Role of Pandit Iswar Chandr Vidyasagar in the Development of Science Teacher Education in 19th Century Bengal: Relevance to Present Day


Dr. Bimal Mondal

Assistant Prof. of Education, Serampore Govt. Girls College. West Bengal, India.

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Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar contribution for the development of teacher education in general and science teacher education in particular were investigated. Analysis of primary and secondary data clearly evinced that Vidyasagar considered science education as the fourth” R” in the education curricula and attempted to develop rational thinking and superstition free conscience among the trainee-teachers of Sanskrit college. Vidyasagar was deeply influenced by scepticism, utilitarianism and positivism of the European radical philosophers. For development of scientific spirit among the student he proposed the study of Mills logic especially inductive logic and principles of scientific investigation as proposed by Bacom. Introduction: Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar is well known as a radical social and educational reformer of the 19th Century Bengal. His social reforms are of great historical importance and contributed significantly towards the shaping of modern Indian society. His educational reforms laid down the foundation stones for the vernacular and national educational policy of pre and post-independent India. There are several historiographical account of social and educational reforms envisioned by Vidyasagar (Sarkar, 1970; Poddar, 1970; Ghosh, 1973; Tripathi, 1974; Sen, 1977) but critical analysis of Vidyasagar’s contribution to teacher education in general, and science teacher education in particular is lacking.


KEYWORDS: Iswar Chandra vidyasagar, India, Education, Social, Teacher, Modern.




Historiography of science education in the 19th Century:

The colonial and imperial British raj did not attach importance to science and technical education since it did not want industrialization and economic progress in India. Instead of development of scientific and rational thinking, the British rulers through “orientalism” policy encouraged Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism. No official effort was made for the cultivation of science in India by the East India Company.


Many official proclamations, however, such as Section 43 of the Charter Act of 1813, the resolution of March 7, 1835 and Education Despatches, laid equal stress on the propagation of literature and science of Europe. Rammohan in his famous letter to Lord Amherst in 1823, demanded teaching of “useful sciences”. But the British rulers wanted to produce clerks (cheap-grade administrators) for its administration in India.


The education policy of Macaulay had a literature bias and the traditional literary and metaphysical learnings of the Tols and Madrasas were replaced by English literature, philosophy and metaphysics. No effort was made to impart a deep grasp of science, technology and political economy of Europe for obvious political reasons. Lord Hardinge, the Governor General before establishing the Bengali schools wrote to Queen Victoria in 1844 “The literature of the west is the most favourite study among the Hindus in their schools and colleges” (Mayhew,1928). Historian Brailsford commented that “Indian scholars neglected science and technology and rushed to legal position”, consequently scientific, agriculture and modern industry failed to develop (Brailsford, 1943). In contrast to India, Japan at the same time introduced western sciences such as Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Astronomy in the curriculum first and much later (1868) they started studying western literature, history and political economy (Okuma. 1967).


Analysis from socio-religious point of view clearly indicates that all educational enterprises during the time of Vidyasagar were dominated by religious fundamentalism. The government institutions established during orientalist phase of the company like Benaras and Calcutta Sanskrit Colleges and Calcutta Madrassa were dominated by the teaching of Hinduism and Islam. The missionary institutions preached Christian doctrines covertly or overtly. Private schools established by Rommohan, other natives or Eurasians also were favouring religious teachings of one or other type. The Derozians in the Hindu College though launched a campaign for rational thinking, a skeptical agnosticism and progressive philosophical trends of Europe, remained conficed among the educated urban gentry. Some of them later embraced Christianity and their revolts against the Hindu dogmatism gradually lost ground. The empirical, utilitarian and agnostic philosophies of Europe, the free thinking of Locke. Paine and Hume, the Baconian scientific principles and the supremacy of inductive logic advocated by Mill were absent in “Anglicist” curricula. Moreover, the vernacular education was completely neglected and the medium of instruction was English, consequently, the science education of Indian masses remained abjectly neglected.


Science education at present time:

We live in the age of science. The rapid and revolutionary developments in science and technology with consequent economic and material developments of the nations have led to the world acceptance of science education as a basic component of education and culture (Russell, 1968). Science education is now regarded as the fourth ‘R’ in the educational curriculum of many countries including India.


In most developed countries science education emphasizes (i) understanding of the main facts, concepts, principles and processes in the physical and biological environment, and (ii) development of scientific attitude and spirit of scientific inquiry.


The latter being thought as more important than mere acquisition and mastery of accumulated facts.

To impart such education, development of suitable curriculum, preparation of text books with modern information, trained teachers and equipment and physical facilities are necessary pre-requisites (Kothari, 1968). A science teacher must be aware of the aims and objectives of the science education and well experienced in the pedagogic process of conveying the subject matter to the pupil.


