G. K. Gokhale’s speech in the Imperial Legislative Council on the Primary Education Bill (16 March 1911)

Introduction: Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866- 1915) was the leader of the „Moderates“ in the Indian National Congress whose president he was in 1905 when the partition of Bengal excited Indian nationalists. In 1906 he had talks with Lord Morley in London on the impending constitutional reforms for India. In 1912 he visited South Africa at the request of M. K. Gandhi who considered him to be  his mentor and planned to join the Servants of India Society founded by Gokhale in 1905. Gokhale became a member of the Bombay Legislative Council in 1899 and of the Imperial Legislative Council in 1902 where he introduced the primary education bill

(see also AHOII, Ch. 6, section: The uses of education)

My Lord, I rise to ask for leave to introduce a Bill to make better provision for the extension of elementary education throughout India.

The State today accepts the education of the children as a primary duty resting upon it. Even if the advantages of an elementary education be put as no higher than a capacity to read and write, its universal diffusion is a matter of prime importance, for literacy is better than illiteracy any day, and the banishment of a whole people’s illiterarcy is no mean achievement. But elementary education for the mass of the people means something more than a mere capacity to read and write. It means for them a keener enjoyment of life and a more refined standard of living. It means a greater moral and economic efficiency of the individual. It means a higher level of intelligence for the whole community in general.............
My Lord, it may be urged, and with some show of reason, that as mass education is essentially a Western idea and India has not been under Western influences for more than a century, it is not fair to compare the progress made by her with the achievements of Western nations in that field. I am not sure whether there is really much in this view, for even in most Western countries, mass education is a fairly recent development, and even in the East we have before us the example of Japan which came under the influence of the West less than half a century ago, and has already successfully adopted a system of universal education. ...... Within the borders of India itself, the Maharaja of Baroda has set an example of enthusiasm in the cause of education for which he is entitled to the lasting gratitude of the people of the country. His Highness began his first experiment in the matter of introducing compulsory and free education in his state in ten villages of Amreli Taluka. After watching the experiment for eight years, it was extended to the whole taluka in 1901, and finally, in 1906, primary education was made compulsory and free throughout the State for boys between the ages of 6 and 12, and for girls between the ages of 6 and 10. The age limit for girls has since been  raised from 10 to 11............
My Lord, one great need  of the situation, which I have ventured again and again to point out in this Council for several years past, is that the Government should enable us to feel that, though largely foreign in personnel, it is national in spirit and sentiment; and this it can only do by undertaking towards the people of India all those responsibilities, which national Governments in other countries undertake towards their people.

(Speeches of Gopal Krishna Gokhale (Madras, 2nd ed.1916), p.718 f,.)


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