Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Madras system

In the year 1786 the Court of Directors of the East India Company sent out orders to Madras, that a seminary-should be established there for the education and maintenance of the orphans and distressed male children of the European military

The superintendence of this asylum was undertaken by Dr. Bell, who was one of the directors of the institution, one of the ministers of St. Mary's, and one of the chaplains of Fort St. George

The proposed institution was limited at first to the support of an hundred orphans: half the expense was defrayed by the Company and half by voluntary subscriptions, with the Madras government providing support in the form of land and building at Egmore.

Dr. Bell, realizing that there would be a paucity of teachers came up with the innovation that the ‘best among the students would serve as teachers for the rest”. The scheme as explained by him (source : Mutual tuition and Moral discipline, manual of instructions for conducting schools through the agency of the scholars themselves, published in 1823)

1. The entire Economy of a Madras School is conducted by a single master, or superintendent, through the agency of the scholars themselves. For this purpose,
2. The school is arranged into forms, or classes, each composed of members, who have made a similar proficiency; and are occasionally paired off into tutors and pupils, the superior being tutors to the inferior boys.
3. The scholar ever finds his level, by a constant competition with his fellows, and rises and falls in his place in the class, and in the forms of the school, according to his relative proficiency. For the equalization of the classes, in point of proficiency, the scholar, who has held a high place in his class for some time, is promoted to the class above, and is placed at the bottom; but if, on trial, he proves unequal to his new class-fellows, he must revert to his former class; and the boy who fails, for some time, after due warning and trial, in saying his daily lessons, is degraded to the class below, and is placed at the head; but if he proves superior to his new associates, he then resumes his former class, on a new trial.
4. To each class are attached a teacher, and, if numerous, an assistant teacher; who are perpetually present with their class, and are responsible for its order, behaviour, diligence, and improvement. In large schools, an usher or superior teacher is set over every three or four classes, and a head usher over the whole.
5. Monitors are appointed to the charge of the books, slates, pencils, paper, pens, iuk, and of the various departments and offices of the school-room.
6. In charity, free, or other schools, supported by endowment, or voluntary contribution, there often presides over all, as in old times, a superintendent, or chaplain, or one of the trustees, directors, or visitors, whose province is to inspect, regulate, and control the scholastic machine in all its departments.
7. The daily lessons are marked in the teacher's books: and Registers are kept of admission; and of the progress of each class, and of the relative and individual proficiency of each scholar.
8. If any gross misdemeanor should occur, the accused is tried by a jury of his peers, and the sentence is inflicted, mitigated, or remitted, at the discretion of the superintendent, visitor, or master. But, when the laws of the school are duly administered, there will hardly ever be occasion for this instrument of discipline.

Such, was the scheme of a Madras School, wherein the” System hinges entirely on the tuition by the scholars themselves and in which every scholar finds for himself his level, and unceasingly rises and falls in his place in the form, and in the ranks of the school, according to his relative performance.”

Dr Bell’s system (and the Lancasterian system which had almost the same elements) became quite popular in the nineteenth century throughout the British empire. Gradually, the Madras system was replaced by other systems which advocated the importance of trained teachers.


Dilip Muralidaran said...

Lovely information this is. Never knew all of this.

Raj said...

Dilip, I didn't either. Probably old hat. But Google Books can turn us all into armchair historians. We can form our own opinions, rather than just accept what's there is our school history books.