It turns out it was worse than I had thought. I’ve been reading some papers by Latika Chaudhary on this topic, and I learned that educational expenditures in India, under the British empire, never exceeded one percent of gdp. To put that in perspective, for 1860-1912 in per capita terms the independent “Princely states” were spending about twice as much on education as India under the British. Mexico and Brazil, hardly marvels of successful education, were spending about five times as much. Other parts of the British empire, again per capita, were spending about eighteen times as much.
Obviously, there is a “small number of British just couldn’t reach those hundreds of millions of Indians in the countryside” effect going on here. Still, from what I am seeing education simply was not much of a priority. There was some ruling, some building of infrastructure, and some resource extraction going on. Education ended up as a side show, and ultimately the gears of empire were attuned toward self-maintenance and that meant only a minimal emphasis on education.
Primary schools were especially weak, as was education for girls, no surprise on either count. In per capita terms, spending on education in Bombay was ten times higher than in Orissa.