The Empire and the century/Indian Education

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In the eyes of the great majority of thoughtful Indians, education is the grand justification of British rule in India. Many of them cavil at our military expenditure, at our fiscal policy and our autocratic methods of administration, out even the most hostile critics of Indian government are whole-hearted advocates of English education, and persistently demand that a larger share of public money shall be spent upon diffusing European learning in India. It seems a strange anomaly that those who can see no good in anything done in India by Englishmen should at the same time be struggling most earnestly to make English ideas paramount among their own people, but of the fact there can be no question. I have heard an eminent Indian politician maintain throughout the evening that the English were draining all the wealth out of India, and yet in the end confess that the moral advantages of British rule more than compensated for this loss. This is not an empty phrase. It is not a conciliatory platitude to cover an awkward situation, but the expression of an intense conviction, often uttered by educated Indians, that the regeneration of their people depends upon the introduction into India of Western thought and Western education. European culture necessarily comes to them through the medium of English, and it is therefore to the great masters of English thought that their homage is chiefly paid. This is how they come to be such warm advocates of the study of English literature by their countrymen.

What are the ideas, one naturally asks, which Indians derive from English literature? That literature is a record of the hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, of the English people for the last three centuries; it reflects their pleasures, their politics, their vanities, their religion. There is in it matter for all tastes. It is not the expression of one idea or sentiment, but of thousands the most diverse, and yet to most Indians there is one dominant note, one characteristic teaching, running through it. The answer which almost all Indians give to the question, 'What has English literature taught you?' is that it has taught them liberty to think for themselves; it has freed them from slavery to authority. This, perhaps, is not the lesson which a German or a Spaniard would extract from English literature, for the value and suggestiveness of any new idea defends largely upon the previously existing stock to which it is conjoined; but the intellectual antecedents of the Indian were such that this idea more than any other appeared to him novel and suggestive. The characteristic of all Indian teaching in the past, whether Hindu or Mohammedan, has been reverence for authority. The young scholar has been taught to justify his views by citing a great Pandit or Maulvi, and when he had elected to follow a certain school of thought, it was sheer blasphemy to question the teaching of any of its great masters. With such antecedents, it is not surprising that the most wonderful and illuminating idea in English literature should have been the freedom and independence to which it introduced them. They found themselves suddenly brought into a world in which independent private judgment was a duty, and the conscientious exercise of it a virtue.

Probably no other literature in the world could have taught them this lesson so forcibly, because no other literature is so saturated with the love of liberty as that of England. From Elizabeth to Victoria it is one long paean upon liberty and patriotism, and young Indians learn to glow with genuine sympathy when they read how the little island kingdom struck for liberty against the might of Spain; they kindle at the stem excitation of the regicide Milton or the revolutionary raptures of Shelley, and find in Adam Smith, Mill, and Herbert Spencer the loftiest reaches of modern English thought. When once they have drunk of English literature they see the world from a new stand-point, their intellectual centre of gravity is permanently changed, and they judge every question by reference to their new standard of the duty of independent private judgment. Some English writers have imaging that the European culture which Indians acquire is never more than a veneer, and they have drawn fanciful pictures of the way in which the Indian reverts under the stress of excitement to the ways and feelings of his forefathers. This is singularly unjust both to the convincing power of English thought and the sincerity of Indian nature. The Indian does not, of course, become an Anglo-Saxon because he is a disciple of John Stuart Mill, but he ceases to be the intellectual child of the Maulvis and Pandits; a new compound is formed, from which the English element can never again be separated. Proof of this may be found in the almost daily experience that English education estranges men from sympathy with uneducated or only slightly educated wives. When once the husband has learned to look with European eyes, he finds it difficult to exchange ideas with his Indian wife, and she, in spite of her docile wish to admire and obey, no doubt finds him incomprehensible. That is the reason why the young men are insisting so passionately on female education, and why so many of them actually teach their wives English after marriage. Even mothers, in arranging matches, have been known to say, 'Now that the boy is educated, we must find a wife for him who knows English, otherwise they will never get on together.'

The new spirit which has been generated in the Indian mind by Western thoughts is manifesting itself in many diverse forms of activity. Religion, politics, and social customs are all being modified by it, out it would take too long to consider the many and subtle ways in which it is affecting Indian life. Personally, I am strongly of opinion that it is working for good, that all the most earnest, hopeful movements which are at work in Indian society are more or less directly inspired by this new spirit, but I cannot deny that while in the transitional state some of its manifestations are hard to bear with unless a man both knows and sympathizes with the ideas which prompt them. Take, for example, the familiar and trying case of bad manners. Some Indians who have revolted from the old attitude of reverent submissiveness, and have adopted the English standard of independence and private judgment, intentionally discard the ceremonious deference of Eastern courtesy, and assume the easy manners of Englishmen. This is not because they want to be impertinent or familiar, but because they have come to feel that Oriental politeness is too servile; the English element in their composition revolts against self-abasement, and carries them over the border-line between independence and insolence; but it would be narrow intolerance to allow our distaste for bad manners to blind us to the sterling worth of the many reforms which are re-creating Indian society.

