The British Empire Library

Colonial Educators - The British Indian And Colonial Education Service, 1858 -1983

by Clive Whitehead

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Lalage Bown (Gold Coast 1949-55, Uganda 1955-59, Nigeria 1960-66 and 1970-79, Zambia 1966-69)
The rationale for this book is given by Tony Kirk-Greene in his thoughtful and wellinformed Foreword: "One can't expect to grasp what imperialism was until one first understands who the imperialists were". He places it in the historiographic movement towards personal studies of colonial officials and notes that it is the first to look beyond administrators to educationists.

Whitehead starts with a short (78 page) study of Indian educational policies and service, presumably as a sort of ancestor of the Colonial Educational Service and then goes on to short biographical sketches of eight people influential in British colonial policy and practice in education: Hanns Vischer, Arthur Mayhew, Eric Hussey, Christopher Cox, W E Frank Ward, Margaret Read (the dust jacket, horribly, mixes her up with Margaret Mead!), Freda Gwilliam and William (Bill) Dodd.

For readers of The Overseas Pensioner, the bulk of the book devoted to colonial educational policy-makers will hold more interest. Four or five of the eight people described will probably have been encountered by at least some readers and the wonderfully genial Bill Dodd has only just died alas, at the time of writing this review. Each person is written up as an individual and because some of the studies have been published as articles elsewhere there is a certain amount of repetitious explanation. But this treatment has the advantage of showing up the connections and relationships between these officials. It also shows up one or two "grey eminences" in the colonial education story, particularly J. H. Oldham of the International Missionary Council. The individual biographies are preceded by a short more general piece on the Colonial Education Service, mentioning several other persons and suggesting further subjects. The author is conscious that the women educators have mostly been unsung - perhaps because they mostly soldiered on in the field and didn't rise to the policy levels. Freda Gwilliam's battle with the Colonial Office over her salary and status throws some light on this!

Meticulous work has been done on the main subjects' backgrounds and careers. Five were Oxford graduates, the other three went to Cambridge and the subjects they studied were: History (3), Lit. Hum. (2 - one with a brilliant First, the other a more modest Third), Anthropology (2) and Philosophy (1). There was not a scientist among them and only one had any formal qualification in Education seen as a profession; this was Bill Dodd, who in his own time studied by correspondence for a Certificate in Education. All except Freda Gwilliam had done some work in India or Africa, although it comes as a bit of a surprise that Christopher Cox, the great mandarin of Colonial (and as the author says, post-colonial) Education should have had precisely two years in the field, as Principal of Gordon College, Khartoum (if that counts as the field!).

Such reflections and discoveries kept me reading this book, and as a pioneer venture it is commendable, but I found it sometimes unsatisfactory. It is avowedly about persons and not policies, but these people were all in powerful policy positions and it would have been interesting to have had a more connected discussion on their ideas and philosophies.

The moral basis for their work is well described -- all had a powerful ethical (generally Christian) drive and would fulfil Freda Gwilliam's criteria for a good Director of Education; humanity, selflessness and a concern for the indigenous people. A hint of paternalism is there, but Vischer, Ward and Hussey were outstandingly not paternalist - I was touched too by the description quoted of Hussey, that "He was a living example of the truth of how much a man can accomplish if he doesn't care who gets the credit".

The book is uneven, in that some figures get more attention that others, but it is enlivened with some good stories - I particularly liked the scene in which Frank Ward got the Protestant and Catholic Bishops of Mauritius on their knees saying the Lord's Prayer before discussing their schools.

We now need more books about and/or by people who were educators working in the field, their relationships with pupils and parents and their views of the policy-makers depicted here.

British Empire Book
Clive Whitehead
IB Tauris & Co Ltd
1 86064 864 9