The National Education Day is celebrated every year in the honour of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (originally named Muhiyuddin Ahmad), independent India’s first education minister.
For any country to progress and develop, it is important to adopt an education system that is comprehensive and precise in accordance with the requirements of the age.
A modern education system does not mean that it must be detached from its roots and traditions. It is important that the education system must have enough flexibility and adaptability to evolve with the need of the plural society for a progressive nation.
Maulana Azad was of the opinion that “educationists should build the capacities of the spirit of inquiry, creativity, entrepreneurial and moral leadership among students and become their role model”.
However, lack of linguistic skills, social etiquettes, education and other factors put the Indians at a disadvantage. Indians were extremely deprived, and socio-politically and culturally degraded due to lack of education before independence.
To honour the contribution of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958), a visionary leader, a great freedom fighter, an eminent educationist and the first Union minister for education, the Government of India declared 11 November as the National Education Day.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a reformer, politician, philosopher, educationist and a staunch nationalist. He had a vision with a very clear idea of what is needed for the people to fight for their freedom and progress.
His philosophical intellect made him a liberal rather than a conservative who contributed significantly to the Freedom Movement. Maulana Azad led several freedom movements throughout the country.
After the independence, Maulana Azad served the country in this capacity of education minister of free India till his death in 1958. He had once said, “We must not for a moment forget, it is a birthright of every individual to receive at least the basic education without which he cannot fully discharge his duties as a citizen.”
It was Maulana Azad’s efforts that helped India realise the importance of education. This is the reason education is every citizen’s basic right today.
Maulana Azad wanted India to be democratised through the education system and reformed the entire curriculum with the provision that it must integrate the values such as tolerance, acceptance, progressiveness and development for the people of India.
He also wanted to pursue mass literacy campaigns so that maximum people could be educated and made professionals so that the social structure and cultural diversity remains intact.
Azad’s educational philosophy was deeply influenced by the Aligarh movement that was led by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. To eliminate the societal evils and to achieve the ideal society that is economically self-sufficient, peaceful, and orderly, as well as to uphold moral and spiritual values and to reduce disparities and inequalities, he introduced a new educational policy, which was based on morality and human values.
He advocated the idea of universalisation of the basic education system and proposed the idea of free and compulsory education until secondary level for both boys and girls.
After becoming independent, Maulana Azad made primary education a free and compulsory citizen right for children up to 14 years of age.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has talked significantly about the importance of multilingualism in education and also outlines that wherever possible the medium of instruction should be the home language or the mother tongue or the local language or regional language.
This is what the Maulana has emphasised long back. He viewed education as an integral whole as well as an instrument of social revolution, constantly lifting human life to something better culturally, socially, morally, and spiritually.
He was in favour of giving the rightful place to the regional languages in education. He always emphasised that students should learn their vernacular languages so that they can engage in rendering great service to the nation by respecting their mother-tongue.
Tariq Mansoor, vice-chancellor of the historic Aligarh Muslim University, who himself is an educational reformer, said Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was the pioneer of the education system in India and strongly advocated the education of women and free and compulsory education up to primary level.
As the minister of education, he not only created a roadmap and a blueprint of the ideological reformation of the Indian educational institution, but also developed and established several liberal arts, science and technology institutions that are still contributing significantly to the progress of modern India.
He has set up several departments, commissions, boards, councils and institutions in the country. He will always be remembered and credited for establishing the Indian Institutes of Technology, School of Planning and Architecture, and the University Grants Commission.
He established this Commission in 1948 to make sure that the universities in India must teach new and contemporary subjects that would help in the development of the progressive nation.
It was Maulana Azad who established the All India Council for Secondary Education Commission in 1952 for reforming the structure of the secondary schools.
He is also known for setting up major literary, cultural and scholarly institutions such as Sahitya Academy, Sangeet Natak Academy, Lalit Kala Academy, and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
His foresightedness and liberal ideology have paved the path for the development and progress of India for many decades to come. Maulana Azad paved the way for a progressive, rational and modernised India through his educational reforms.
He was loved by Muslims and non-Muslims alike and was a great thinker, a determined freedom fighter and one of the makers of modern India. However, he was against the idea of two-nation theory advocated by Muhammad Ali Jinnah.