The debate Macaulay entered into as a Member of the Council of India was whether or not to continue with the then present mode of English-backed education in India, which taught Arabic and Sanskrit and the antiquated works written therein. The issue spurring the debate was whether or not the wording of the Act of British Parliament (1813) presupposed and stipulated the continuance of Arabic and Sanskrit based education to the exclusion of Western European based education.
It does not appear to me that the Act of Parliament can by any art of contraction be made to bear the meaning which has been assigned to it. It contains nothing about the particular languages or sciences which are to be studied. A [monetary] sum is set apart "for the revival and promotion of literature, and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories." (Macaulay, "Minute")
Macaulay's point was that to restrict Indian education and forbid Western learning was an injustice comparable to what would have occurred had Greek and Latin languages of the Renaissance been forbidden and disavowed in England. Macaulay's aim was to gain the objective of dispersing the allotted "lakh of rupees" for the introduction of the study of English and French as the foreign languages of academic learning and to make English and French literature, philosophy, and sciences the subjects of academic study.
We have to educate a people .... We must teach them some foreign language. The claims of [English are superior]. [...] when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. (Macaulay, "Minute")
The evidence that Macaulay presents for his position is:
- concurring opinion of Indian scholars.
- the necessity to pay young scholars to learn the languages and the works of Arabic and Sanskrit.
- the ineptitude for self-sufficiency such an education resulted in; former scholars of Arabic and Sanskrit continued to be unemployed and live on public assistance because there was no work to apply their studies to.
This is proved by the fact that we are forced to pay our Arabic and Sanscrit students while those who learn English are willing to pay us [....] [scholars] whose education is so utterly useless to them that, when they have received it, they must either starve or live on the public [taxes] all the rest of their lives. (Macaulay, "Minute")
The significance of Macaulay's "Minute" is that he won the debate and the monetary allotment of funds was directed away from education in the languages, literatures, philosophies, and sciences of Arabic and Sanskrit. It was redirected toward English and French languages, literatures, philosophies, and sciences. As a far reaching result, today, all academic education in India is conducted in English, with Indian scholars making contributions in every field of academic pursuit from quantum physics to post-colonial literature.
A movement away from native languages, culture, and studies is unpopular and imperialistic in today's wisdom. Yet it is questionable that such well argued and well founded protest against it might be presented today had education in India, under British rule, continued in the vein Macaulay opposed: studying the antiquated Arabic and Sanskrit corpus of knowledge.