Indian Education systems (In Ancient, Medieval and Modern India)13th February 2020
In ancient times, India had the Gurukula system of education in which anyone who wished to study went to a teacher’s (Guru) house and requested to be taught. If accepted as a student by the guru, he would then stay at the guru’s place and help in all activities at home. This not only created a strong tie between the teacher and the student, but also taught the student everything about running a house. The guru taught everything the child wanted to learn, from Sanskrit to the holy scriptures and from Mathematics to Metaphysics. The student stayed as long as she wished or until the guru felt that he had taught everything he could teach. All learning was closely linked to nature and to life, and not confined to memorizing some information.
The modern school system was brought to India, including the English language, originally by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay in the 1830s. The curriculum was confined to “modern” subjects such as science and mathematics, and subjects like metaphysics and philosophy were considered unnecessary. Teaching was confined to classrooms and the link with nature was broken, as also the close relationship between the teacher and the student.
The Uttar Pradesh (a state in India) Board of High School and Intermediate Education was the first Board set up in India in the year 1921 with jurisdiction over Rajputana, Central India and Gwalior. In 1929, the Board of High School and Intermediate Education, Rajputana, was established. Later, boards were established in some of the states. But eventually, in 1952, the constitution of the board was amended and it was renamed Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). All schools in Delhi and some other regions came under the Board. It was the function of the Board to decide on things like curriculum, textbooks and examination system for all schools affiliated to it. Today there are thousands of schools affiliated to the Board, both within India and in many other countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Universal and compulsory education for all children in the age group of 6-14 was a cherished dream of the new government of the Republic of India. This is evident from the fact that it is incorporated as a directive policy in article 45 of the constitution. But this objective remains far away even more than half a century later. However, in the recent past, the government appears to have taken a serious note of this lapse and has made primary education a Fundamental Right of every Indian citizen. The pressures of economic growth and the acute scarcity of skilled and trained manpower must certainly have played a role to make the government take such a step. The expenditure by the Government of India on school education in recent years comes to around 3% of the GDP, which is recognized to be very low.
“In recent times, several major announcements were made for developing the poor state of affairs in education sector in India, the most notable ones being the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The announcements are;
(a) To progressively increase expenditure on education to around 6 percent of GDP.
(b) To support this increase in expenditure on education, and to increase the quality of education, there would be an imposition of an education cess over all central government taxes.
(c) To ensure that no one is denied of education due to economic backwardness and poverty.
(d) To make right to education a fundamental right for all children in the age group 6–14 years.
(e) To universalize education through its flagship programmes such as Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and Mid Day Meal.”
Education in Ancient India
Broadly speaking three different types of institutions were in vogue which imparted education to the people in Ancient India. In the first instance there was the popular system under which the teacher, as a settled householder, admitted pupils of a tender age and imparted instructions to them.
We also get references in the earlier period when a child received education from his father. Usually the pupils were admitted by the teachers on request by the preceptor and the rite of upanayana was performed. The students usually spent twelve years with their guru. During this period the student lived at the house of teacher and performed several duties as a means of his moral and spiritual discipline.
The usual duties performed by the students included begging for the teacher, collection of wood for sacrificial fires, looking after the house work as well as the cattle. They devoted the rest of the time to their studies.
On his part the teacher had also to fulfill certain moral and spiritual conditions. He was to be well versed in sacred lore and live entirely as a Brahman. He was expected to teach his pupil the truth as was known to him, without concealing anything. Education was open to people of all classes of the Indo-Aryan stock. But the course of training and subjects were not uniform for students of all castes.
While the Brahmana student was specially trained up for teaching and performing sacrifices for others and receiving gifts, the Kshatriya was taught about defence or protection of his people.
But we frequently come across references in Upanishads of Brahmanas of the learned Kshatriyas and princes who studied the Vedas and attained proficiency in the sacred lore, which was special property of the Brahmans. For example king Janaka of Videha was a learned Kshatriya who imparted sacred knowledge to the Brahmanas.
