Causes of Slow Growth of Primary Education in India Before 1882 AD

The E.I. Company did not make any effort to educate the masses. Most of the Directors believed in the Downward Filtration Theory that education would descend from the higher classes to the lower ones.

According to this famous doctrine education was to permeate the masses from above. Hence right from the start the E.I. Company educated the higher classes only and paid some attention to secondary or higher education. The education of the masses was completely ignored.

It was Adam (in 1835) who held up the cause of mass education and urged the government to revive and improve the indigenous educational system.

He put forth very, sound proposals but his recommendations were turned down because Macaulay was not prepared to help the indigenous schools and was in favour of diffusing western information amongst the upper and middle classes..

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The Court of Directors wrote back that when the educational needs of the upper and middle classes had been provided for, Mr. Adam’s proposals might be taken up on a liberal scale with some fairer prospects of success.

Adam’s report revealed the decaying condition of primary education in Bengal and Bihar but the Government showed lip- sympathy only. Macaulay had pronounced the education is a luxury and is not meant for the masses. The state accepted his verdict. It did not cater to the actual needs of the country and left the masses to themselves.

The missionaries, who were, however, doing some service to the cause of primary education, were also not encouraged. No official patronage was given to them. During Lord Hardinge’s time (1844) some 100 elementary schools were opened in Bengal but by 1852 most of them perished because the schools were purely vernacular and did not cater for the tastes of the people.


There was a demand for English schools even in the villages and the introduction of fees was resented.

Lord Dalhousie made attempts to improve primary education and introduced in 1853 Adam’s plan of popular schools with certain modifications in the light of Thompson’s experience. But the progress was slow.

In 1854 Bengal had 1400 and Bombay 1200 pupils in primary schools. The main reason of the slow progress was inade­quacy of financial support.

The E.I. Company did very little for primary education. In 1854 there were 36,000 pupils in the whole of the country in government primary schools. The mission schools were, however, teaching thrice the number.


The Wood’s Despatch had advocated for expansion and encouragement of primary education. The Despatch did not desire that the state should take up the education of the masses as her sole responsibility.

It only hoped that the state may help the indigenous schools, give them grant-in-aid, inspect, guide and improve them.

For raising funds to meet expenditure on primary education some states imposed a monthly fee which was highly resented. The raising of subscription from the public it because of their general poverty in 1859, Lord Stanley stressed the need for levying a local educational cess.

This again raised controversies. Some provinces liked to follow the instructions of the Wood’s Despatch and others followed Stanley’s.

The main controversy centred round the school system and its finances.

Some provinces tried to improve indigenous schools, encouraged private enterprise and opened government schools to serve as models; others relied on departmental or board schools and entirely neglected the indigenous schools: still others followed the via media, i.e., encouraged the indigenous schools and established the government schools also.

The result was that except in a few provinces indigenous schools were totally neglected and even rival institutions were set up to compete against them. Hence, many of them were either absorbed in the new system or were closed down.

Siqueria says that percentage of boys attending the indigenous school fell down from 10% in 1820 to 2.5% in 1882.

The second problem was that of finance. As a result of the recommendations of the Despatch recourse had to be taken to local taxation. There were, prior to 1882, two types of local bodies municipalities in towns and cities and district or taluka local boards in rural areas.

The early municipalities had nothing to do with education and could not legally incur any expenditure for educational purposes.

Hence they made no contribution to the cause of primary education. The boards in rural areas had been familiar with the idea of levying tax for educational purposes. Hence tax could be levied in rural areas. Local cess was levied in many provinces.

But money raised through cess was diverted again into other channels as the government was little concerned with primary education.

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