The British lays the foundation for an educational system with the collegiate board and high school

Schools and colleges, remnants of the British era, still dot Kozhikode. But the beginnings of British education in Malabar mostly date back to the mid 19 century. Administration was growing and skilled, educated personnel were needed to execute official activities. Education, the British way, naturally became the starting point. Files from 1842 involve hectic planning and discussion on starting provincial education in Kozhikode. There were other centres in the Malabar — Tellicherry and Cannanore — which were vying for a “collegiate high school.” Kozhikode eventually wins favour as it considered a centre that is on the path of growth and expansion.

The files show that Kozhikode was among the four places where the government was thinking of beginning provincial collegiate education. The other three were Trichinopoly, Machchlipattanam and Bellary. “The government is contemplating founding and organising four provincial collegiate institutions affiliated under the Central Institution at Madras,” says a letter. The process towards making these schools a reality was long-winded and complex. The hurdles were many; from finding scholars to spearhead these institutions to acquiring appropriate spaces for these centres of learning.

A letter despatched by H.V. Conolly, the Collector of Malabar, and his colleague Strange, to officials in Telicherry, gives glimpses of the elaborate administrative procedures involved. Enough buzz had to be created around the upcoming high school. It says, “It is advisable to circulate in the Malayalam language to all the respectable inhabitants of the district with the view to put into operation the scheme proposed for the education of such of their children as they may be inclined to the send to the provincial high school to be established at this station.”

A complex process

A long letter clipped in the file has the details of the plan. The British apparently saw education as a long term investment in the region. The letter says, “It is the wish of the government to offer to their subjects the means of instruction in what may prove of advantage to them in their mutual relation and in qualifying them for different lines of service in public offices …” Imparting training to the natives will only come in handy, they say. Education in medicine and civil engineering, according to the letter, will help in “the construction of the buildings, bridges, roads, tanks.”

With these schools, the British were primarily aiming at the upper classes. Apart from the collegiate board at Macchlipattanam, Trichnopoly, Bellary and Calicut, there were to be collegiate high schools under each of these centres. Education at these institutions was supposed to include English language, vernacular language as well as elementary Philosophy and Science.

When it came to starting the collegiate high school in the Malabar, there were a few contenders. While Kozhikode was earlier on mentioned as the definite option, two other names surface in later letters — Tellicherry and Cannanore. In a letter written in 1842 written by Conolly and his colleague Strange, they advocate Kozhikode. They write, “Calicut appears more suited for the purpose than either of the stations just named with reference to geographical position, population and importance, the latter of which will be much increased within the next five to six months, by its becoming the head quarters of all the civil establishments.”

For the British, education in these schools was to be the way they envisioned it. For that it was imperative to have their people on the boards. A letter from George Bird, an official from Tellicherry, stresses this point. Kozhikode that way suited the needs as it boasted a great number of Europeans. Another letter also mentions the view. It says, “The greater portion of the European functionaries being resident at the former station (Kozhikode) government will be enabled more effectively to provide for the control and superintendence of the school by forming the European portion of the collegiate board.”

A letter despatched from Kozhikode tries to give a touch of finality to the matter. It says, “The site of the school we are unanimously agreed should be fixed at Calicut as the most central and important station and where a greater number of the Board are.” It also mentions the nitty-gritty involved, beginning with finding scholars and premises, rents and salaries. Finally, a memo from the Public Department informs the district authorities about the “formation of provincial high school in Calicut.” The British, though, had to sweat it out, especially to find good teachers. That makes for another story.

Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode

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

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