Wood’s Education Despatch

Wood's Education Despatch formed the basis of the education policy of east india company's government in India since 1854. Drafted probably at the instance of Sir Charles Wood, President of the board of control, it was forwarded to the Government of India as Despatch No 49 of 19 July 1854 for 'creating a properly articulated system of education, from the primary school to the University'. The renewal of the Company's Charter in 1853 provided the occasion for the despatch. As usual, a Select Committee of the House of Commons held a very thorough enquiry into educational situation in India. Often described as the 'Magna Carta of modern education in India', the despatch was one of the wisest state papers prepared by the court of directors. It was indeed a landmark in the history of education in modern India and presented a comprehensive plan for the later development of the educational system in the subcontinent.

Consisting of a hundred paragraphs the document dealt with several issues of great educational importance. Accepting 'the improvement and far wider extension of education both English and vernacular' as the 'sacred duty' of the Government of India the despatch recommend the following measures for the realisation of the desired aims: (1) the establishment of a separate department of education for its administration; (2) the foundation of universities at the three Presidency towns; (3) the establishment of institutions for training of teachers for all types of schools; (4) the maintenance of the existing government colleges and high schools and establishment of new ones if and when necessary; (5) the establishment of new middle schools; (6) greater attention to vernacular schools, indigenous and others, for expansion of elementary education and (7) the introduction of a system of grants-in aid to help support a rising number of privately managed educational institutions.

The despatch drew special attention of the government 'to the importance of placing the means of acquiring useful and practical knowledge within reach of the great mass of the people'. English was to be the medium of instruction in the higher branches, and the vernacular in the lower. English was to be taught wherever there was a demand for it, but it was not to be substituted for the vernacular. The system of grants-in-aid was to be based on the principle of perfect religious neutrality. A properly graded system of scholarships was to be introduced and female education was to receive the frank and cordial support of the government.

The despatch concluded with the comment that in course of time, government institutions, especially those of the higher order, might safely be closed, or transferred to the management of local bodies under the control of, and aided by, the state. On the basis of these recommendations the new system of education in India gradually evolved. No doubt, with the progress of time the system underwent changes, but the original blueprint was framed by the Despatch of 1854. [Zaheda Ahmad]