Sir Charles Wood, the President of the Board of Control in the coalition ministry of Earl of Aberdeen (1852-55), was a true product of the Palestinian era of English history.
He was a firm believer in the superiority of English race and institutions and sincerely believed that these institutions could serve as a useful model for the world. Charles Wood showed a larger vision about education than most of the zealous educationists in India.
In 1854 Wood prepared his comprehensive dispatch on the scheme of future education in India. The dispatch came to be considered as the Magna Carta of English education in India. The scheme envisaged a co-ordinate system of education on an all-India basis. The main recommendations may be summarised thus:
(1) It declared that the aim of Government’s educational policy was the teaching of Western education. “The education which we desire to see extended in India” wrote Wood in the dispatch, “is that which has for its object the diffusion of the improved arts, science, philosophy and literature of Europe, in short of European knowledge”.
(2) As to the medium of instruction, it declared that for higher education English language was the most perfect medium of education. It also emphasised the importance of the vernacular languages, for it was through the medium of the vernacular languages that European knowledge could in filter to the masses.
(3) It proposed the setting up of vernacular primary schools in the villages at the lowest stage, followed by Anglo-Vernacular high schools and an affiliated college at the district level.
(4) It recommended a system of grants-in-aid to encourage and foster private enterprise in the field of education. These grants-in-aid were conditional on the institutions employing qualified teachers and maintaining proper standards of teaching.
(5) A department of Public Instruction under the charge of a Director in each of the five provinces of the Company’s territories was to Preview the progress of education in the province and submit an annual report to the Government.
(6) Universities on the model of the London University were proposed for Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The constitution of the University provided for a Senate, a Chancellor, a Vice-Chancellor and Fellows-all to be nominated by the Government. The universities were to hold examinations and confer degrees. A university might set up professorships in various branches of learning.
(7) The dispatch emphasised the importance of vocational instruction and the need for establishing technical schools and colleges.
(8) Teachers’ Training Institutions on the model then prevalent 10 England were recommended.
(9) The dispatch gave frank and cordial support for fostering the education of women.
The new scheme of education was a slavish imitation of English models. Almost all the proposals in the Wood’s Despatch were, The Department of Public Instruction was organised in and it replaced the earlier Committee of Public Instruction and of Education.
The three universities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay came into existence in 1857. Mostly due to Bethune’s efforts girl’s schools were set up on modern footing and brought under the Government’s grant-in-aid and inspection system.
The ideals and methods advocated in Wood’s Despatch dominated the field for about five decades. The same period also witnessed a rapid Westernization of the educational system in India.
The indigenous system gradually gave place to the Western system of education. Most of the educational institutions during this period were run by European headmasters and principals under the Education Department.
The missionary enterprise played its own part and managed a number of institutions. Gradually private Indian effort appeared in the field.