Now, although this new spirit has been called into existence by the Indian Government, we have never, strange as such neglect may seem, attempted to direct or control it. We have thrown the pages of English literature open to the people of India, and left them to take from it what they pleased. English education, which was the direct creation of the Government, has not hitherto arrived at guiding the development of Indian thought, or at the training of character. Theoretically, that is left to the boys' guardians; in practice it is generally neglected altogether. The course of an Indian boy's education is generally something like this: he learns to read and write in the local vernacular at his own home, because there are probably no educational facilities in the rural village in which his parents live. When about eleven or twelve he is sent to live at the house of a relation or friend in a neighbouring townlet which possesses a High School—that is, a school in which English is taught up to the standard of matriculation to the University. The headmaster and all the staff are probably Indians, and the boy is at first conducted through the dreary wilderness of English spelling by a subordinate master who probably does not draw more than £2 a month, and whose English would probably not be understood in London. In four years he is taken through a course of arithmetic, history, and geography, an 0riental classic-e.g., Persian or Sanskrit—and English. This English course is the main part of his education, and by the end of four years he will be expected to write some of his answers in English, and his masters will from time to time teach him in English, though they generally think it prudent to fortify this instruction by a second explanation in the vernacular. He now enters upon the highest course of instruction given in a High School, which consists of two years' preparation for the matriculation examination of the University. Now all his work has to be done in English, and he begins to write and speak with some fluency, if not correctness. He studies such examples of English literature, as Lamb's 'Tales from Shakspeare,' or Kingsley's 'Heroes,' the 'Lays of Ancient Rome,' or the 'Deserted Village.' When at length he passes his matriculation examination, he has to decide where and how he will pursue his University education. There are perhaps about a dozen colleges in the whole of the province, each situated in a large town, and all of them teaching simultaneously for the same public examinations. If, as is often the case, the father knows nothing of English or modern education, the boy decides for himself, in consultation with his master and school friends, which college he will join. He leaves his father's home furnished with an unusually large sum of money, and goes to one of the big towns in which a college is situated. There his first care is to make arrangements for lodging, and in close proximity to the college he finds a quarter or bazaar which caters for the student population—there are booksellers and sweet-sellers, cloth-dealers, grocers, wine-sellers, and followers of even less reputable callings, clustering side by side in dusty alleys, and some of them have an upper room to let. One of these the student furnishes with a lamp and bed, and then proceeds to the college to be enrolled. After consulting the time-table, he attends classes for about four hours a day, at one of which an Englishman—the first, perhaps, he has ever seen—expounds certain books. When the class is over, the Englishman jumps into his dogcart and drives away, while the student sets out on foot in the opposite direction. From his class-fellows who walk back with him to the bazaar he learns that Mr. Smith is a very good lecturer, who gets all his students through the examinations, but that Mr. Jones is not thought much of; in any case it is unlikely he will ever come more closely into contact with either of them than he has that day. 'Are they harsh and violent men,' he asks, 'as people in the village say all Englishman are?' 'Oh no; Mr. Smith is a very good man. Students occasionally go to his house to have their essays looked over, and he is very kind. But it is a long way off, and it is rather alarming.' In the course of talk the new student discovers that some of his class-fellows belong to the same caste as himself, and that they club together to employ a cook, and take their meals in common. He, too, from motives of economy, probably joins this 'mess,' and thus completes his simple arrangements for board, lodging, and tuition. Amid such surroundings he lives for four or five years. Except for his attendance in class during college hours, he may spend his days and nights how he pleases. There is no check upon his going out or his coming in. The only stimulating ideas he is likely to come across in his college career are derived from his text-books or the news-papers. Of bright or intellectual society he knows nothing. Even his class-fellows are so scattered about the bazaar that he cannot count upon meeting them easily and frequently. He rarely has access to a library or reading-room, nor are there social or literary societies which he can join. Where there is such an absence of corporate life in the college it is well-nigh impossible for the English professors to enter into and influence the lives of the students, as do the Dons at the English University. Opportunities for meeting outside the class-room do not exist, and the Englishman who wishes to cultivate personal relations with any of his class has to invent occasions for private conversation with them.