In this background it was assumed that Vidyasagar had a very radical and materialistic outlook about spread of science education and development of scientific attitudes of students of the Sanskrit College. The objective of the present work was to analyse the primary and secondary documentary reports to show that Vidyasagar made pioneering efforts for organising teacher education in general, and science teacher education in particular in the Sankrit College of Calcutta.


Vidyasagar’s contribution to Science Teaching and teacher education:

Vidyasagar started over again (1850, 1852, 1853) that the objective of Sanskrit College was to train “teachers thoroughly qualified to disseminate” the learning they have acquired “amongst the masses of their fellow countrymen”. With what kind of learning Vidyasagar wanted to train them? He thought that they should have sound knowledge in Sanskrit and English language and literature along with the modern developments of western science and philosophy. With such background they would be the best vernacular teachers.


As Principal of Sanskrit College he introduced several radical changes in the course curricula of the college. He abolished the study of obsolete Sanskrit-mathematics and introduced an English Department for imparting courses in modern European Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Astronomy, Moral and Mental Philosophy, Logic and Political Economy (Vidyasagar, 1950, 1852). By modern mathematics he meant Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry, by Astronomy treatise such as that of Herchel and by Logic that of inductive scientific principles of Bacon and Mill (Vidyasagar, 1853).


Vidyasagar’s outlook to the curriculum of science education is best expressed in his “Notes on Vernacular Education” (Vidyasagar, 1854). In this famous memorandum Vidyasagar prescribed the curriculum for Model Vernacular Schools: “Mere reading and writing and a little of Arithmetic should not comprise the whole of this education: Geography, History, Biography, Arithmetic, Geometry, Natural Philosophy, Political Economy and Human Physiology should be taught to render it complete.”


Vidyasagar apparently set the curriculum for the pupils and accordingly for the teachers. For imparting this type of education Vidyasagar recommended the text books to be adopted for Sanskrit College (1850) and vernacular schools (1854). Bengali text books at that time were scarce and he himself wrote several of them. Most notable of them were his Bodhodaya and Jibancharit. In Bodhodaya he mentioned that “five senses are the avenues of our knowledge, by which we can get all sources of knowledge” which angered the missionaries and Hindus equally and they abused Vidyasagar as an atheist (Samaddar and Purkait, 1986). In Jeevancharit he presented the biographies of great European Scientists in lucid Bengali. He encouraged and inspired Akshay Kumar Dutta to write ‘Charupatft’ a general science book and “Bajhyabastur Sahit Maner Sambandhd” – a natural science book, Prasanna Kumar Sarbadhikary to write a mathematics book and many other young scholars to write science books (Bhattacharya,1960).


Vidyasagar in 1854, claimed that “the Sanskrit College, besides being a seat of genral education, to be considered as the Normal school for the training of vernacular teachers” (Notes on Vernacular Education). He further proposed that the Sanskrit College should be entrusted with training of teachers, preparation and adoption of class books, selection of teachers, and general superintendence of the whole programme of teaching in vernacular schools (1850).


Vidyasagar applied for and was permitted by the Director of Pubic Instruction to open a Normal School for training the teachers for the new model vernacular schools. The Normal School was opened in July, 1855. Akshay Kumar Dutta, the famous science writer and editor of “Tattabodhini Patrika” who was dismissed by Debendranath Tagore from the Patrika for his sceptic and agnostic attitude, was appointed Headmaster of the school (Vidyasagar, 1855). The normal school gradually flourished and supplied hundreds of trained teachers with sound knowledge of Natural science to the vernacular schools (G.C.P.I., Report 57-58). Soon the trainees faced unemployment since the number of schools did not increase (G.C.P.I. Report, 57-58).


In September 4, 1857, Vidyasagar sought permission from W. Gordon Young, the Director of Public Instruction for remodelling the Normal School of Sanskrit College for training up of Teachers of Science. Vidyasagar argued that the courses offered in the college and training in the remodelled Normal School would qualify the students for the post of teachers of Science (Sanskrit College letter, 1859). Such a radical proposal from a Brahmin pandit was not sanctioned and soon mutiny blurred all issues except the defence of the empire.


The evidence so far provided clearly indicates that Vidyasagar considered science as fourth ‘R’ in education. He was pioneer in the organisation of science teaching in the 19th Century Bengal. He prescribed the curriculum for Sanskrit College (general college), Normal School (training school) and Vernacular Schools, prepared and compiled the text books required, trained the teachers and enforced strict superintendence of the progress by periodical inspection. Pedagogy at that time was scarcely known, but Vidyasagar possessed books by Rousseau and Pestrlozzi in his personal library. In contrast to the general practice of the time, Vidyasagar abolished physical punishment and use of abusive language to the students in the Metropolitan Institution and trained the teachers accordingly.


