Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to make fruitful changes in our society. India is a democratic country bearing enriched legitimacy in educational traditions. The people of this country have always been blessed with the educational ideals and thoughts of its great sons like Chanakya, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, APJ Adul Kalam, and so on. The National Education Day or Rashtriya Shiksha Diwas is celebrated every year on November 11. This day is celebrated on the birth anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first Education Minister of India (1947-1958). He is remembered for his unparalleled contributions to the field of education, nation-building, nation-unity, and institution-building.
On the eve of the National Education Day, the Education Ministry has asked the nation to “work towards reaffirming the right of every person to holistic, quality, and inclusive education”. Azad boosted the literacy rate of India by making the education system of India strong and accessible to common people during the post-independent era when the nation was suffering from widespread illiteracy. He emphasized higher education and vocational training for all the citizens of the country.
On 11 September 2008 the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) had announced that November 11 will be recognized as National Education Day. The announcement made by the Ministry revealed that, “the ministry has decided to commemorate the birthday of this great son of India by recalling his contribution to the cause of education in India. November 11 from 2008 onwards will be celebrated as the national education day without declaring it a holiday every year.” On this day, different campaigns and programs are organized to spread awareness about education so that people can become aware of and attracted to education. Besides, various interesting and informative seminars, workshops, symposiums, and essay-writing, debates, etc. are also organized in educational institutions. Students and teachers amalgamate together to talk over the importance of literacy and national commitment to all aspects of education. His quotations like ‘education imparted by heart can bring revolution in the society’ and ‘to succeed in your mission you must have single-minded devotion to your goal’ etc. are massively articulated across the educational institutions in the country.
Independent India’s first Education Minister, freedom fighter, and Bharat Ratna awardee, Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin Ahmed bin Khairuddin Al-Hussaini Azad contributed tremendously to our freedom struggle and nation-building. Azad was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 1888 but later his family shifted to Calcutta to provide him a better education. In 1912 Azad started publishing Al-Hilal weekly that criticized British policies. After it was banned he started another weekly Al-Bagah following which the British government also banned him under the defense of India Regulations in 1916.
Azad himself was well versed with many languages including Hindi, English, Arabic, Urdu, Persian, and Bengali. His role in the establishment of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and in establishing the first Indian institute of technology in the country is indelible. He established school of architecture and planning, Jamia Millia Islamia and IIT Kharagpur.
Azad was committed to building a nation through education and advocated national unity to uphold the democratic ideals of the country. The modern-day IITs and faculty of Delhi University are considered to be his brainchild. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1992 for his mammoth contributions as a freedom fighter and educationist.
During his tenure of 11 years, Azad promoted research in eastern learning and literature and set up the three academies to develop fine arts. He founded Sangeet Natak Academy, Sahitya Academy, and Lalit Kala Academy to promote education and culture in the country. He also worked on the compilations of technical terms in Hindi on a large scale.
Azad set up some important boards and commissions during his tenure including the University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Institute of Higher Education, the University Education Commission, and the Secondary Education Commission. Under his leadership the first IIT, IISc, school of planning, and agriculture were established in different parts of the country.
Azad advocated education for women and encouraged free and compulsory primary education for children up to the age of 14 years. He has laid a greater emphasis on women’s education. In his words articulated that “no program of national education can be appropriate if it does not give full consideration to the education and advancement of one half of the society that is the women”.
He laid greater emphasis on art. According to him, “art is the education of emotions and it is thus an essential element in any scheme of national education. Education whether at the secondary or the university stage cannot be regarded as complete if it does not train our faculties to the perception of beauty”.
Teaching is treated as a noble profession. Azad laid directions for teachers to disseminate their teaching duties. According to him, “educationists should build the capabilities of the spirit of inquiry, creativity, entrepreneurial, and moral leadership among students and become their role model”.
Azad played a major role in strengthening the science education in India. He considers sciences as blessings. However, it depends on the individuals who are going to use it. According to him, “science is neutral. Is discoveries can be used equally to heal and to kill. It depends upon the outlook and mentality of the user whether science will be used to create a new heaven on the earth or to destroy the world in a common conflagration”.
Azad, thus, is adroitly credited with shaping the modern education system of India. He will be always remembered for his tremendous contributions in the field of education and endeavors for institution-building, nation-building and nation-unity.
Nawaz Sarif is a Ph.D. scholar and a UGC fellow at the School of Education, North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong, India. He has completed his master’s degree at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, India. Presently, he works on ‘the development of psychological capital in the young population’. Along with the research, he writes short articles on contemporary issues. Email: email@example.com