EDUCATION IN INDIA
Allahabad is the center of learning, the Athens in India, the seat of a native university, the residence of many prominent men, the headquarters of Protestant missionary work, the residence of the governor of the United Provinces, Sir James La Touche, one of the ablest and most progressive of the British officials in India. Allahabad was once a city of great importance. In the time of the Moguls it was the most strongly fortified place in India, but the ancient citadel has been torn down by the British and the palaces and temples it contained have been converted into barracks, arsenals and storehouses. Nowhere in India have so many beautiful structures been destroyed by official authority, and great regret is frequently expressed. Allahabad was also a religious center in ancient times and the headquarters of the Buddhist faith. The most interesting monument in the city is the Lat of Osoka, one of a series of stone columns erected by King Asoka throughout his domains about the year B. C. 260, which were inscribed with texts expressing the doctrines of Buddhism as taught by him. He did for that faith what the Emperor Constantine the Great did for Christianity; made it the religion of the state, appointed a council of priests to formulate a creed and prepare a ritual, and by his orders that creed was carved on rocks, in caves and on pillars of stone and gateways of cities for the education of the people. The texts or maxims embodied in the creed represent the purest form of Buddhism, and if they could be faithfully practiced by the human family this world would be a much better and happier place than it is.
Several handsome modern buildings are occupied by the government, the courts and the municipal officials, and the university is the chief educational institution of northern India. There are five universities in the empire - at Bombay, Calcutta, Lahore, Allahabad and Madras - and they are managed and conducted on a plan very different from ours, having no fixed terms or lectures, but having regular examinations open to all comers who seek degrees. The standard is not quite so high as that of our colleges and the curriculum is not so advanced. The students may come at 15 or 16 years of age and be examined in English, Latin, Greek history, geography, mathematics and the elements of science, the course being just a grade higher than that of our high schools, and get a degree or certificate showing their proficiency. They are very largely attended by natives who seek diplomas required for the professions and government employment. After two years' study in any regular course a student may present himself for an examination for a degree and is then eligible for a diploma in law, medicine, engineering and other sciences.
The slipshod systems pursued at these institutions have been severely criticised by scientific educators, but they seem to answer the purpose for which they are intended. It is often asserted that the colleges and universities in India do not cultivate a genuine desire for learning; that the education they furnish is entirely superficial, and that it is obtained not for its own sake, but because it is a necessary qualification for a government appointment or a professional career. It is asserted that no graduate of any of these institutions has ever distinguished himself for scholarship or in science, that no native of India educated in them has ever produced any original work of merit, and that no problem of political or material importance has ever been solved by a citizen of this empire. In 1902 Lord Curzon, who has taken a deep interest in this subject and is an enthusiastic advocate of public schools, appointed a commission to investigate the conduct and efficiency of the universities of India. The report was not enthusiastic or encouraging. It was entirely noncommittal. At the same time it must be said that the universities and colleges of India are a great deal better than nothing at all, and as there is no other provision for higher education they serve a very important purpose.
The deplorable illiteracy of the people of India is disclosed by the recent census. Ninety-five per cent of the men and more than 99 per cent of the women have never learned the first letter of the alphabet, and would not recognize their own name it written or printed. I have been told by ladies engaged in missionary and educational work that grown people of the lower classes cannot even distinguish one picture from another; that their mental perceptions are entirely blank, and that signs and other objects which usually excite the attention of children have no meaning whatever for them. The total number of illiterates recorded is 246,546,176, leaving 47,814,180 of both sexes unaccounted for, but of these only 12,097,530 are returned as able to read and write. The latest statistics show that 3,195,220 of both sexes are under instruction.
And even the percentages I have mentioned do not adequately represent the ignorance of the masses of the people, because more than half of those returned by the census enumerators as literates cannot read understandingly a connected sentence in a book or newspaper and can only write their own names. The other half are largely composed of foreigners or belong to the Brahmin castes. The latter are largely responsible for present conditions, because their long-continued enjoyment of a hereditary supremacy over the rest of the population has been due to their learning and to the ignorance of the masses belonging to other castes. They realize that they could never control any but an illiterate population. Hence the priests, who should be leaders in education, are, generally speaking, the most formidable opponents of every form of school.
The census shows that only 386,000 natives in the whole of India possess a knowledge of English, and this number includes all the girls, boys and young men under instruction.