When British officials who represented direct rule by the crown introduced modest self-government in the 1860s, they shifted financial responsibility for education to a growing Indian middle class. Educating urban sons for professions dominated local educational spending, to the detriment of rural and women's education. Families of respectable middling status usually chose to send their daughters to gender-segregated educational institutions once there were schools taught in vernacular languages with general curricula. While older historians narrated the "insidious, total and transparent" domination of the educational system by the colonial state, more recent scholarship delineates the "'creative' resistance" to state agency and suggests that there was a "combat" between "consciously opposed sides" (Kumar). As the nationalist movement gained supporters in the twentieth century, Indian leaders developed several nationalist educational paradigms to challenge the colonial model. Mahatma Gandhi wanted the state to teach basic literacy in vernacular languages to the majority of the population. Rabindranath Tagore, India's first recipient of the Nobel prize for literature, believed that the English language provided Indians access to the sharing of knowledge across international borders and that education should include the teaching of India's cultural traditions. The fight for freedom from colonialism preempted decisions about educational ideologies until after 1947.
The British made education, in English—a high priority hoping it would speed modernization and reduce the administrative charges.  The colonial authorities had a sharp debate over policy. This was divided into two schools - the orientalists, who believed that education should happen in Indian languages (of which they favoured classical or court languages like Sanskrit or Persian) or utilitarians (also called anglicists) like Thomas Babington Macaulay , who strongly believed that traditional India had nothing to teach regarding modern skills; the best education for them would happen in English. Macaulay introduced English education in India, especially through his famous minute of February 1835. He called for an educational system that would create a class of anglicised Indians who would serve as cultural intermediaries between the British and the Indians.  Macaulay succeeded in implementing ideas previously put forward by Lord William Bentinck , the governor general since 1829. Bentinck favoured the replacement of Persian by English as the official language, the use of English as the medium of instruction, and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. He was inspired by utilitarian ideas and called for "useful learning." However, Bentinck's ideas were rejected by the Court of Directors of the East India Company and he retired as governor general.