Women were also permitted to receive education in Ancient India. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we get a reference to Gargi taking important part in the philosophical discussions. The Upanishads also mention several women taking as teachers. However, the women specialised in fine arts like dancing and singing, the accomplishments which were considered unfit for men.
Education was imparted through discourses by the teachers. The students could ask questions and were supposed to introspect and contemplate on those topics. They were to acquire knowledge about Ultimate Truth and Reality through meditation.
The acquisition of knowledge was supposed to precede by annihilation of all desire and annihilation of the illusion of a manifold universe, of the consciousness of plurality. This could be attained through sannyasa and yoga.
The former meant casting off of one’s home, possessions and family and all that stimulated desire. Yoga meant withdrawal from all organs of sense and concentrating mind on the Inner Self endeavors with a view to secure union with Atma.
The second type of institutions were meant for the imparting of advanced education to the students who were not satisfied with the knowledge acquired as students and were popularly known as academies. Usually the specialists and literary celebrities held academic meetings in different parts of the country for the purpose of philosophical discussion.
The students keen to acquire advanced education held discussions with these specialists and learnt the truth about the Atma. Participation in debates with these academies enabled the students to check their knowledge which they had acquired at elementary schools.
In addition to these academies located in different areas, the king often called special national gatherings or Congress, in which the representative thinkers of the country of various schools were invited to meet and exchange their views.
Such Congresses helped a great deal in the spread of learning in those days. We learn of one such Congress of rishis in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Satapatha Brahmana and the Vayu Purana.
Education in the Medieval Times
During the Medieval times the education continued to operate on the ancient lines. No doubt, some of the prominent Hindu universities of Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramshila, the great centres of learning, suffered a decline on account of the onslaughts of early Muslim invaders.
Professor A.L. Srivastava has said, “Muslim invaders destroyed Hindu seats of learning as well as Hindu temples and one of the first and most injurious result of the early Turkish rule was the decline, if not disappearance, of the ancient learning in Northern India.”
Though the temples and educational institutions suffered destruction at the hands of the Muslim invaders and Mosques were raised, the Hindu institutions continued to be a living reality. Their vitality was not killed or crushed through the Hindu education was deprived of the Government patronage, the individual patrons kept flam; of learning burning. Usually, the local population supported the village school.
Ibn Batuta writes “I saw in Hanaur thirteen schools for the instruction of the girls and twenty three for boys, a thing I have not seen anywhere else.”
During the medieval time, there were three types of Hindu educational institutions:
(1) Pathshalas or elementary schools
(2) Tols or Colleges and
(3) Private schools.
The children were sent to the Pathshalas at the age of 5 after consulting the Astrologer, where he learnt reading, writing and arithmetic. In addition, he was also given some type of elementary religious instructions. The Tols or Colleges were seats of higher learning where the students were taught Sanskrit language and literature.
The other subjects included in the curriculum were Kavya (poetry), Vyakarna (Grammar), Jyotish (astronomy and astrology), Chhanda (thetoric), Nirukta (lexicon) and Nayaya Durshan (philosophy). In some of the colleges instructions were also imparted in Medicine, History, Geography, Puranas, the Vedas.
The chief aim of Hindu education was character building, development of personality, preservation of ancient culture and inculcation of spirit of social service and performance of religious duties. Special emphasis was laid on discipline and self-dependence.
There was no printed Premier and the children were taught orally. During the primary stage, the children learnt alphabets and figures on wooden board (Takhti) or on the dust of the ground in their fingers. The pupils were usually taught under shadow of a tree where they sat in rows. The master attended to them either standing or sitting on a mat or deer skin. The classes were held twice a day—in the morning and evening with an interval for meals.
