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Scottish Church College, the first English medium institution of India

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One of the oldest college for liberal arts and sciences in India, the Scottish Church College, was established by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Alexander Duff on July 13 in the year 1830.

Located in Kolkata, the college began with only five students. During the early part of the nineteenth century, the East India Company supported setting up institutions but only in the native language. They helped in establishing the Calcutta Madrasah College and the Sanskrit College. They were not in favour of starting English education in India as they felt it would provide better opportunities for Indians and they might go out of their control. It was the British historian and politician, Thomas Macaulay, who introduced English education in India. His purpose was to train a set of English-speaking Indians who could act as intermediaries.

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While the colonial masters were averse to the idea of English education for the natives, the missionaries played a major role. Alexander Duff was the first foreign missionary from the Church of Scotland, who came to India to set up an English medium institution. With the support of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Lord William Bentick, he was able to set up an English medium institution in Kolkata. Initially he used the premises of Feringhi Kamal Bose in upper Chitpur road. In 1830 the college premises were shifted to Gorachand Bysack’s house in Garanhatta. The foundation stone of the college was laid by the Chief Magistrate of Kolkata, Mr McFarlon, on February 23. The college building was designed by Mr John Gray and Captain John Thompson. The construction of the Scottish Church College was completed in 1839.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who was the leading social reformer during that time, and also known as the ‘Father of Modern India’, helped Duff by arranging the venue for the Scottish Church College and getting him his first batch of students. He also did the job of counselling parents and pacifying their fears that their children were not being converted if they were being taught the Bible. He was of the opinion that if Indians were exposed to this modern education, it will help them in getting rid of superstitions and meaningless rituals like child marriage and Sati. He wanted Indians to develop a reasoning attitude.

Duff, on the other hand, wanted his Indian students exposed to the best of European literature, science and religion. He hired teachers with extreme care and made sure he had the right mix of both Indian as well as European teachers. He supported the vernacular language as he felt a strong hold on it would help in spreading the English education. He managed to establish a strong education system in Bengal that helped in spreading progressive ideas and thinking across the state of Bengal.

The ideologies of its’ founders are still deep rooted in the institution. The Scottish Church College remains one of the most sought after institute for higher education in Kolkata. It was one of the earliest institutions to support women’s education and was co-ed when it started. Today it can boast of some of the most famous people as it’s alumni which includes, Subhas Chandra Bose, Swami Vivekanand, Gopinath Bordoloi, Mithun Chakravarty, Derek O’Brien and Nirad C. Chaudhari.


Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala

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