Read CHAPTER XII - SCHOOLS of Life and Work in Benares and Kumaon‚ 1839-1877 , free online book, by James Kennedy, on

From the commencement of Missions, schools have received much attention, and have absorbed a large part of mission agency. These schools have been of different orders, many primary, a number secondary, and a few educating the pupils up to the University mark for degrees. I have had a great deal of experience in teaching and superintending primary and secondary schools, and I have seen something of the institutions of the highest class. I now speak of schools for boys and young men. Girls’ schools will receive attention in a subsequent chapter.

I do not know any mission in Northern India where elementary education has been entirely neglected. Some have done much more in this department than others, but all have devoted to it a measure of attention and effort. We had at one time ten schools of this class in different parts of Benares. In these humble schools many have learned to read, write, and keep accounts, and have thus been fitted for discharging efficiently their secular work. Their minds have been furnished and their character improved by useful information communicated to them. Above all, Christian instruction has been imparted. The schools have been frequently visited by the missionary and his native assistants for the special object of reading with the pupils portions of the Scriptures, and inculcating the lessons they contain. Thus readers for our Scriptures and Christian books have been prepared, who we may hope come to their perusal with weakened prejudice from the kindly feeling with which we are regarded. A favourable impression has thus been made on the minds of parents as well as of pupils.

I have already mentioned that these schools have been utilized for preaching-stations, and have been well adapted for this purpose. They have been carried on at small expense. The great drawback has been that with few exceptions the teachers have been Hindus. They have been of the Kaisth, the writer caste, who are as a caste less imbued perhaps with Hinduism than any other. When Christians have been available their services have of course been thankfully secured. For some years the Hindu element has been gradually withdrawn from the teaching staff. Two of the early teachers in our time became Christians, one having been baptized in our Mission, and the other in the Church Mission at Benares.

The whole state of primary education in the North-West, I may say in India, is on a very different footing from what it was in 1840. Great progress in every department of education has been made since that time. Considering the vast importance of primary education, the advancement has not been so great as might have been expected, but there is every prospect of its being largely extended in the immediate future. It is hoped that one outcome of the Education Commission which is now sitting will be the gathering into schools of many thousands of the young who have been hitherto neglected.

In most Missions of any standing, even where the chief attention has been given to direct evangelistic work, some provision has been made for secondary education. A school with this object was established in our Mission in 1845. It was taught in a well-sized native house, and was afterwards transferred to a larger building. It had successive superintendents, the late Mr. Sherring, Mr. Blake, and myself. It was a longer time under Mr. Sherring than under any other, and in it he laboured very diligently and efficiently. It received the name of the Central School, as our idea was to transfer to it the best boys from what we called the Bazar schools. It was intended to allow none to enter who had not made some progress in reading their own language, but we found this exclusion impracticable, and we were obliged to form an elementary department. English was taught, and the higher classes were introduced to geometry, algebra, history, especially Indian history, and other similar branches of a liberal education. Almost all when they entered were ignorant of English. Those who remained a considerable time made fair progress, a few made remarkable progress; and we were happy to find that many on leaving us obtained responsible situations, which they continued to hold to the satisfaction of their superiors.

For years under successive superintendents the Head Master was a Christian, Babu Ram Chunder Basu, who is now most usefully employed as a lecturer to educated natives. His great attainments, his diligence and teaching power, did much to promote the prosperity of the school.

In our Central school a very prominent place was given to Christian instruction. Every day Scripture lessons were given by Christian teachers; on Saturday, for years, a lecture was delivered to the assembled school; and on Sunday morning a service was held, at which there was a good voluntary attendance. The effect of the prominence thus given to Christian teaching was shown early in 1857, when on a plan arranged by the zealous public-spirited Commissioner of the Benares Province, Mr. Henry Carre Tucker, there was a gathering in the city of the pupils from all the schools in the province who choose to attend to submit to an examination in Scripture knowledge. Prizes in money and books were given to those who proved themselves most proficient. A great number of lads and boys made their appearance, and the high place taken by the pupils of our Central school showed how well they had been taught.

