Saturday, January 26, 2013

One of the differences between India and China

China emphasized universal literacy and universal primary education very early.  But universal primary education remained merely a directive principle of the Indian Constitution, if I remember right, and the fact is that the Indian government spent its efforts in raising those temples of modern India, the universities and IITs.  While I'm a beneficiary of the system, I should note that the Chinese policy has worked much better than the Indian policy.  It is only in the last decade or so, that the Indian government has adopted universal literacy and universal primary education as a goal (though there were a lot of non-government efforts, they hardly had the strength or resources to realize this goal).

In "The Story of English in India", N. Krishnaswamy and Lalitha Krishnaswamy trace this Indian policy to, who else, Macaulay.  I'm quoting more than necessary here, but I believe quotes should carry the context. They tell us that the Englishman William Adam in his Reports, argued that

....the traditional form and institutions presented
'the only true and sure foundations on which any scheme of general or national education can be established.  We may deepen  and extend the foundations; we may improve, enlarge and beautify the super structure; but these are the foundations on which the building should be raised'.
On the other hand Macaulay's plan was to raise the super structure without the foundations.  Adam suggested a 'bottom-up' system from the roots to the top.  Therefore he said:
On the contrary, the efficiency of every successive grade of institution cannot be secured except by drawing instructed pupils from the next lower grade, which, consequently by the necessity of the case, demands prior attention.  Children should not go to colleges to learn the alphabet.  To make the super structure lofty and firm, the foundations should be broad and deep; and thus building from the foundation, all classes of institutions and every grade of instruction may be combined with harmonious and salutary effect.

To labour successfully for them, we must labour with them; and to labour successfully with them, we must get them to labour willingly and intelligently with us.  We must make them in short, the instruments of their own improvement.  And how can this be done but by identifying ourselves and our improvements with them and their institutions.
Macaulay's policy overlooked all native systems of education, Hindu as well as Muslim, which had existed for centuries before the British rule and continued to exist even after the British came to India.  The Macaulayan plan ignored all these systems and transplanted the alien system.   Mahatma Gandhi stated in October 1931: 'The British administrators when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out.  They scratched the soil and began to look at the root like that, and the 'beautiful tree' perished.   The village schools were not good enough for the British administrator, and so he came out with his programme.'   This is exactly what Macaulay did.

Macaulay, as a member of the Governor General's Council, commented on Adam's Report, saying it was not practical to follow the measures suggested in the Report.
I am a little inclined to doubt, however, whether we are at present ripe for any extensive practical measure, which he recommends.  I do not see how we can either make the present teachders of elementary knowledge more competent, or supply their place as yet with fitter men.  The evil is one which time only can remedy.  Our work is to educate the schoolmasters for the next generation.  If we can raise up a class of educated Bengalees, they will naturally, and without any violent change, displace by degrees the present incompetent teachers..... I doubt whether we have the men, and I am sure we have not the money.
 Macaulay was for educating the classes and Adam the masses. Macaulay's scheme fitted very well with the imperial design and Indian education has, even today, a huge super structure without the proper foundations.

.... Macaulay's English education was only for the classes in the urban areas and not for the masses because the masses would be educated in the 'dialects' of the country by the classes; under his 'filtration theory' knowledge was to percolate and reach the larger section of the natives.  (emphasis added)
To remind you:- here is Macaulay
 We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern - a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.  To that class we may leave it to redefine the vernacular dialects in the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from Western nomenclature and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.
So when Chandrabhan Prasad or a Masani write of the Dalits' debt to Macaulay, please to remember that they were part of the "great mass of the population" whom Macaulay's children were supposed to educate.  Such are the ironies of historical illiteracy.

The fact is that as per the available evidence, Indian literacy rates fell throughout the nineteenth century.   The trickle-down theory of education is what the Indian state adopted at Independence;  and it is one of the reasons why India remains so far behind China.  China did not have a Macaulay, and therein lies one of the differences.