Brief History of Education in India

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

The education in India has a rich and interesting history. It is believed that in the ancient days, the education was imparted orally by the sages and the scholars and the information was passed on from one generation to the other.

After the development of letters, it took the form of writing using the palm leaves and the barks of trees. This also helped in spreading the written literature. The temples and the community centers formed the role of schools. Later, the Gurukul system of education came into existence.

The Gurukuls were the traditional Hindu residential schools of learning which were typically in the teacher's house or a monastery. Even though the education was free, the students from well-to-do families paid the Gurudakshina which was a voluntary contribution after the completion of their studies. At the Gurukuls, the teacher imparted knowledge on various aspects of the religion, the scriptures, the philosophy, the literature, the warfare, the statecraft, the medicine astrology and the history. This system is referred as the oldest and the most effective system of education.

In the first millennium and the few centuries preceding, there was a flourishing of higher education at Nalanda, Takshashila University, Ujjain, and Vikramshila Universities. The important subjects were mainly the art, the architecture, the painting, the logic, the grammar, the philosophy, the astronomy, the literature, the Buddhism, the Hinduism, the arthashastra, the law, and the medicine. Each university specialized in a particular field of study. For instance, the Takshila specialized in the study of medicine, while the Ujjain laid emphasis on astronomy.

The Nalanda, being the biggest centre, had all the branches of knowledge, and housed up to 10,000 students at its peak. The British records reveal that the education was widespread in the 18th century, with a school for every temple, mosque or village in most regions of the country. The main subjects were the arithmetic, the theology, the law, the astronomy, the metaphysics, the ethics, the medical science and the religion. The school had the student representatives from all classes of the society.

The present system of education was introduced and founded by the British in the 20th century, by the recommendations of Macaulay. It has western style and content. The British government did not recognize the traditional structures and so they have declined. It is said that even Gandhi described the traditional educational system as a beautiful tree which was destroyed during the British rule.

The first medical college of Kerala was started at Calicut, in 1942-43, during World War II. As there was a shortage of doctors to serve the military, the British Government opened a branch of Madras Medical College in Malabar, which was under Madras Presidency then. After independence, the education became the responsibility of the states and the Central Government coordinated the technical and higher education by specifying the standards.

In 1964, the Education Commission started functioning with 16 members of which 11 were Indian experts and 5 were foreign experts. The Commission also discussed with many international agencies, experts and consultants in the educational as well as scientific field. Later in 1976, the education became a joint responsibility of both the state and the Centre through a constitutional amendment.

The central government through the Ministry of Human Resource Development's Department of Education and the governments at the states formulated the education policy and planning. NPE 1986 and revised PoA 1992 envisioned that free and compulsory education should be provided for all children up to 14 years of age before the commencement of 21st century. Also, the Government of India made a commitment that by 2000, 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be spent on education, out of which half would be spent on the Primary education.

In November 1998, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced setting up of Vidya Vahini Network to link up universities, UGC and CSIR. The general marks-based education system is now being replaced by the grades-based system.

 

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