Updated: Aug 5
Education and communication of children (right from their formative years) are conducted in English in most of India’s convents and non-convent private schools. The absence of mother language-based education has weakened the personality of students as they struggle to comprehend their native texts, read between the lines, carve thoughts, logic and ideas of their own, and are neither proficient in English nor their mother language, etc.; it has also diluted the development of indigenous knowledge, significantly.
The seeds of according primacy to the English language were intentionally sown by the British. They arrived as the East India Company and soon began to settle in India. Initially, they only sought to develop their trade in goods like cotton, tea, handicrafts and cash crops, etc. The Indians were not interested in selling their products to British traders. With its self-sufficient, village economy-based independent export of products, India dominated about 35% of the world’s wealth at that time; despite poverty, Indians had a mind of their own and were not inclined to be subservient to the British. As a result, the East India Company suffered economic losses.
Under the garb of ‘white man’s burden’, the British started orchestrating the course of education in India. Initially, they encouraged education in native languages to win the trust of Indians; later, they deliberately placed the English language on a pedestal to limit and control their minds; such an attempt started with Lord Minto (1807-1813), was expanded by Lord Hastings (1813-23), and taken further by Lord Amherst (1823-28). When Lord William Bentinck (1828-35) probed ‘how to break the Indian community, he observed that Indians were self-sufficient beings (of non-servile nature) because their indigenous education was deeply rooted in their heritage.
Education may be used as a tool of psychological warfare to safeguard or defeat a nation. Accordingly, War Secretary T B Macaulay was roped in, who thoroughly researched to formulate an education policy in favour of the British. Macaulay’s Education Minute (2 Feb 1835) comprised 36 clauses. He sought to plant the seeds of inferiority in Indians towards their native heritage and indigenous knowledge. In the ninth clause, he emphasized that the English language was the worthiest of being known. In clause 10, he claimed, “A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.” He highlighted the ‘supremacy’ of the intellectual works expressed in European languages in the 11th clause. In his Minute’s 12th clause, he pressed for making English the medium of instruction. On the whole, Macaulay emphasized the ‘demerits’ of native Indian language-based education and underlined how scientific subjects may be best pursued in the English language. He devised the downward filtration theory according to which, when the Indian elites would be apprised of the usefulness and prestige value of English, they would pursue their education in English medium and inspire the Indian commoners to emulate their role models, value the English language and become loyal to the British. He left no room for diversity in his education system to narrow and stiffen the mental outlook of Indians. Macaulay sought to uproot the Indians (including the ruling elite and the commoners) from their native heritage to bolster British rule. He pressed for implementing his recommendations in their letter and spirit, failing which he would be inclined to retire from the Chair of the Committee. Lord Bentinck gave his ‘entire concurrence’ to the Education Minute.
Before British rule, India enjoyed a 75% literacy rate (with 5% people being high-level researchers); shortly after its independence in 1947, India’s literacy rate was recorded at 18.33% in 1951. For the qualitative development of contemporary India, English and other skills were greatly emphasized. What kind of qualities develop like this? It is with values that qualities develop. The poor presence of value education in India’s education system, explains little innovation in the country. It is largely to Macaulay’s credit that even decades after India’s independence many Indians feel superior in aping the west while loathing their own culture. He effectively altered the perspective of Indians towards their native food habits, value system, sense of wisdom, world views etc. Today, Bhartiya dharma, culture, and knowledge systems do not adequately orient the lives of Indians; our Gurus and scriptures are not revered and valued enough. Parents themselves behave in a rowdy manner in temples, tend to dominate in private (non-convent) schools but exhibit their disciplined selves in convent schools. This is why I emphasize that educators must be well-versed in what’s happening in the country.