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The Empire and the century/Education and Imperial Policy



In a book recently published in Germany, where it has gone through many editions, but which has not attracted in England the attention which it deserves, the author, Dr. Ludwig Gurlitt,[1] discusses with great frankness the contrast between the educational systems of the two countries. He gives the preference in the main to that of England. He is aware of its defects, of its want of science and of system; but he lays stress on a great merit which he considers that our system possesses: it produces character, and a love for the school as a sort of second home of the spirit. He describes the arrangements in the English public schools, under which the boys are encouraged to rule themselves, and the masters to become their friends and advisers rather than their governors. This, he says, produces the true foundation of a love of fatherland, and contributes to make the boy who leaves England remain an Englishman. Character and public spirit are developed, according to this writer, in a fashion which has no parallel in Germany, where the method is pure intellectualism, and the aim standards of mere knowledge. Some of us may think that Dr. Gurlitt is too much in love with certain good features of our English educational methods to appreciate their obvious shortcomings. The power of getting on with men and of ruling them is no doubt of a very high value; but it is not so obvious that we do not in this country pay too great a price for it. If Germany lays too much stress on system in the acquisition of learning, we seem here to lay too little stress on it. Probably the truth lies where the present Emperor of Germany, in a remark attributed to him at p. 144 of this very interesting essay, places it: 'The right kind of education lies midway between the German and the English.' It may be true, as one of the authors quoted by Dr. Gurlitt says, that 'while the Englishman always and everywhere grasps what is actual, and from this point, and as far as this basis extends, builds further, the more reflective German gets away into the distance, and so loses his hold upon what is present.' But in method, and in the knowledge of science and of its application to industry, we Englishmen have to-day good cause to regret that we have not cultivated something of the German passion for thoroughness in the art of imparting knowledge in our schools. No wise man wants to Germanize English educational institutions; but there is much that can be done for them, far short of Germanizing them, by the introduction of certain features which are best studied in the German schools and colleges. The close of the nineteenth century has brought us in England some cause for reflection. Our Empire has continued to grow, and our trade has continued to expand; but everywhere, abroad and at home, we are faced by a competition of which our forefathers knew nothing. Differing from a good many people whose opinions I hold in respect, I see in this fact a balance of good over evil. Nothing so stimulates to energy and the adoption of better methods as competition. Competition there must be, and it is better, not only for the world, but, as it seems to me, for individual nations, that they should constantly have the stimulus of keen competition. For the struggle they have constantly to be training themselves. If they are to hold their own they must be ever laying aside antiquated methods and devising new ones. Now, the foundation of success in this endeavour is education—education in the widest sense and in all its branches, but founded on the cultured mind which only general study can give. All over the Empire this truth is penetrating its rulers, just as it has done in Germany, and is rapidly doing in the United States. Canada possesses at least one University which, in certain of its faculties, puts most of ours to shame. Australia and New Zealand have long since turned their attention to the development of University teaching in their great cities. India and South Africa are at this moment agitating for improved institutions of a University type. Not long ago there was held in London a remarkable conference of representatives of the Universities of the Empire. In the speeches there were many expressions of a desire for something like federation of the teaching power of the highest schools of the various dominions of the Crown.

The idea may well bear fruit. In mining and metallurgy and in engineering there are branches of applied science which may best be studied in the neighbourhood where the science is applied. The industrial development of Canada, for instance, has enabled the McGill University at Montreal to specialize in certain branches of this kind of teaching, with advantages that are almost unique, and already young men are going over from the Mother Country to get the benefit of these advantages. On the other hand, the attempt is in progress to create in London, the heart of the Empire in the organization of its industry as well as of its Government, a new school where the highest training may be given in the science and art of obtaining the precious metals from the mines where they lie hid—not too soon, those may think who have read Mr. Birchenough's recent report on the industries of the Transvaal, and his description of the tendency of the Americans and Germans, whose superior training has led to their employment in the gold-mines, to purchase their machinery in the countries from which they came. That we, the foremost nation in the world in the production of gold and silver, should hitherto have had no central school on the level, in point of equipment, of those abroad is indeed matter for serious reflection. Everywhere we are deficient, not in certain kinds of technological training—for to our workmen we offer in a multitude of splendid evening schools opportunities that are nowhere surpassed—but in the highest kinds. And this is in some measure due to the excessive dislike of theory in this country. The more one examines the facts, the more clearly is the conviction borne in on one that the condition on which alone a nation can give the highest technological training to its captains of industry is that it should first have provided for them general culture. This need not be the study of Latin and Greek, but it ought to be a liberal education, such as tends to broaden the mind and develop the capacity, both for acquiring special knowledge and for giving it its right place. With all their faults, it is the strength of Oxford and Cambridge that they have held firmly by this truth. Yet it is a truth that, while it is the beginning of wisdom, it is only the beginning for a colonizing and commercial nation like ours. The place of science nothing can take, and more science we must have if the close of the twentieth century is to find us still occupying the position which we now hold.

