Education, Knowledge, and Reality: British East India Company Attempts to Frame Education Policy

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Date of Award

Spring 2014


The East India Company of the late-eighteenth century was charged with establishing a governing structure after conquering much of the territories with which it conducted business. Although the Company retained the structure of a trading entity, British political leaders insisted that further justification for its activities abroad was required. Imperial ideology now focused on the Company’s new role as ruler-administrator and a new-found responsibility to “improve” the peoples it controlled. The “improvement” process was a multi-faceted endeavor designed to transform Indian society. One of the most important aspects of that process was imparting “enlightened” Western knowledge, and developing a system of educational institutions was vital to accomplishing the task. Enacting policies concerning the delivery of education however, proved far more complicated than British leaders and thinkers originally anticipated. Company administrators discovered that the social, political, and religious realities of colonial rule created an environment that required adaptive policy development rather than a universal code, especially in the case of education. Consequently, the ideas flowing from the British metropole did not unilaterally influence the emergence of a colonial education system. Decisions made in distant London were often impractical when applied to India. Consequently much of the colonial education project emerged from the experiences of those on the ground in India. Lack of knowledge about the complexities of Indian society combined with the significant ideological disunity of British leadership to hinder the implementation of definitive education policy. The works and correspondence of officials and educators, both Indian and British, demonstrate the circuitous development of Company education policies influenced by the realities of colonial rule.


William F. Kuracina

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | History