efforts should have been directed to the improvement of these institutions and to their in­corporation in the modern system of education. But this was never done. The vast network of elementary schools never received the attention it deserved at the hands of Govt. These were either killed by ill-planned attempts at reform, or destroyed by deliberate competition, or allowed to die of sheer ne­glect. The results have been disastrous and the progress of education was very slow”.