After 4,000 years of history, India, the world's second most populous country, has not yet provided all its children with a simple elementary-school education. Its adult population is among the least literate in the world. Yet, as early as 500 B.C. or so, the Indian script had already evolved. 1 By A.D. 200 or even earlier, knowledge of reading and writing was "fairly widespread." 2 Learning, however, was locked within a political-religious structure that reserved opportunities to elite circles. Newly developing kingships were established and the monarchs sought to command the loyalty of their new subjects. Chief among their adherents were the Brahmins, the topmost caste, who were designated as the custodians of the Vedas, the holy scriptures of what came to be known as Hinduism. The Brahmins formulated a theory presenting kingships as sacred, thus investing the monarchs with a legitimacy beyond reproach. Brahmins "were the most ardent supporters of this new idea of sacred kingship because they expected from the king that he would uphold their own eminent position in the caste system." 3 This is just what happened.
Formal education--that is, study and teaching of the Vedas--was open only to the top three castes: Brahmins, Kshatriya, and Vaisya. After a time, the Brahmins came to monopolize formal education. Sudras, that is, the fourth estate, were excluded from study of the Vedas, but knowledge of these filtered down to them. 4 Students of the three castes could be taught only by others of the same castes. Sudras established apprenticeship programs for their children. During the early years of the caste system, women were accorded equal educational rights with men. 5 As the system matured, however, the place of women