Vidyasagar’s most notable contribution to science education in this country was his pioneering effort to develop rational thinking. His remarks regarding course contents of philosophy in Sanskrit College appear to be extremely radical even in the perspective of today. “The most part of the Hindu system of philosophy do not tally with the advanced ideas of modern times” – but still he suggested their retention in the curriculum with the objective that the students “shall have ample opportunity of comparing the system of philosophy of their own with the new philosophy of western world”. In the ‘Notes’ he further started “the students will clearly see that propounders of different systems have attacked each other and have pointed out each other’s errors and fallacies. Thus he will be able to judge for himself. Evidently he wanted to create educated modern teachers with their own judgements and not submissive to orthodox social, religious or educational dogmas. The scientific attitude Vidyasagar strove for is best expressed in his reply to Ballantyne’s comment on Calcutta Sanskrit College. Ballantyne suggested that along with Vedanta and Samkhya, students should read Bishop Berkeley’s Inquiry. This according to Ballantyne would enable the Indian scholars to see that idealistic philosophies like Vedanta are also found in Europe. Vidyasagar made scathing comments which even today appears to be extremely radical. He declared without hesitation that Vedanta and Sankhya were false systems of philosophy and teaching sceptical and agnostic philosophies of Europe should counteract the teaching of these idealistic philosophies. He rejected the inclusion of Inquiry as a text book. As a Brahmin pandit, this statement of Vidyasagar amply exemplifies his scientific and materialistic attitude to education. Many modern scientists and educationists would fail to declare such a view against the revered Hindu philosophies, which according to Vidyasagar were negativistic and non-materialistic.


In the same letter Vidyasagar wrote that he wanted to raise up a band of qualified teachers who “should be perfect masters of their own languages, possess a considerable amount of useful information (western natural science) and be free from the prejudices of their country”. Vidyasagar felt that most serious obstacle against free, rational and scientific thinking in India was “superstitious regard for their own sastras”. It was the common belief then and even now that the “sastras have all emanated from omniscient Rishis”. And therefore they possess all inclusive knowledge and are infallible (Vidyasagar, 1853). Science in Europe developed and progressed by fighting with the religious dogma, but in India, no new idea and expansion or modification of the ideas of the sastras is acceptable to the traditional scholars. The Britishers for political reason did not challenge the orthodoxy, despite all official rhetoric. But Vidyasagar raised a strong voice against these traditional learning and superstitious pundits by saying that “they are a body of men whose long standing prejudices are unshakable” But “we need not fear the opposition of a body declining in their reputation.” In the same letter he expressed hope that proper science education to the younger generation would bring scientific attitude among the people.


It is now apparent that Vidyasagar was deeply influenced by the writings of Locke, Hume and comte. The sceptical, agnostic, utilitarian and humanitarian philosophy sweeping over Europe appeared to him as the alternative to the Century old negativistic philosophy of India. In Europe science and technology progressed surely due to adoption of inductive principles of scientific investigation developed by Bacon. The superiority of inductive logic over the deductive principles was elegantly exposed in treatise of J.S. Mill. Vidyasagar was scholar eminent of Sanskrit literature and Philosophy including Indian Logic which was mostly deductive type. The importance of inductive logic and especially the Baconian principles appeared to him as essential for development of scientific attitude. Accordingly he introduced Mill’s Logic as text book of the Sanskrit College and proposed to introduce Bacon’s writings. Visyasagar was a true visionary in the development of scientific attitude among the teachers trained in his college.


Vidyasagar’sideas: Relevance to present day: Vidyasagar raised his strong voice aganist all social and education prejudices. His rebellion against the sastras especially the ‘Vedanta’ which emphasizes world as illusion and absolute beliefto supernatural is quite revolutionary. To abosish superstition and prejudices Vidyasagar proposed comparative study of historical development of western science and philosophy (Vidyasagar, 1850).


Despite massive increases in education in gereral and science education in particular, the scientific attitude, free and rational thinking are lacking in India. Educationists generally agree that we have acquired the mastery over the accumulated scientific facts but not the spirit of inquiry. Consequently, the religious fundamentalism is still prevailing in the country. In most American Universities (personal experience of the author) the science students are offered a course on “History os science” and another on “Mathodology of Scientific Research” either at the undergraduate or graduate level. The Education Departments in India offer development of philosophy of education and reaearch methodology courses, but very few science departments offer the history or methodology of science courses. The introduction of these courses and comparative study of advancements in philosophy and science in India and western world hopefully would create the free atmosphere of rational thinking in our educated polity and population at large.



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10.   Vidyasagar (1953). Vidyasagar’s letter to the Council of Education on September 7, 1853 in reply to Ballantyne’s report on Calcutta Sanskrit College.Copies of correspondence between the Council of Educatjion and Principal of Sanskrit College, State Archives, Govt.of West Bengal.

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Received on 04.05.2021         Modified on 19.05.2021

Accepted on 31.05.2021      ©AandV Publications All right reserved

Res.  J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 2021; 12(3):137-140.

DOI: 10.52711/2321-5828.2021.00022