What was Wood’s Despatch?

6 minute read
Wood's Despatch

In 1854, Lord Charles Wood, the then President of the Board of Control in London, formulated the famous “Wood’s Despatch”. It is also known as the “Magna Carta of English Education” in India. Education has always been the pillar of a society’s progress and development. In the colonial era too, the Britishers recognised the importance of education for the administration and governance of this vast nation. Thus came the existence of the Despatch. Let us dive into the impact and features of Wood’s Despatch which became a revolutionary step in the current Indian education system.

Who was Sir Charles Wood?

Sir Charles Wood was born on the 20th of December, 1800 and was the 3rd Baronet of Barnsley. He was also known as the 1st Viscount of Halifax. Moreover, Wood studied mathematics and the classics at Oxford and Eton, in the UK. Wood was also a member of the British Parliament and the Secretary of State for India from 1859 to 1866. He passed away at the age of 84, in the year 1885. 

What was Wood’s Despatch?

Woods’s Despatch was officially known as “ Lord Wood’s Despatch on Education”. It was a measure of the legislature which was proposed and administered by Lord Charles Wood. He was an influential figure in the British East India Company. To establish a systematic system in 1854, this historic document laid the groundwork. Moreover, it became the first comprehensive plan for the spread of the new education system in India. 

Furthermore, it aimed to devise an educational policy for India. It takes into account the diverse social, cultural and economic possibilities of the country. The Despatch was submitted to the British Parliament in 1854 and advocated for the establishment of a structural system. Consequently, that would cater to the needs of both the British rulers and the indigenous population. 

Also Read: What was thе Ralеigh Commission?

What was the Background of the Despatch?

Before the Despatch, education in India was a private affair. It was majorly confined to the indigenous institutions that focused on traditional subjects such as Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic. While there were some English-medium schools established by missionaries as well as the East India Company, they only catered limited segment of the large population.

The growing administration and economic needs of British India further realised the need for a more educated population. Since English was their medium of language for communication and administration. The Wood’s Despatch emerged as the response to this demand. Additionally, it would produce a class of Indians capable of serving the British colonial government.

Source – National Portrait Gallery, London

What were the Key Features of Wood’s Despatch?

Here are some of the key features of the Despatch that played a great role in the education transformation: 

  • Emphasis on English Education – The Despatch advocated for a strong base on the promotion of English language education. Thus recognising the importance of communication, administration and access to Western knowledge. It prioritised the use of English as the medium of instruction in higher education. Moreover, the use of vernacular languages was to be confined to primary schools only.
  • Establishment of Universities – Another feature was the demand to establish new universities that would mark a significant step towards the development of higher education in India. These universities had the task of conducting examinations, conferring degrees and promoting academic excellence in research.
  • Support for Technical and Professional Education – The despatch realised the need for technical and professional education required for training and skills development for Indians to meet the growing demand for labour in British India. Thus it suggested the establishment of technical schools and colleges to provide training in fields like engineering, medicine, and other special fields.
  • Secular and Decentralised Education – It also laid down that the education imparted in government institutions should be secular. It systematised the hierarchy from vernacular primary schools in villages to the presidency towns of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay.

The despatch asked the government of India to assume responsibility for the education of the masses, thus rejecting the idea of Lord Macauley’s Downward Filtration Theory”. ( at least on paper).

Also Read: Kothari Education Commission UPSC Notes for Students

What was the Impact of Wood’s Despatch?

The impact and developments of Wood’s Despatch were significant and can be discussed as: 

  • Since it emphasised the importance of establishing universities, in 1857, the University of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay were set up. At a later stage, a Department of Education was also established in all the provinces.
  • In the 1840s to 1850s, the Bethune Scholl was founded by J.E.D Bethune at Calcutta, it was the first school established after a massive movement for women’s education was advocated.
    • Bethune was appointed as the president of the Council of Education and the girl’s school was bought under the government’s inspection and grants-in-aid system.
  • An Engineering Institute at Roorkee and an Agriculture Institute at Pusa ( Bihar) were also started.
  • Training institutes for teachers were especially established under the government. Also, it led India towards the way of Western education. 

The emphasis on English language education also led to the marginalisation of vernacular languages and traditional Indian education systems. The despatch’s recommendations on higher education, and technical and professional training with English as a medium of instruction for the masses laid the ground for the ball rolling for India’s future economic and social development.

What were the Restrictions of Wood’s Despatch?

The Restrictions of the Wood’s Despatch are as follows:

  • Despite the introduction of Wood’s Despatch, the British rule persisted in neglecting and hindering the development of Indian languages and culture, perpetuating a state of backwardness.
  • The centralised education system implemented by Wood’s Despatch in India faced widespread criticism from the Indian population. 

Wood’s despatch despite the limitations set a developmental stage for a modern education system that continued to evolve and expand post-colonial India. The focus on producing a class of Indians to defend the British colonial administration limited the scope of education and its accessibility to broad sections of Indian society. 


What was Wood’s despatch theory?

Wood’s Despatch recommended that vernacular languages be taught in primary schools and high schools should use Anglo-vernacular medium, while colleges must be operated in English language. It is also recommended for female education.

What was the main objective of Wood’s despatch?

The main objective was to familiarise and gradually impart Western knowledge and culture in Indian society. To create a class of public servants. Indians have to be educated in accordance with the English language for better administration. It also encouraged young minds to develop a more intellectual thought process and develop world views.

What was the effect of the Wood’s despatch in 1854?

The immediate effect of the despatch was – 1. The foundation of universities at Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. 2. Creation of separate departments for the administration of education in all the provinces. 3. A new system of Grants-in-aid was introduced.

Sarkaria CommissionIndia’s Journey to Independence
Lord LansdowneLord Wellesley
Quit India MovementThe Government of India Act 1919
Indus Valley CivilizationHunter Commission
Partition of India and Pakistan (1947)Lord Wavell Plan and The Shimla Conference

We hope you liked the blog on Wood’s Despatch. If you want to read more articles like this, you can find the Study notes on the Modern History of India. Also, you can visit our general knowledge page on Indian History!

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *