H.R. James called the Wood’s Despatch “the Magna Charta of Indian education”. The Magna Charta was the great Charter of English personal and political liberty obtained from John in 1215. A Charter is the written grants of rights by a sovereign.
The Wood’s Despatch was a written document which gave forth recommendations to improve education of the country.
It was thus a sort of Charter giving Indians the rights of primary, elementary, secondary and higher education. It gave them rights for vocational education and for the education of girls.
Had the recommendations offered by the Despatch been followed completely without any deficiency and had the suggestions been carried out entirely, the foundation for a national system of education would have been laid. But unfortunately this was not done.
For example, if we examine the history of education in the period which followed (1854-1882) we find that the Education departments were established in the province but they could not promote the interest of education.
Similarly, the system of grant-in- aid did not operate well because of the inadequacy of grants, the irregularity of its release, step-motherly treatment towards the privately managed non-Mission Schools, and complexity of rules.
The Primary education also did not make much headway because the Government had little time to attend to the primary education, the funds were inadequate, and the money raised through educational cess was diverted to other channels.
The university education similarly could not be improved because the universities remained for a long time examining bodies. Not teaching was done; no chairs were formed.
This shows that the suggestions could not be carried out in their entirety.
The result was that there was a lopsided development of education even after the publication of the Dispatch. To regard the Despatch as the climax of Indian education would be unfair and to accept what James says would be against propriety.
We cannot regard the Despatch as the Great Charter because-
1. The state did not provide for elementary education as was required.
2. The government did not curb the proselytizing activities of the missionaries. The policy of neutrality was not acted upon even for a long time after the Despatch.
3. The state did not stop the instruction in schools and colleges through the medium of English.
The Charter, if at all it was so, remained on paper. The expenses on secondary and higher education were not cut down: the funds for primary and elementary education could not be adequately provided.
As a result, primary indigenous education suffered in comparison to secondary and higher education. The higher education also remained equally defective. There was no teaching in the universities. Indian languages could not find any place in higher education and were neglected.
The Depatch is said to have adopted the policy of religious neutrality. It declared that there would be no religious instruction and for an appointment to a government post one’s religion would not be a bar. It did not happen so.
The Bible remained in the libraries of the colleges and schools and no notice of the religious instruction imparted in the schools was taken off by the inspectors in their periodical visits. Christianity was indirectly forced upon the pupils.
The medium of instruction did not change. English occupied the same place as it did before. The result was that pupils had to cram object-matter, or had to use cheap notes to pass the examination.
Had the government adopted the ideal of universal literacy, we might have been justified to regard it as a great educational Charter the Despatch itself did not regard it the duty of the state to educate every child. M.R. Paranjpe wrote in 1941, “It would be ridiculous to describe the Despatch as an Education Charter in the year 1941 whatever might have been its values in 1854.”
The same argument may be advanced for the present and it can be asserted that whatever has been the importance of Wood’s Despatch in 1854 but to call it the Charter of Education now would be ludicrous.
We have in the report of the Education Commission 1964-66 much more significant recommendations on the aims and objectives of nationalistic system of education, in the improvement of primary, secondary, and higher education, on the medium of instruction, curriculum, teacher training, female education, vocational education and religious policy.
The Despatch failed to place emphasis on character, initiative and leadership among students. It tended to shake the faith of the future generations in the native culture and civilization for it wished ‘to confer upon the people of India the vast moral and material blessings which flowed from the general diffusion of useful knowledge’.
The system was fitted to answer the needs of the British people and the British government in India because the knowledge that would be conferred on the Indian people would ‘secure for the people of England a large and a more certain supply of many articles necessary for their manufacture and an inexhaustible demand for the produce of British labour’.
The system of education that the Wood’s Dispatch wanted to create in the country would supply the British government ‘with servants to whose probity they might with increased confidence commit offices of trust’.
The Wood’s Despatch and the Education of the Masses
Compelled by a sense of moral obligation to the masses the government thought of directing active and special measures to convey to the Indian public useful and practical knowledge. Changes in the policy and programmes of education were brought about. Departments of Public Instruction were opened in five provinces.
The Despatch recommended to the government that more and more elementary schools should be opened in every district in each province that indigenous schools should be encouraged and that scholarships to capable students should be granted so that they might go high up the educational ladder.