John Mark Reynolds (whom I know personally) has an interesting blog post up about how Dickens had a "prophetic vision of Western education: the rise of Gradgrind" in Hard Times. There are some good insights here, but I'm not sure whether I wholly agree with his remark that "Against Gradgrind, Dickens had nothing positive to say" -- meaning, I take it, that he offered no alternative vision of how education should be.
It wasn't Dickens's purpose in this novel to compare and contrast differing approaches to education. But it's worth nothing that in other books, perhaps most notably David Copperfield, he did offer portraits of good schools where pupils were inspired and encouraged by good teachers, which effectively serve as a counter to the Gradgrind idea of school.
That's my opinion, anyway. Would be interested to hear some of yours!