The Mother Country ought to be a great and sufficient educational centre for the Empire. The time has come when we shall do wisely to devote money and time and energy to making it so. The great self-governing portions of the King's dominions may be able to provide for themselves in highest education, as in other things; but for them and us alike it will be well if there is linkage of organization and interchange of students and professors. Others of our Colonies must depend on us in an increasing degree for a long time to come. I have for long thought that the educational link might be made a very real one in the organization of the Empire. This will be especially so if we can adhere to the tradition which Dr. Gurlitt admires, and keep our students rooted in a deep personal attachment to their schools. What such an attachment means Mr. Rhodes knew when by his will he founded the scholarships at Oxford which are associated with his name. I hope that, in any policy of coordinating the University teaching of the Empire, the importance of a scholarship system which may encourage students to go from University to University throughout the Empire, just as they do in Germany, will not be overlooked. I can see great uses in it, and from more standpoints than one.

Such a policy as I have tried briefly to indicate in outline does not present any great difficulties. The first requisite to its realization is that it should be borne in mind in the course of those developments of our system of highest education in this country which are near at hand. In Germany the so-called 'Technical High School' is really an institution on a level with the University, and gives an education in applied science to students of University standing and age who have such a general education as has enabled them to obtain the leaving certificate of the secondary school. In this country we have hitherto had no institution of this kind, but there are indications that its equivalent is likely soon to be developed. In the arrangement of the courses of instruction the opportunity will arise for bearing in mind the requirements of those whose lives are to be lived in the Colonies. If Germany had possessed our colonial possessions, beyond doubt close attention would have long since been paid to this matter. Not only the new technical institutions in this country, but the Universities themselves, may well make it a feature of their development. The study of tropical medicine is already set on foot both in London and in Liverpool. The investigation of colonial products, with a view to giving accurate scientific information which may lead to the development of new regions, such as already takes place at South Kensington; education in Roman-Dutch law; schools of Oriental languages—these and the like afford possibilities of strengthening the Empire by making England a common centre. It is wonderful to watch at Lincoln's Inn the multitude of coloured students of law who come here and frequent the common-rooms and the libraries with a view to getting called to the Bar, and then returning to practise before the tribunals of the distant places from which they have come. To watch them excites still more wonder when one knows the littleness of the provision which the authorities here make for them.

And this brings me to the other point I wish to emphasize. There is much talk to-day of increased conference with representatives from the Colonies. An admirable plan this, but let the conferences be not limited only to statesmen. The conference, to which I have already alluded, of representatives of the Universities of the Empire, which took place in London three years ago, showed how easily this kind of meeting can be brought about. I do not see why such conferences should not be held at regular intervals, and I do see that great use may come of them. Not only have we all a good deal to learn from each other, but, if I am right, there is in addition exchange of ideas wanted, with a view to the coordination of the educational system of the whole Empire.

It is true that these things grow, and that they cannot be called into existence before their time, or artificially. But their time seems to have come, and the demand is already beginning to show itself. Germany, Switzerland, and the United States, perhaps Japan also, are making us feel uncomfortable about shortcomings in our educational system, the existence of which its good side cannot excuse or make up for. In every department of life more science is called for, and our competitors are becoming daily better equipped. Surely the day has arrived when statesmen need not fear to be thought to have their heads in the clouds if they put forward a greater provision for the highest education as a leading part in a programme of home and Imperial policy.

  1. 'Der Deutsche und sein Vaterland. Politisch padagogische Betrachtungen eines Modemen.' Berlin, 1903, 8 auflage.