Education was imparted free. It was considered to be a pious and noble duty to impart education and it was a handmaid of religion. The State did not extend any financial assistance and the necessary funds were provided by individuals as a matter of religious duty with the object of acquiring personal merit in the next world.
According to Professor K.A. Nilakantha Shastri, “Adult education was provided throughout the country by endowments in temples for the recitation and exposition of the Epics and Puranas. An intelligent and popular expositor seldom contained himself to the words of his text, but at once instructed and amused his audience by ranging over a variety of popular instruction is not unknown even at the present day. The singing of devotional hymns in temples by choirs regularly maintained for that purpose and the training of young men for the same purpose in schools generally attached to it has is another side of education that deserve notice. Besides mathas, Jain Pallis and Buddhist Viharas played an important part in educating the people wherever they existed, and they had large libraries of books in all branches of learning which were being copied from time to time.”
Physical punishments were not that common in Hindu educational institutions. Physical punishment was inflicted only to those students who did not behave properly or consistently failed to do their homework. Usually, punishments given to the students, included their detention after school hours or re-writing a particular lesson 10 or 15 times.
There was no system of regular examinations or award of degrees. The promotion of student to the next higher class depended entirely on the discretion of the teachers.
The chief centres of Hindu learning, which can be designated as the universities, were usually set up at places where eminent scholars resided. Usually these universities came up at places of pilgrimage so that the pilgrims could offer necessary financial assistance.
The teachers and scholars thus rid themselves of financial worries and devoted themselves to the acquisition and dispersal of education. Amongst the prominent seats of learning during the Medieval time mention may be made of Banaras (Varanasi), Nadia, Mithila, Madura, Srinagar, Prayag, Ayodhya etc.
Banaras which had been a great centre of learning from earliest times, suffered a great setback during the early Muslim rule due to their policy of religious persecutions. With the advent of the Mughals it once again regained its importance as a seat of learning and attracted scholars from remotest corners of India.
Bernier was greatly impressed by the facilities of higher education available at Banaras and compared it with Athens of ancient Greece as a centre of learning.
He says in his travels, “The town contains no colleges or regular classes as in our universities, but resembles rather the schools of the ancients, the masters being dispersed over different parts of the town in private houses and principally in the gardens of the suburbs, which the rich merchants permit them to occupy. Some of these eminent may have twelve or fifteen, but this is the larger number. It is usual for the pupils to remain ten or twelve years under their respective preceptors, during which time the work of instruction proceeds, but slowly…”
Kabir and Tulsidas carried on their literary activities at Banaras. Raja Jai Singh also founded a college for the education of the Princes at Banaras. In addition, there were number of other scholars of Hindu religion and philosophy which dispersed their knowledge.
Nadia in Bengal was another rare centre of Hindu learning during the Mughal period. This university rose to prominence after the destruction of the university of Nalanda and Vikramshila. The University of Nadia consisted of three branches at Nabadvipa, Santipura and Gopalpara and attracted students from all parts of the country. It is said that in 1618 there were 4,003 pupils and 600 teachers at Nadia. At Nadia the famous Nyaya school was set up by Vasudeva Sarvabhauma and it soon out-rivalled the school of Mithila. Separate sections were also set up for the study of logic,, philosophy and astronomy.
Mithila, located in North Bihar, which was a centre of great learning from the earliest times retained its importance as a centre of learning throughout the medieval period. It made notable contributions in the realm of scientific subject.
During the Mughal days it drew students from all parts of the country and became great seat for the study of logic. With Nadia gaining prominence as a seat of learning Mithila suffered a setback and many students from Mithila started migrating to Nadia. The other important centres of Hindu learning were Mathura, Brindaban, Prayag and they specialised in certain special subjects.
