Education in India has a very long history, starting as early as the Vedas (around 5000 to 4000 BCE) and undergoing a lot of changes over the millennia. This blog is an attempt at depicting the history of education in India through its various transitional phases and how it reached here today.
Ancient India - The Vedic Period to The Early Middle Ages
The History of education in India is believed to have begun in the Vedic times, with the teaching of traditional elements like teaching the Vedas, religion, arithmetic, and logic in small groups. The students would go to a guru, who was generally an old man or woman who resided within a clearing in a forest or on the outskirts of the same. To gain admission in the class conducted by the guru, every student would have to pass a litmus test set by them, and if they passed, they would be allowed to attend. This type of education was called the Gurukul System.
On the day of joining, the student would offer gold or something precious in the form of payment to the teacher. This was known as Dakshina (offering). The student would then learn what he or she had to teach, and in return, the student would do chores for the teacher. It is uncertain how long the Gurukul system remained in prominence in India, but as Indian society modernized, the people realized the importance and power of knowledge and hence the world’s first universities, Nalanda and Takshashila were opened. People from all across the world came to India for higher education and research. This can be considered the Golden Age when it came to the history of Education in India.
However, these universities came under attack repeatedly, and finally, the Takshashila University, which was previously attacked by the Persians, Greeks, Shakas, Kushanas, and the Parthians, finally gave way to the Huns in 450CE, while Bakthiyar Khilji destroyed the Nalanda University as late as 1193CE. From here, the history of education in India goes on a complete roller coaster ride.
Late Middle Ages to The Early Modern Era
With the Islamic takeover of India, the dynamic of the history of the education of India changed drastically. There was a strong emphasis on imparting Islamic education to the masses. However, important subjects such as science and mathematics were still taught. Islamic monasteries were set up, where students came to study humanities and science. Islamic institutions of education in India included madrasas and maktabs that taught grammar, philosophy, religion, and law, which was influenced by the Greek traditions that were inherited by Persia and the Middle East before Islam found its way to India.
This was also the time when private tuition became prevalent in India. As the kingdom failed to invest in the public education system, tutors or riyazis, took up the job. Riyazis were educated professionals who could earn a suitable living by performing tasks such as the creation of calendars or the generation of revenue estimates for the nobility. Another trend that was prevalent in this era was mobility among professions. Anyone was allowed to practice any profession, hence allowing greater social mobility as well.
The Colonial Era
After the Islamic rulers were defeated by the British, the history of education in India becomes very familiar. This is the part of Indian education that is taught in schools in India today. The European education system was introduced by the Jesuits in the year 1542 with the construction and operation of St. Paul’s College in Goa. It was also the first time that India was introduced to the printing press and the mass printing of books.
The English education system at the time was the result of the Industrial Revolution. Everything about it was designed to make students become employable. Students were supposed to sit in chairs with four to five on a bench and follow orders given by the teacher. This was to enforce discipline among the students. Subjects like the arts and humanities took a backseat as they didn’t help the students become immediately employable, while science and mathematics took the forefront. They started shipping this education system to Britain’s different colonies around the world, India being one of them.
India’s obsession with the ‘white man’ reached a fever pitch in the late 19th century when English education became known as ‘modern’ education. Only people who knew how to speak and converse in English could get government jobs and could make it higher up on the social ladder. However, this did not mean that English education had monopolized education. Some schools still taught the curriculum through vernacular languages with English being considered a second language. The British called these schools pre-modern. There were still a few Arabic and Sanskrit schools that taught Muslim or Hindu sacred literature. The Persian schools taught Persian literature as well. The vernacular schools taught reading and writing in the vernacular language as well as arithmetic.
The prominence of vernacular language education increased dramatically with the rise of freedom movements across the country. Vernacular languages were different in different parts of India and as a result, the British could not keep track of what was being said. The power of vernacular education became so much that the British banned the vernacular press altogether.
Finally, after much back and forth, India became independent from the British in 1947, and India created its own education system which was modeled after the British one.
A lot of changes were made to the education system over the course of the past 75 years, and there will likely be more changes required in the future as well. The history of education in India is a bloody one, and it tells the tale of how people realized their true potential through their own Indian roots. It celebrates the concept of ‘Unity in Diversity’ as it brings all Indians under the umbrella of knowledge - and that is why we need to keep helping it evolve by contributing our bit.