Language and the History of Colonial Education: The case of Hong Kong 1
Judith Brown, in her Epilogue to Volume IV of The Oxford History of the British Empire (OHBE), states that of the legacies of the British Empire, the ‘most significant of all is the legacy of the school and the university’, and in particular the role of English as an international language. Brown's acknowledgement of the importance of colonial education renders all the more striking the lack of attention given to this subject in the OHBE as a whole. For example, while Volume IV contains chapters on ‘Gender in the British Empire’, ‘Critics of Empire in Britain’, ‘The Popular Culture of Empire in Britain’, and ‘The British Empire and the Muslim World’, education receives barely two dozen references, buried in the text of other chapters. These offer glimpses into the development of literacy in parts of Africa, the expansion of state educational provision in Ceylon, and the concern of Nigeria's colonial authorities regarding the socially and politically destabilizing effects of the spread of Western education; but taken together they provide no overall analysis of colonial education policies, systems of schooling or curricula. Notwithstanding what some have criticised as its ultra-orthodox overall approach, with regard to this particular field the OHBE more-or-less accurately represents the current state of research. Despite a number of interesting forays on the periphery, the history of colonial education remains a vast and largely unexplored field of enquiry: the dark continent of imperial historiography.
1 The authors would like to express their gratitude to Peter Cain, Paul Morris, and Kingsley Bolton for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.