The Concept of British Education Policy in the Colonies 1850-1960

Clive Whitehead

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It is common in the literature to refer to British colonial education policy as if it were ‘a settled course adoptedand purposefully carried into action’, but in reality it was never like that. Contrary to popular belief, the sizeand diversity of the empire meant that no one really ruled it in any direct sense. Clearly some kind of authorityhad to be exercised from London but as Arthur Mayhew said of education policy in the Colonial Empirein 1938: ‘No Secretary of State for the Colonies … [is] anxious to adopt too definite a policy. He will becontent with a few assumptions and a statement of general principles. And he will not be surprised if theseprinciples in their local application are adapted with the utmost elasticity to local conditions.’ In the absenceof any strong direction from the centre, this paper examines the factors that shaped twentieth century educationpolicy in the 47 crown colonies, protectorates and mandates under the aegis of the Colonial Office inWhitehall. They included the all-important attitudes of the governor and his senior administrative officerstowards education; the status of the director of education; the influence of the Christian missions both inLondon and in the colonies; denominational rivalry; long-standing British educational traditions based onsocial class; the state of the local economy; the attitudes of the European settlers; the advice and status of theLondon-based Advisory Committee on Education in the Colonies; the influence of the Secretary of State forthe Colonies on the government of the day; the attitudes of key senior Colonial Office officials towards education;indigenous pressure groups; special reports and recommendations; war; national rivalry; the so-calledCold War; post-war constitutional changes, and the pressure of world opinion as reflected in the League ofNations after 1918 and the United Nations after 1945. Clearly there was great diversity in the ways inwhich education was developed from one territory to another but only detailed case studies can generate thedata for broader and more historically accurate hypotheses about the development of British colonialeducation as a whole.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-173
JournalJournal of Educational Administration and History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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