Major objectives of education are now articulated in a manner befitting the mood and demands of the 21st century: Learning to live together and achieve social cohesion. It includes religious harmony — the lack of which is causing immense pressure on human relationships. Stalwarts like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad believed that universal education was the only way to achieve it.
As a freedom-fighter and a scholar of acclaim, Maulana Azad’s perceptions, ideas and utterances have a lasting value. This has been, though belatedly, recognised by the nation, and his birthday on November 11 is celebrated as National Education Day. Maulana’s concern to see India as one nation in all its splendour and glory is now understood more respectfully than in his own times.
There are occasions when a single sentence or a statement projects the complete personality of an individual. Here is an example from his presidential address delivered in the 1940 annual session of the Indian National Congress: “I am part of this indivisible unity that is Indian nationality. I am indispensable to the noble edifice and without me this splendid structure of India is incomplete. I am an essential element which has gone to build India. I can never surrender this claim.”
India was partitioned but Maulana remained steadfast in his views. He became the first Union Minister of Education of independent India and engaged in the task of building a secular education system for the country. Besides the formal celebrations that one goes through on National Education Day, it is essential that our policy makers should discuss and debate ways to improve the quality and skill acquisition quotient in our education system.
We have a far more literate, modern and forward-looking India today than in Maulana’s times. But we also have more violence, bigotry, distrust and unrest in the country than 50 years ago. The dream post-independence was that things would just be the other way round: More peace, intense social cohesion, ever-increasing religious harmony, mutual trust and equal distribution of the fruits of progress and development. Obviously, something has gone wrong during the intervening period.
Addressing a meeting of the Vice-Chancellors of Indian universities in Delhi on November 3, 1951, Maulana said: “The basis of our life is still agriculture and the vast majority of our people depend on agriculture for their livelihood… Our agriculture graduates are fit for almost everything except becoming agriculturists themselves.” Even in the times of globalisation, the vast majority of Indians remains dependent on agriculture, which has continuously remained ignored and in the background when it comes to planning for future. The growth rate in this sector is abysmally low. The result is that young people are migrating to cities and towns and often leading a far miserable life which they could have avoided if Governments had given agricultural operations the much-needed support.
He had suggested a way out to overcome the deficiency by giving an extra bias to agriculture in school education and introducing agricultural education in the universities: Practical works in farms. “In addition, schools and colleges in the rural and semi-rural areas must encourage all students — whatever may be their subjects of study — to devote a part of their normal scholastic routine to work on land. For schools and colleges in cities and towns, I would suggest their adoption of villages where students may participate in a programme of complete reconstruction of village life”, he had said.
Maulana gave a great and scholarly speech while inaugurating the symposium on the ‘Concept of man and Philosophy of Education in East and West’, in New Delhi on December 13, 1951.
He said: “The Greek approached the concept of man from an external point of view. Hence we find that from the earliest times Greek philosophy devotes far greater attention to what man does than what man is. It is true that some of the earlier Greek philosophers thought of man as essentially a spiritual entity, and we find that this is perhaps the prevailing mode of thought up to the times of Plato.”
“With the advent of Aristotle there began, however, a new orientation in which the attention is diverted from the idea of man to man’s activities in the world here.