After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, a significant turning point in the 7 Years’ War, the British began to assert their dominance over the Indian subcontinent. Despite being under the rule of the Mughals, India boasted a sophisticated educational system known as the Gurukul education system. Although this system faced certain challenges, it effectively catered to the educational needs of the masses.
Interestingly, despite Britain’s status as the world’s leading economy, bolstered by its expansive trading empire, its own educational framework remained relatively outdated until around 1800. Between 1770 and 1820, there was a notable curiosity among British scholars to study India’s educational methods. Numerous surveys were undertaken across India to assess the status and effectiveness of the Gurukul system during that era.
The British viewed India as a subordinate kingdom and aimed to delegate labor-intensive tasks to the local populace. The Gurukul system, characterized by its decentralized nature and emphasis on critical thinking, produced highly skilled individuals between the ages of 16 to 18. In contrast, many contemporary educational systems only intensify their focus around the age of 16.
The British encountered challenges in implementing their centralized educational model, primarily designed to cultivate a workforce for clerical and administrative roles. Recognizing the pivotal role of India’s educational framework in shaping national identity and resilience, the British strategized to dismantle it. Their objective was twofold: undermine the pride Indians held in their heritage and streamline education to serve colonial interests.
Gurukuls traditionally received funding from Maharajas, temples, and religious institutions. The British disrupted this financial lifeline by annexing lands and resources dedicated to educational and charitable purposes. Numerous accounts detail the ruthless tactics employed by the British to seize lands intended for educational institutions, community feeding initiatives, and religious establishments.
To incentivize English education, the British employed various strategies, including parading successful English exam candidates on elephants to generate enthusiasm. They systematically restricted avenues for employment to those proficient in English, thereby making English proficiency a prerequisite for financial stability.
Once a segment of the educated populace embraced English and its associated opportunities, it facilitated a broader transformation of the entire educational landscape. Consequently, those educated in traditional Sanskrit-centric systems found themselves at a disadvantage.
It’s worth noting that contemporary educational standards often prioritize quantity over quality. Unlike the Gurukul system, where students remained until achieving a perfect score, modern systems may promote students even with minimal passing grades, potentially compromising overall educational quality.