After scouting around for a headmaster, the British allot a Cambridge educated teacher for Calicut

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)

Colonial Calicut is poised to get a provincial high school. It won favour after nudging out Cannanore and Thalassery from the race. But that was merely the beginning of a long story. A high school, the British way, took years coming. The hunt for teachers proved tiresome. The project itself lay in limbo for over a decade. Finally, to spearhead the school in Calicut, the British go as far as their mother country to get to the city a Cambridge educated teacher.

Letters from 1843 detail the scramble to find well-qualified teachers to the schools in the Presidency. The search was hardly encouraging. A letter from the Secretary, Madras University to the Acting Chief Secretary of the Government reveals the dismal results. Eight candidates apparently appeared for the test and he writes, “The Board regrets to observe that not one was found to possess the very moderate extent of qualification.”

This discouraging outing puts the British in a fix. They attempt to get to the root of the matter. In the advertisement for the post, the salary for the teachers was Rs. 100 per month. They wonder if the low salary pushed away eligible candidates. It prompts the University officials to study the system in place in the other Presidencies. They discover teachers are a much better paid lot there. “In Bengal, the salaries of 11 District School Masters vary from 400 to 250 Rs. per month. In the Bombay Presidency the head master of the Poona School receives 480 Rs.,” he writes. The University Board recommends a salary of “not less than Rs. 250 per mensem” for the head masters. Also, the Board will have “the authority to procure such masters either from England or the other Presidencies.”

The profession is an honourable one and the British want their teachers to enjoy “high consideration in the society” and be “liberally remunerated for their services.” But they never lose sight of the practical reasons behind a schooling system here. In his letter, the Secretary quotes the Court on the purpose of education: “To have at their disposal a body of natives qualified to take a larger share and occupy higher situations in the civil administration than has hitherto been the practise.”

The Public Department, however, is not pleased about the hiked salary recommended by the University Board. A letter from the department says they are “not at liberty to sanction so large a salary without the authority of the court.”

After this cryptic note, nothing is heard of the provincial school for over a decade. The next letter on the file belongs to 1854. What happened in these 11 years remains a mystery. But one understands from the letters that nothing significant had happened in these years. The subject takes off from where it left in 1843 and the search is still on for teachers. But this time the British are more assured about their mode of execution.

The document one comes across is a notice jointly issued by the Civil and Sessions Judge, the Collector of Malabar and the Sub Judge of Calicut and dated August 22, 1854. With education, they say, they intend “to encourage the study of the English language and through its means of the different branches of Science which are calculated to promote the efficiency of public service.”

The subjects of learning earmarked at the school are English reading and writing, Arithmetic, Geography, History and Geometry. If a government job was the intention, education at these schools was slowly made mandatory. According to the notice, “No person will be deemed eligible for permanent public employ who after that period (July 1, 1857) does not produce a certificate from the head master showing that he has completed the full course of education.” All the administrative posts will be filled by the pass-outs of the school, be it transcribing copies or volunteering.

It is in the August 1854 letter from the Secretary of the University to H.V. Conolly, the Collector of Malabar, that the news of getting a teacher from England is confirmed. He writes, “Information has been received of the engagement of two gentlemen graduates of Cambridge who has been selected for the headmastership of the projected schools at Combaconum and Calicut and who are expected to arrive at Madras by the next steamer.”

The Collector is assigned the task of finding a building for the prospective school and also a residence for the teacher. The teacher for Calicut is “Mr. Hubbard, a graduate of Cains College, Cambridge.” The University Secretary also writes to Hubbard about his expected duties as a headmaster. “The school should be open to all classes of community without reference to creed, colour or caste,” he writes. Hubbard is also expected to collect the fees. “Each scholar should be required to pay a monthly fee of not less than eight annas, which if deemed advisable may be raised in the higher classes to one rupee.”

The stress on the subjects to be taught highlights English language and literature. Malayalam has only rudimentary role. He writes, “The vernacular can be confined to a grammatical study of Malayalam and translation from and into English.” The Secretary also allots Rs.500 a month to meet the expenditure at school.

(Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode)

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