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What is the Wood's Despatch?


In 1854, in what was then British-ruled India, Lord Dalhousie, the governor-general, received an interesting despatch from Sir Charles Wood, President of the Board of Control at the East India Company. The document contained recommendations for including Indian vernacular languages in the primary years of education in the country. It also recommended the British Empire use English as a medium of teaching for higher secondary and college students.

The British government accepted Sir Charles Wood's suggestions in the despatch, and the 'Wood's Despatch', as the document came to be called, became famous as one of the foundations of the Indian educational system.

Who introduced Wood's Despatch?

Sir Charles Wood was the man behind the Wood's Despatch. He was the president of the Board of Control at the East India Company. The despatch was incorporated into the Indian educational system in 1854. Even today, much of India's education system is based on the recommendations of this document.

Features of Wood's Despatch

Some important features of the Wood's Despatch are highlighted below:

Emphasis on Vernacular Languages

One of the main suggestions of the despatch was the inclusion of vernacular languages in the curriculum of the primary education system.

Grant-in-aid system

One of Wood's Despatch's essential recommendations was the introduction of the grant-in-aid system. The government was tasked to provide subsidies and grants to private colleges and schools under this system.

Spread of Government Schools

It was proposed that at least one government school be set up in each district of the country. Along similar lines, it was suggested the government set up education departments in all the British-ruled provinces of India.

Higher Education

Universities were set up in Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay upon the recommendation of the Wood’s Despatch. These universities were set up to meet the standards of British universities.

Encouragement of Women's Education

The despatch advocated for an increase in female literacy across the country.

Impact of Wood’s Despatch

Whether you are a parent, student, or teacher, you must study the impact of the Wood’s Despatch on the overall education system in India. Here are a few of the noteworthy effects the despatch had on the Indian educational system:

  • Government schools were opened on a wide scale. The education system witnessed radical change and began to inculcate modern methods of teaching. Principals, headmasters, and teachers were appointed to improve the quality of education.
  • The importance of learning English was highlighted on a large scale. Private tuition was set up for those who wanted to master this language. At the same time, the focus on vernacular languages in primary schools spread the knowledge of local languages among the students.
  • Agricultural, engineering, and women's colleges were established over the years. As women began to enroll in classes, it helped to promote the awareness of completing education among the masses. For example, the Bethune School was set up in Kolkata exclusively for women by British educator J. E. D. Bethune. In another example, an agricultural college was established in the Pusa village of Bihar.
  • Universities were established in Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras in 1857. These universities played a major role in upgrading the quality and curriculum of higher studies across the country.

Objectives of Wood’s Despatch

While the implementation of Wood’s Despatch proved to be favorable for the education system in India, the document had aims other than that to educate Indians. Here are some of the significant motives or objectives behind the despatch:

  • To enhance the communication skills and other abilities of native Indians so that they could be hired in government departments and offices.
  • To spread the Western culture and enhance its influence on the Indian masses.
  • To impart the knowledge and skills of the Western world to Indians.
  • To foster the development of personality, moral character, and intellect of India's youth.

Flaws in Wood’s Despatch

While the overall benefits of Wood’s Despatch seem to outweigh its negatives, there are some flaws that cannot be ignored either. Here are some noteworthy shortcomings in the document that might have created a disparity or other issues in Indian society:

  • Although learning vernacular languages in primary school became mandatory, the main focus was to make students adept in English. Therefore, English was the medium of instruction for higher studies. As a result, students who came from non-English backgrounds struggled to cope with the syllabus, especially during their initial years of college. The effects of this can be seen in the Indian education system even today.
  • The education management and planning objectives that were specified in the despatch were not fully implemented across all levels.
  • Access to quality education was only provided to the elite classes of society. Government jobs were only provided to those who could communicate and write in fluent English. This created a lack of confidence in those who came from vernacular language-based schools. The impact of this can be seen in Indian society even today.
  • As per renowned educators like M. R. Paranjape, the syllabus or books stemming from the Wood's Despatch were not designed to develop leadership, industrial growth, or other skills that are essential for nation-building. The focus of the syllabus was only to fulfill the criteria of educating Indians to occupy government jobs. The lack of practical knowledge seems to be a major flaw in the education system even today.
  • The education departments that were set up after the despatch did not meet their objectives and were neglected over time.
  • Private schools faced many issues in procuring the mandated grant-in-aid funds from the government. Christian missionaries are said to have received undue favor in collecting the aid due to the religious leanings of the people behind the Wood’s Despatch.


This article has discussed the objectives, benefits, and flaws of Wood’s Despatch, a trailblazing document that changed the face of the Indian education system. While the despatch sought to educate the masses and bring India into the modern ages, it had other objectives as well. It is imperative to study the effects of Wood's Despatch on all its stakeholders and recipients to understand its contribution as a whole.

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Written by Athira VS

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