Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as Educationist*
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
1857 is a watershed in Indian history when with the fall of Delhi, British sway was fully established all over India. Men of substance and vision like Sir Syed were quick to realise that the rout had come because the Indian side had fallen behind the British in the realm of knowledge of all kinds, especially that of science and technology.
The forty-year old Sir Syed took it to heart and spent the rest 40 years of his life in relentless endeavour to promote education. The rest, as they say, is history.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (born in 1888) came into the world when Sir Syed was 70. A precocious child, Azad grew up to become a recognised scholar right in his teens. In his writings, like Azad ki Kahani, he acknowledges Sir Syed’s abiding influence on his thought and life, particularly on his religious and philosophical ideas.
Maulana Azad did not get a formal education, but was well-versed with the Quran, Hadith and canonical writings on these subjects, besides the long tradition of Muslim philosophers and scientists. He also knew Western thought, its literary, political and philosophical heritage as well as a broad understanding of modern Western sciences, technologies, art and culture. All this, put together, made him a formidably learned and erudite person. A sound grasp of Arabic, Persian and Urdu literature and Indian art and culture put a patina of great cultural finish on his personality.
No wonder, other learned men of his time like India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru were highly impressed with his scholarship. Nehru compared him with “the great men of Renaissance, or, in a later period, of the Encyclopaedists who preceded the French Revolution, men of intellect, men of action.”
When freedom came, for which he had so valiantly fought over the decades, he was chosen for even a more important role, that of leading India’s huge effort to educate its people, 85 per cent of whom were illiterate.
The Right Choice
When India got its freedom, the scholarly Maulana Azad turned out to be the right choice to lead the new Ministry of Education. In fact, he had taken the charge of Minister of Education even before the formal Declaration of Independence on August 15, 1947. He had taken over the Ministry of Education in January 1947 in the Interim Government.
He had studied education as a discipline in his early days, and thus quickly got down to a further clarification of the issues involved before launching major initiatives. The widespread illiteracy militated against India’s democratic aspirations. To understand the value of freedom, tolerance and national development, education of the people was a necessary condition.
He appointed a University Education Commission in 1948, Kher Committee for Elementary Education the same year, and Secondary Education Commission in 1952-53. Soon he began restructuring the system of education in India that would have far-reaching implications for the future of education in the country.
He was as much concerned about primary, secondary and high school education as he was about university education, engineering or medical education. The quality of higher education always depended on the quality of feeder intuitions from where students went up to the higher institutions. He wanted to give professional training to teachers as he believed the quality of education largely depended on the quality of teachers.
Till then education was the prerogative of a handful of people. Class and caste decided who would get education and who would not. Azad wanted to break this pattern and he went in for universalisation of education up to secondary school. He also pushed for adult education and women’s education.
He laid down a three-language formula in which the language of a given state and Hindi would be the medium of education, with English as an additional, but important, language. He was an advocate of education in mother tongue as education through only English language gave people an unnatural cast of mind. Such education only fulfilled Macaulay’s objective of producing Indians with brown skin and English way of looking at India and Indians, thus being the slaves of the British Empire who looked with contempt at their own countrymen.
Maulana Azad remained Union Minister of Education till his death in 1958. In the meanwhile, a large network of teachers training colleges had developed all over India, producing teachers who were better qualified professionally to discharge their duties. Within his lifetime the country witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of schools, trained teachers and school graduates.
He was equally active on the front of university and higher technical education. His goal was to make India the hub of higher education where people from other countries would come to get higher degrees. He laid the foundation of world-class technical education by starting IIT Kharagpur in 1951.
He restructured the All India Committee for Technical Education and established the University Grants Commission, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Indian Council for Social Sciences Research, the Indian Institute of Science, the National Institute of Basic Education, Central Bureau of Textbook Research and the National Board of Audio-visual Education.
In the early years, only one percent of the Union budget was allocated for education. Maulana Azad wanted ten percent. The prime minister was supportive of him, but the resources were meager. Maulana Azad believed that education was more important than other issues. In the first budget the Education Ministry got only Rs. 2 crore, but in later years it was increased to Rs. 35 crore.
A great lover of Indian art and culture, he established Hindi Shiksha Samiti, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Lalit Kala Akademi and Sahitya Akademi. The system of education which we have today was largely built by him. Even the Right to Education Act is based on some of his seminal ideas. A grateful nation celebrates his birthday (November 11) every year as Education Day.
* The article is being published in the special edition of journal dedicated to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad on the occasion of National Education Day brought out by Maulana Azad University, Jodhpur, Rajasthan g