South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Rapidly 'Improving' Pathshalas and the Threat to Downward Infiltration of Knowledge in Eastern India, 1854-1882

Friday, July 6
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Maple, Lower Ground Floor

The colonial state's policy to 'improve' the curriculum and pedagogy of the indigenous vernacular elementary schools- pathshalas- of Eastern India produced an apparent paradox. The rapid improvement of some pathshalas mostly located in or near areas of out-migration to Calcutta and its suburbs- slowed down and reshaped the reforms. These pathshalas and their clientele demanded their transformation into Anglo-vernacular schools that taught the English language- a useful skill in the colonial economy. The state responded by encouraging pathshalas to partially retain their traditional curriculum and pedagogy so long as they limited themselves to vernacular education.
The state feared that the rapid transformation of a traditional local institution might cause social unrest. If the pace was forced by people themselves, even if only in pockets, it could, in addition, destabilize the sociological template of "downward infiltration" which animated the state's education policy in eastern India. "Downward infiltration" implied that education should start from the social elites who would, in turn, encourage the masses to get educated. Initiative and enthusiasm from the masses were considered an anomaly. This apparent paradox shows that the nature and shape of modern education in colonial India, far from being state-centric, was deeply marked by the tensions between the state, society, and market. The conflict of interest over the nature and pace of pathshala reforms produced a mixture of modern and traditional forms in lower tiers of colonial education. This questions the linear historiographical narratives of transformation from the pathshalas to the schools.

Akash Bhattacharya

Jawaharlal Nehru University, India

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2 - Rapidly 'Improving' Pathshalas and the Threat to Downward Infiltration of Knowledge in Eastern India, 1854-1882



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