Some missions provide for taking their pupils on to the University standard. Among these the missions in the Presidency cities have held, and from their peculiar sphere must continue to hold, the first rank. I have already observed nothing interested me more, nothing delighted me more on reaching Calcutta early in 1839, than the sight of many young men and boys taught in the institutions of the Church of Scotland and of our own Mission. It was most exhilarating to see so many bright youths studying our language, introduced to Western knowledge, and, above all, led to the fountain of truth in the Word of God. Dr. Duff was not the first in establishing in Calcutta an institution for the teaching of English; he was not the first in establishing a Christian school; many were before him in this good work: but he was the first in setting up an institution on a large scale on a thoroughly Christian basis, in which English was to have the first place, and in which provision was made for carrying the students on to the University standard of Europe. In 1843 the missionaries, on account of their adherence to the Free Church, were obliged to give up their buildings in Cornwallis Square, and to seek accommodation in another part of Calcutta, where they have continued their scholastic work with great zeal and efficiency. The institution in Cornwallis Square has been conducted for many years with remarkable success by the missionaries of the Established Church of Scotland. All the missions of Calcutta have taken part in this work, and have sent forth bands of well-educated young men, who have acquired a large acquaintance with the Word of God.

Similar institutions have been formed throughout the country. As may be supposed, these vary greatly in resources and efficiency. Years ago our Central school was transferred from a rented house in the city to a large purchased house in the suburbs, where, under the name of the High School, it has continued to flourish. Many of its students have successfully passed the Entrance examination of the Calcutta University, and a considerable number have passed the First Arts examination. It has always stood high in native estimation, has had a large attendance of pupils, and is reckoned one of the best institutions of the kind in the North-West. The change from the Central school, with its secondary education, the the High school, with its arrangement to carry on the pupils further, was made by the late Mr. Sherring, and to his assiduous care and efficient management its success is largely due. It maintains its character under the superintendence of our friend Mr. Hewlett, who has arranged for the opening of a B.A. class.

I have mentioned the University standard. For many years after our going to India there was no University in the land. The establishment of Universities in Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, and the introduction of the grant-in-aid system, have effected in the educational department a change so great that it may be called a revolution. The studies in mission schools are to a large extent what they were, but they have come under new conditions, which greatly alter the proportionate attention given to them, and the degree of zeal with which they are prosecuted. Under the grant-in-aid system missionaries are allowed full liberty in giving Christian instruction to their pupils. The only thing required by the Government Inspector is that the secular education be such as will entitle the school to a grant. If formerly a mission school egregiously failed in fitting the pupils for the positions in life to which they were looking forward, it rightly lost favour, and was soon deserted. Now there is a new urgent necessity for efficiency, and the healthy stimulus thus given is in itself a marked benefit; but if care be not taken the opportunity for imparting Christian instruction is impaired, which formed the main inducement for missionaries taking part in the work.

The effect of the change is most marked in our higher schools. There is a widely spread and intense ambition for University honours. Not only in the Presidency cities, but in the great cities of the country, a crowd of boys and young men are eager for admission to the University circle. This eagerness springs from the desire for honourable distinction, which is as strong in the minds of Indian youth as in any youth on the face of the earth. It springs, perhaps, still more from the fact that the University stamp, attesting educational proficiency, is a high recommendation in favour of applicants for well-paid situations. It would be hard to say how far a love of knowledge contributes to this eagerness for study. It would be uncharitable to affirm it is altogether absent, but it would be shutting one’s eyes to potent facts to suppose it furnishes the greater part of the motive power. Owing to various causes, such as the want of opportunity, of capacity, and diligence, the great majority of students do not aspire higher than the Entrance examination; but even to pass this successfully is considered a great feat, and many are proud of achieving it. The Calcutta University has a high standard for degrees, and those who acquire them are entitled to be considered well-educated men.

The effect of this eagerness, we may say this rage for University distinction, on mission schools can be easily conceived. The great question with the student is, “How can I get to the University goal? What are the studies which promise the quickest and largest success?” The studies which do not lead to this goal have little attraction; while those that lead to it, and just in proportion as they lead to it, are eagerly pursued. Our Scriptures have no place in the University curriculum. The consequence is that the student, whose supreme aim is to acquit himself well when he goes up for degrees, and estimates studies by their bearing on his success, gives to the Bible only the attention required by the rule of the institution he attends, and he often gives that attention reluctantly; so that even the knowledge he cannot fail to acquire can scarcely be expected to tell on his heart and conscience. Every hour given to the Bible he is apt to regard as taken away from the studies which he most highly values, and in which, with all his application, he finds it difficult to attain proficiency.

