IOS online Lecture on “Education: A Way Forward”

New Delhi: An online lecture on “Education a way forward” was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies here on November 11, 2020 to commemorate the birth anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The lecture got off to a start with the recitation of a verse from Quran by the in-charge of Urdu unit of the institute, Shah Ajmal Farooque Nadwi. Introducing the topic, assistant secretary general, Prof. Hasina Hashia paid tribute to the maulana, who as India’s first education minster, liked the budgetary allocation of education by 15 times. Besides, he laid emphasis on science education in the country by restructuring and setting up prestigious institutions like the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and IIT, Kharagpur. 

About the activities of the IOS, she said that the institute was engaged in promoting the study of the condition of minorities, marginalised sections, downtrodden people including the problem of employment among Muslims. The institute had so far completed 410 research projects and published as many as 405 books on various subjects in English, Urdu and Hindi, she stated. She sought the cooperation of scholars, academicians and social workers in the institute’s endeavours. 

Delivering the lecture, professor and former head of the department of history and culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, Prof. Rizwan Qaisar, observed that with the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, the virtual had become real and geographical barriers had been removed. Referring to the contribution of Maulana Azad, he said that he played a seminal role in India’s reconstruction. He assumed charge of the ministry of education though he was not an educationist. He was rather reluctant to take over as the union education minister when it was created in 1947. He remained in office till his death. Besides being minister of education, he looked after the ministry of natural resources. He was also in-charge of the department of science and culture as both of them were part of the ministry of education. Maulana Azad was of the view that the colonial influence on education should be lessened with the democratisation of knowledge. He observed that the maulana was an Islamic scholar who started with the reconstruction of culture with the setting up of the Sahitya Academi (academy of letters). With this, several other academies were set up, Lalit Kala Academi being one of them. Then he turned his attention to science and technology. 

In order to promote science and put it to practical use, he revamped CSIR and set up the IIT at Kharagpur. The CSIR was made subservient to industry and several ministries made optimal use of the council, he noted. 

Prof. Qaisar said that the maulana brought out the Urdu newspaper Al-Hilal in which indigenous and oriental sources of Islamic knowledge prominently figured. In 1917, he established Madarsa Islamia in Ranchi where he spent about three years. At the madarsa in Ranchi, he introduced modern curriculum of education which included science, geography, mathematics, English etc. Al-Hilal was launched to promote journalism. The madarsa had a secular character as a large number of Hindus too studied there. Rai Sahib of Ranchi was one such philanthropist who generously contributed to the development of the madarsa. 

He established another madarsa during the Khilafat movement. Inspired by Gandhiji, he adopted the spinning wheel (charkha) and used to spin thread. He observed that Maulana Azad was persuaded by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to join his cabinet as minister of education. His interest in education could be illustrated by the fact that a committee was appointed to examine if education could be put in the concurrent list of the Constitution. The committee recommended against the move. During his tenure as a cabinet minister, the literacy rate was 15 percent and only one percent of the GDP was spent on education. He used to say that after food and shelter, education was the third most important need of an individual. He always laid emphasis on the education of children, adults and rest of the population, Prof. Qaisar noted.

He regretted that there was serious dearth of intellectuals at that time. With a view to filling this gap, the maulana pleaded that education must be made compulsory like conscription. He wanted every educated person to spend at least one day in a week to teach children. This fitted into the dictum “Each one, teach one”. He wanted higher education to be qualitative. Maulana Azad was also concerned about education in the field of science and technology. Keeping this in view, he set up the University Education Commission, headed by Dr. S Radhakrishnan. 

In 1960 the Kothari Commission was set up to recommend reforms in higher education. Yet another commission, Mudaliar Commission, was appointed with the same terms of reference. He held that the selection of Kharagpur as the seat of the first IIT was taken by him keeping in view the geographical position of the area. The maulana made it sure to appoint an academic instead of a bureaucrat as secretary to the ministry of education. This was the reason why noted academicians like Dr. Tarachand, Prof. Humayun Kabir and K G Saiyiden were made secretaries of the ministry. 

This showed his concern for education and also reflected his strong feeling that career civil servants impeded the progress in the domain of education. Besides making the CSIR, established in 1934, as more purposeful, he set up Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore and incorporated several institutions as government bodies. He brought a number of cultural institutions under the direction and control of the government. He renamed Bharat Bharti as Sahitya Akademi and brought regional languages under its superintendence, Prof. Qaisar said.

He observed that among other things that the maulana did was to bring fine art and performing arts under Lalit Kala Akademi. Sangeet Natak Akademi was created to promote music and art. This was aimed at unifying India’s cultural diversity. Indian Council for Cultural Relations was also set up with the same purpose. He was responsible for opening a cultural section at the Indian embassy in Cairo, Egypt. More such offices were opened in other Indian embassies later. The University Grants Commission (UGC) set up by him was still working though there was much talk in the air to replace it. He concluded by saying that India came forward due also to the endeavours of Maulana Azad. 

Secretary General IOS Prof. ZM Khan Khan recalled his meeting with the maulana at the youth festival in 1957 and later at his official residence over a cup of tea. He described the maulana as a top-rank Islamic scholar who changed himself according to time. He was a modern man who developed his own style and philosophy. He said that the circumstances in which the maulana was placed was the outcome of the conglomeration of contradictions within the Congress. He presided over the Congress which was a medley of communal-minded and secular people, Prof. Khan said. 

In his presidential remarks, former professor, CSRD, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), chair professor, Jamia Millia Islamia and member of the UGC standing committee, Prof. M H Qureshi, pointed out that the nation had forgotten the maulana for several years. It was after a long period that his birthday on 11th November was declared as ‘national education day’. He was a scholar who penned more than 10 books on various subjects. He was awarded the country’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna in 1992. He was the first post-Independence India’s minister who handled an important portfolio like education and succeeded C. Rajgopalachari. He took over as minister of education at a difficult time. 

He had a vision about education in free India. He said the universities of Allahabad, Bombay and Madras were established in accordance with Macaulay’s idea of education. Maulana Azad appointed Dr. Zakir Husain to recast education. During the freedom movement, he refused to accept Swaraj at the cost of Hindu-Muslim unity. In order to give a fillip to higher education, he appointed the noted scientist Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar as chairman of the first education commission. He had a multi-faceted personality and was an amalgam of traditionalism and modernity. The maulana was an intellectual, visionary, educationist and an activist, he concluded.

At the end, Prof. Hasina Hashia proposed a vote of thanks to the participants.


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