Colonial impact on our mindsets

One legacy of British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent is the clerical mindset they had left people with

Farhana Shahzad October 17, 2017
The writer is a teaching fellow in the writing and communication stream, department of humanities and social sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences

One irksome but enduring legacies of British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent is the clerical mindset they had left people with. According to the father of Western education in the subcontinent Thomas 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.”

The objective behind educating Indians was solely to breed a set of individuals who could become the medium of communication between the natives and the colonialists. These individuals were also instrumental in serving the ulterior motive of the British of perpetuating a clerical mindset in the rich, proud, and independent minded natives of India.

The British achieved complete governance by instituting in the natives a sense of inferiority. They ascertained this inferiority through the education system they enforced. A British education was considered superior to the one which had been prevailing in this part of the world since ancient times. This was witnessed by the policies laid out by Macaulay in 1835 in his famous ‘Macaulay’s Minute’.

He had arrived in India only a year before and Lord Bentinck entrusted him with the task of formulating an educational policy for India. Macaulay had no respect for Oriental learning or Eastern languages. He openly condemned the Orientalists and supported the Anglicist views, the two schools of thought prevailing at that time. He ran down indigenous languages such as Sanskrit, Arabic and Urdu and commented that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole literature of India and Arabia”.

The targeted factions of the natives were mostly Muslims as Mughals had been ruling the subcontinent before them. By targeting the ruling ethnicity, the British ensured that they crippled the thought processes and critical thinking skills to curb any notion of revolt.

The removal of Urdu as the official medium of instruction in the nineteenth century, and English gaining precedence over it by the chosen native elitist of the pre-partition India, proved to be a major obstacle to the acquisition of quality education by the majority of the Muslim population. To make matters worse, the ‘Quit India movement’ further exacerbated the educational status of the Muslims of the subcontinent.

Then Pakistan came into existence. The new state inherited a legacy of a handful of feudal lords and bureaucrats — the alleged ‘desi babus’ who had been trained by the English to rule the masses. These feudal lords carried on where the British had left off. Pakistan was formed for the sole purpose of letting the Muslims pursue their religious and cultural practices freely under a secular government, but what resulted was a state run by either a series of military dictators or a pseudo-democratic government consisting of feudal dynasties.

In the current scenario, the education system of Pakistan entails both public and private sector institutions along with other non-profit NGO-run institutions. According to the Islamabad Policy Research Institute report of 2015:

The education system of Pakistan comprises 260,903 institutions and is facilitating 41,018,384 students with the help of 1,535,461 teachers. The system includes 180,846 public institutions and 80,057 private institutions. Hence, 31% educational institutions are run by the private sector while 69% are public institutions.

The predominant percentage consists of state-run institutions. They are responsible for imparting education to the children of general population. It is not a hidden fact that the condition of the public-sector schools is pitiable.

Not only the physical infrastructure of the state-run schools is in deplorable condition, but also the educational strategies deployed to teach are a result of Macaulay’s introduction of English as the medium of instruction in Macaulay’s Minute presented in 1835.

The most lingering adverse effects of this policy can be seen in the status quo of our prevailing educational system. Macaulay’s Minute has a substantial part to play in it since he purposefully condemned the indigenous languages. As a result, the elitist natives started enrolling their children in private English-medium schools that initiated to cater to the needs of these upper echelons of society.

This created a further divide in the social structure of India — a land already plagued by such imbalances. These imbalances were also inherited by the young nation of Pakistan and what originated was an educational system constituting of two categories of schooling: the public for the masses, the private for the elites.

These public or state-run schools employ a system of pedagogy which engages methods and strategies that relies heavily on rote-learning most of the concepts of majority of the subjects. Even languages are no exception, and students are made to learn essays and compositions, which they regurgitate in their exams. This system of pedagogy curbs any ability to think critically, and it leads to the development of such individuals who absorb information on face value, deprived of the ability to ask probing questions. Even if there is a rarity, and a pupil is inquisitive enough to probe, his/her voice is stifled by the public school teachers. They believe in complete submission and any form of critical thought is considered an act of disobedience, which deserves punishment.

It is argued that the current condition of our educational system is not only the remnant of the development of the clerical mindset of the natives by the English, but it can also be attributed to the faulty policies adopted by the government of Pakistan. Moreover, the dearth of resources has been instrumental in curbing our educational policies.

There is no doubt that the onus of the blame cannot be given solely to the colonialists, but our corrupt politicians have played their part in carrying on the legacy, and they should also be held responsible for it. So who are the politicians that have played havoc with our developmental programmes?

These corrupt policymakers are the heirs of the feudal lords, and successors of the native elitists who served the British and helped them to build a stronghold in the subcontinent — they are the lingering remnants of the British Raj.

One such flawed policy is the introduction of the English language as a medium of instruction at the secondary level while the private school students’ counterparts start acquiring knowledge in English right from commencement in pre-school. In comparison, the public schools due to the lack of trained English teachers are introduced to the English language as a medium of instruction at a much later stage. Public-sector teachers teach English language as a subject, which should be an evolutionary process of acquisition, and the students are left with no option but to rote learn even language to gain merit-marks percentage.

The problem is compounded when both the stream of students are educated together at the tertiary level. Public-school students are found deficient at most of the subjects since the medium of instruction is English. Moreover, they are also found faltering at subjects, which require critical thinking and create a mixed ability class with a gaping crevice between the students of both the streams.

Consequently, the need of the hour is to improve the status quo of the public institutions. In order to achieve this objective, we have to train more critically aware and less marks oriented students for which the following measures should be taken:

• A standardised curriculum,

• English as a medium of instruction should be introduced in public schools right from inception of a child.

• A more student-centered curriculum should be initiated.

• A set of courses should be introduced in public sector schools, which develops the critical thinking skill set of students.

Therefore, by embracing these policies in our education sector the divergence between the two streams of students can be reduced — a dire need if we are to achieve any progress and stay in step with the rest of the world.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2017.

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Siraj | 5 years ago | Reply The writer is negating her own point made in the article while recommending teaching of English in public schools. In my opinion we must get rid of English and promote Urdu language across all social stratum
Aminullah | 5 years ago | Reply The column is good enough to shed light on the current educational situation. But the only thing you hv'nt discuss here is the gape between rich and poor due to double standard of medium of instruction. In private sector institutions the students are being taught english which become part as value of high culture. The childern belonging to low or poor class could not pay for that standard education. In this way they continuously remain marginalized through out their career. I think the govt should make the local languages compulsary in text books at primary level both in public and private institutions. In this way the English could be made devalued along with making students critical by easily understanding the concepts.
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