Modern Education System in India
In India the education system has various aspects and it has evolved since ancient time. The unique things about Indian education system are diversity in fundamentals like language, culture and dialect etc. In the times of yore, India had the Gurukula System of education where the teacher and the pupils used to live together in a distant place and were taught philosophy, arts, science administration and military techniques. Guru was the central persona and the students returned the favour by helping their teacher in their daily chores. Women like Gargi, Gayatri and Maitrayi were prominent personas who participated in educational debates and scholarly researches. However the biggest demerit of the Vedic education was that only one section of society such as the Brahmins had the privilege of education. The Kshatriyas were also given gurucula educations but the lower strata of the society were never imparted any kind of knowledge.
The modern school system was brought to India, including the English language, originally by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay in the 1830s. The curriculum was confined to “modern” subjects such as science and mathematics, and subjects like metaphysics and philosophy were considered unnecessary. Teaching was confined to classrooms and the link with nature was broken, as also the close relationship between the teacher and the student. Today there are thousands of schools affiliated to the Board, both within India and in many other countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Universal and compulsory education for all children in the age group of 6-14 was a cherished dream of the new Government of the Republic of India. This is evident from the fact that it is incorporated as a directive policy in article 45 of the constitution. But this objective remains far away even more than half a century later. However, in the recent past, the Government appears to have taken a serious note of this lapse and has made primary education a Fundamental Right of every Indian citizen.
Modern day education is aided with a variety of technology, computers, projectors, internet, and many more. Diverse knowledge is being spread among the people. Everything that can be simplified has been made simpler. Science has explored every aspect of life. There is much to learn and more to assimilate. Internet provides abysmal knowledge. There is no end to it. One can learn everything he wishes to. Every topic has developed into a subject. New inventions and discoveries have revealed the unknown world to us more variedly. Once a new aspect is discovered, hundreds of heads start babbling over it, and you get a dogma from hearsay. Not only our planet but the whole universe has become accessible. Skill-development and vocational education has added a new feather to the modern system of education. There is something to learn for everyone. Even an infant these days goes to a kindergarten. Rightly said by Aristotle, “Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refugee in adversity.” what everybody feels now.
Well, that was the positive side, but every story has two telling. Of all the virtue, our education system has developed into mere schooling now. Firstly our education is confined to schools and colleges. It has become a process of spoon feeding. “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon”. Not art, not books, but life itself is the true basis of teaching and learning. Cramming of facts and dates, hi-fi mathematical formulas, theories and doctrines should be at college levels when one has chosen his area of interest. Secondly, an art can only be learned from a workshop of those who are earning their bread from it. Modern education has spread more ignorance than knowledge. “How” is missing in our world which causes ignorance. Thirdly all education is bad which is not self-education. Presently, children after school are sent to tuitions. This is a clear question mark on the ability of school teacher. Students are thought of like they can’t do anything on their own and so are sent even to do the homework.. Homework is a waste of time, if it is to repeat class work done today or to be repeated as class work to be done tomorrow. Our schooling does not leave us with time to get educated. My neighbour’s daughter once requested me to give her a print of article from internet on Baisakhi festival as her teacher has ordered for a nice article from internet and not to write on her on. I told her to write it on her own otherwise she will not use her mind but a print command from computer will do the purpose which is not a right thing. Finally our education is producing machines out of pupil. They read books, they speak books and they do books. Discussing in class lead to complications, which remains as confusions for a life time if left untreated. “Discussion in class, which means letting twenty young blockheads and two cocky neurotics discuss something that neither their teacher nor they know.” The private education market in India had a revenue of US$450 million in 2008, but is projected to be a US$40 billion market. Another report from 2013 stated that there were 229 million students enrolled in different accredited urban and rural schools of India, from Class I to XII, representing an increase of 2.3 million students over 2002 total enrollment, and a 19% increase in girl’s enrollment. While quantitatively India is inching closer to universal education, the quality of its education has been questioned particularly in its Government run school system. Some of the reasons for the poor quality include absence of around 25 percent of teachers everyday. It is the duty of Government and education authorities to improve system of education for producing intellectual brains for future and not machines for job.