Aravindan Neelakandan: How India Made Britain More Literate: The ‘Beautiful Tree’ Beyond Dharampal
Dharampal’s book ‘The Beautiful Tree’ contains a 1823 report by Ballari district collector. The collector mentions a curious fact:
The economy with which children are taught to write in the native schools, and the system by which the more advanced scholars are caused to teach the less advanced and at the same time to confirm their own knowledge is certainly admirable, and well deserved the imitation it has received in England.
Rev. Bell was in India to work in the asylum for the progeny of British soldiers through native Indian women, whom of course the soldiers abandoned. The imported teachers for these children were not exactly enthusiastic. One day as he was riding along Madras beach he noticed a native school session. He saw “little children writing with their fingers on sand, which after the fashion of such schools, had been strewn before them for that purpose” and he also saw “peer teaching - children learning from one another.”
Bell had his Eureka moment. He experimented successfully with this method and in 1797 published the description of his “Madras method” in England. Tooley discovered that the new National Society for the Education for the Poor in 1811 adapted this Madras method and by 1821, 300,000 children were being educated by Bell’s principles .
Meanwhile Jospeh Lancaster has launched his famous Lancastrian schools for furthering education in England. Bell and Lancaster entered into a bitter controversy as to the intellectual property of the particular system of education. But Tooley points out that “it wasn’t invented by either Bell or Lancaster. It was based precisely on what the Rev.Dr.Andrew Bell had observed in India”.