It is undeniable that mission schools have been, and are, popular with the people of India. From the Report just published of our Benares Mission it appears that at present there are 1,265 pupils in its schools, boys and girls. Various things have conduced to this popularity. Missionaries as a class have acquired a firmly established character for attention to their pupils and kindly treatment of them. They are credited with good motives by many who have no drawing to Christianity. Then, for a considerable time no charge for tuition was made, the pupils being simply required to pay for their school books. Since fees have been taken they are, I believe, generally lower than in Government institutions; though, on the other hand, these have scholarships and prizes which are far beyond any pecuniary advantage mission schools can offer. There is, of course, in our schools the possibility of the pupils’ ancestral religion being weakened, or even abandoned, but the hope is entertained both by them and their parents that the danger will be escaped. While the main motive for resorting to our schools is secular advancement ­undoubtedly a right motive, if kept within due limits ­the missionaries, while earnestly desiring the temporal welfare of their pupils, are actuated by a still higher motive, which they constantly avow. Till the establishment of the University, boys and young men, while prosecuting the special object for which they had put themselves under tuition, with few exceptions showed no disinclination to Christian instruction. A portion of the school-time was allotted for it, and to the work of that time many cheerfully applied themselves. Some became deeply interested, and a few were led in consequence to avow their faith in Jesus. With the new University system a new order of things has come in, which has placed Christian instruction under great disadvantages.

In consequence of this change some have advocated the entire withdrawal of mission agency from the schools where the higher education is imparted. It has been said, “Why should missionaries from day to day be doing the work of mere secular teachers, in hope that during the short time allotted for Christian instruction to young men, indisposed to receive it, they can secure their spiritual good?” If they withdraw, what then? The alternative is the loss of influence over a class that may be expected to take the lead in all movements of their people, and their transfer to teachers who are, in many cases, the avowed and bitter foes of Christianity, and whose object will be to imbue them with their own sentiments. There is abundant testimony to the fact that the pupils of mission schools regard missionaries with a friendly feeling, and diffuse that feeling in their respective circles, and also show respect for the Gospel even when they argue against it to justify their adherence to their ancestral religion. May it not be hoped, too, that in many minds a conviction is left that Christianity is the religion of heaven, although there are formidable obstacles to that conviction obtaining sway over the heart and life? There have been instances where the conviction has broken through every obstacle, and has been avowed by open profession of faith in Christ. Our Missionary Societies may well shrink from the abandonment of a sphere which furnishes the opportunity for favourable influence over so many minds ­and minds, too, which are sure to be very influential in the community.

The preferable plan has been adopted. It appears from the latest statistics that the number of students in mission schools is greater, and the course of study more advanced, than at any previous period. I am not aware that any of the missionaries in the higher institutions have proposed to abandon them on account of the new state of things. While giving themselves cheerfully to the imparting of the education which their pupils are eager to acquire, they put forth resolute steady effort to counteract the secularizing tendency of their studies. The assembled school is opened with prayer, Scripture lessons are given, and, taught as they are by Christians, the pupils are under Christian influence during all their school hours. It is common in the North-West, and I suppose in other parts of India, to have services in the schools on Sabbath morning, at which the attendance is voluntary; and at Benares, at least, the attendance has been very encouraging. Of late Sabbath schools, apart from day schools, have been established in many missions, with every prospect of success. The attendance is large, and in some places a number of parents are present. These schools are carried on largely on the English and American model. The international lessons are used, pictures and books are given as prizes to attentive scholars; and they have a yearly treat, in conducting which care is taken against the violation of caste. The American Episcopal missionaries have taken the lead in this new departure.

It has been often remarked that our higher schools can show very few converts. The conversions have not been many, and yet they have not been so inconsiderable in number as they have been represented. When we look at our mission agents we find that a large proportion of our most efficient men, the men that have done the best service, have come from these schools. At the great Missionary Conference at Allahabad in 1874, at which I was present, they acquitted themselves in a manner which attested their mental power and Christian earnestness, and gave one a high opinion of their fitness for evangelistic work among their countrymen. At the late Decennial Missionary Conference in Calcutta they took a prominent and effective part. It is, indeed, a matter for deep regret that of late our accessions from this quarter have been few; but when hope has been at the lowest ebb one has appeared here and there to strengthen it by avowing himself a follower of Christ.

In reference to our schools, in reference to our work generally, it is important to keep before our minds the great power of public opinion. Many are the things which go to form it; it is very subtle in its working; the most acute and observant mind cannot estimate its force: but when once widely formed its effects are remarkable. In India public opinion is formed much more slowly than in a land like ours; the constitution of society presents a stronger front to its action. But there too it works, and when it works on till it has obtained overmastering power we may expect to see a marvellous change. We cannot doubt that missions have a high place in forming this opinion; and among mission agencies I believe there is no one which has told and is telling more beneficially on the people than our mission schools.