The above is typical of the normal life at an Indian college. Exceptional institutions do exist, as at Aligarh, which is a residential college professedly copied from a Cambridge model; but, as a rule, Indian colleges are not centres of an organized social life, and they do not attempt to guide or control the student when he is outside the class-room. The new educational policy which Lord Curzon instituted aims at remedying this cardinal defect. Furious controversies have raged round University education for the last three or four years in India, and in the multitude of technical details round which the battle has been fought the English reader is apt to lose sight of the central policy at issue, but it is one which is not only easily intelligible, but which embodies a conception of education which is thoroughly familiar to all Englishmen. The new educational policy aims at gradually converting existing Indian colleges into residential colleges upon the model of English public schools or of Aligarh. The day scholar is to be turned into a boarder, and, instead of being allowed to roam at will about the bazaar, beguiling the vacuity of his leisure hours with dubious acquaintances, he is to be compelled to live in a college quadrangle or hostel, where he and his companions will have access to libraries, and clubs, and common rooms, and will be able to live a corporate college life, in which they will be under discipline, and in which their parents will have reasonable assurance that their sons are not going morally, mentally, and physically to the bad. In the social life of the college the English members of the staff will be expected to take a prominent part. The principal administrative officers of the hostels will be Englishmen—that is to say, they will do work similar to that of a house-master at a public school or a tutor at college. They will. take part in athletic games, and join the literary and social clubs which will inevitably sprint up where a number of young men are collected together. Thus it is hoped that in each college will grow up a distinctive 'tone' or set of opinions which will in time constitute its traditions, and which will mould and impress each succeeding generation that comes under its influence.

Now, whatever else may be said of this policy, it has one superlative merit: it is the application of a conception of education which Englishmen thoroughly understand, and which, therefore, they are likely to execute well. In the association of masters and boys, in their influence upon character, and in the creation of a healthy and manly tone among the boys, lies the distinctive and almost solitary merit of our historic public schools, and the same educational tradition is carried on in the Universities, where the junior Dons undeniably import an element of thoughtfulness into undergraduate life. This is the best characteristic of English education, and Englishmen would know how to transplant it to India. An Englishman transferred from Oxford or Cambridge to a residential college in India would know at once what part he was expected to take in the life of the boarding-house or hostel, and he would know how to set about it He would reproduce in India those parts of his own experience at Harrow and Cambridge, or Rugby and Oxford, which had most influenced and impressed him, and, either from that reason, or from some bent of national character, it also appears to be the kind of educational work which Englishmen like best. What is certain is that the Englishman taken suddenly from Oxford or Cambridge either to India or to a public school at home cannot do one thing, and that thing is unfortunately the sole work which used to be required of him in India—namely, teach. That a master should know how to teach has never been considered an essential qualification at English schools, and, therefore, very few 'Varsity men go through a training in pedagogics. Under the old conception of education in India, the student's guardians were responsible for his moral and physical training, and the college only undertook to supervise his intellectual development. Such a conception of education was perhaps inevitable when the people were hostile to English education, and suspected the Government of ulterior motives upon their religion; but it was one with which the ordinary University man was ill equipped to carry out. A German who had himself been well taught, and who came from a society in which the art of teaching is valued and understood, would have had before him in India a familiar task with which he would have grappled successfully; but, neither in his own experience as a boy, nor from the opinions prevalent in the schoolmaster's world, would an Englishman learn to appreciate the value and importance of good teaching, or understand the advantages of uniformity in instructional methods. The consequence has been that every professor in India has been a law to himself, and that the greatest inequalities prevail in the efficiency of teaching. But the conception of education now put to the front is one which is familiar to every public-school boy and University man, and which appeals to an Englishman's idea of the 'right thing' in education. It is no small part of the merit of the new policy that it contemplates a system of education which will be thoroughly understood by the men who have to carry it out, and that it demands the application to India of the tradition of English education.

This, then, is the idea which lies at the root of the educational reforms about which there has been so much controversy. It is not a better teaching or a higher standard of knowledge which is primarily aimed at, but the training and formation of character by methods with which all Englishmen are familiar.

By the passing of the Indian Universities Act of 1904 the way was made clear for reform; but the new policy is still in its infancy, and in very few places has even the machinery been erected for carrying it out. The experiment, for such it must still be considered, will be watched with intense interest by all who understand its immense importance for India. It is no exaggeration to say that upon the character of the education given in our colleges depends the content or discontent of India. The English-educated class forms whatever public opinion exists in India with regard to political affairs. It is, of course, true that they form only a microscopically small fraction of the whole population, but yet in the long-run it is their opinion which is likely to prevail, because there is no other class which holds any opinions at all upon public questions. The great mass of the agricultural population is as yet only concerned with the chances of the harvest, the gossip of the village, or the propitiation of the local ghost; but if ever they so far widen their mental outlook as to admit political conceptions, they will draw their ideas from the intellectual minority above them. In that minority the political opinions of the English-educated reign supreme. The old Conservatives, who remain faithful in their allegiance to Oriental ideals, have put forward no constructive view of politics, and even in social matters they are fast giving ground before the crusading culture of Europe. The political opinions of the English-educated, therefore, seem destined eventually to become predominant in India, not because they are the wisest, but because there is no opposing school of thought to resist their progress; and so it is upon the political ideals prevalent among those who have attended our colleges that depends the answer to the question whether or no India will be content in the future to remain within the circuit of the British Empire.