Do you have any idea of how children were taught in pre-British times? Have you ever wondered whether they went to school? And if there were schools, what happened to the local schools under British rule. Let us learn about the Report of William Adam first.
The Report of William Adam
In the 1830s, William Adam, a Scottish missionary, toured the districts of Bengal and Bihar. He had been asked by the Company to report on the progress of education in vernacular schools. The report of William Adam was interesting. Adam found that there were over 1 lakh pathshalas in Bengal and Bihar. These were small institutions with no more than 20 students each. But the total number of
children being taught in these pathshalas was considerable over 20 lakh.
These institutions were set up by wealthy people, or the local community. At times they were started by a teacher (guru). The system of education was flexible. Few things that you associate with schools today were present in the pathshalas at the time. There was no fixed fee, no printed books, no separate school building, no benches or chairs, no blackboards, no system of separate classes, roll call registers, no annual examinations, and no regular timetable. In some places classes were held under a banyan tree, in other places in the corner of a village shop or temple, or at the guru’s home.
Fee depended on the income of parents: the rich had to pay more than the poor. Teaching was oral, and the guru decided what to teach, in accordance with the needs of the students. Students were not separated out into different classes: all of them sat together in one place.
The guru interacted separately with groups of children with different levels of learning. Adam discovered that this flexible system was suited to local needs. For instance, classes were not held during harvest time when rural children often worked in the fields.
The pathshala started once again when the crops had been cut and stored. This meant that even children of peasant families could study. New routines, new rules up to the mid-nineteenth century, the Company was concerned primarily with higher education. So it allowed the local pathshalas to function without much interference.
After 1854 the Company decided to improve the system of vernacular education. It felt that this could be done by introducing order within the system, imposing routines, establishing rules, ensuring regular inspections. It appointed a number of government pandits, each in charge of looking after four to five schools.
The task of the pandit was to visit the pathshalas and try and improve the standard of teaching. Each guru was asked to submit periodic reports and take classes according to a regular timetable.
Teaching was now to be based on textbooks and learning was to be tested through a system of annual examinations. Students were asked to pay a regular fee, attend regular classes, sit on fixed seats, and obey the new rules of discipline. Pathshalas which accepted the new rules were supported through government grants. Those who were unwilling to work within the new system received no government support.
Over time gurus who wanted to retain their independence found it difficult to compete with the government-aided and regulated pathshalas. The new rules and routines had another consequence. In the earlier system children from poor peasant families had been able to go to pathshalas, since the timetable was flexible. The discipline of the new system demanded regular attendance, even during harvest time when children of poor families had to work in the fields. Inability to attend school came to be seen as indiscipline, as evidence of the lack of desire to learn.