National Education Day, commemorates the birthday of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a prominent educationist. He was born as Abul Kamal Ghulam Muhiyuddin Ahmad on November 11, 1888 at Mecca.
His father, Maulana Khairuddin, a Bengali Muslim of Afghan origin, was a descendant of the eminent Ulama or scholars of Islam. His mother was the daughter of an Arabian sheikh. Khairuddin left India during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny and settled in Mecca, where he met his wife. He returned to Calcutta with his family when Azad was two years old.
Azad had his early formal education in Arabic, Persian and Urdu with
theological orientation and then in philosophy, geometry, mathematics and algebra. He also learnt English, world history and politics on his own. As a young man he composed poetry in Urdu and wrote articles on religion and philosophy. He rose to prominence through his work as a journalist. He criticised the British Raj and espoused the cause of Indian nationalism. He became a leader of the Khilafat Movement and came in close contact with Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation.
Azad soon became an ardent admirer of Gandhi’s ideas of non-violent civil disobedience, and worked actively to organise the non-cooperation movement in protest against the 1919 Rowlatt Act. He actively promoted swadeshi (indigenous) products and became a devotee to the cause of Swaraj (self-rule for India).
In 1923 he became the youngest person to serve as the president of The Indian National Congress. After India’s independence, he became the first minister of education in the Indian government.
He died on February 22, 1958. In 1992, Azad (he adopted this pen name, ‘freedom’) was posthumously awarded, Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.
Contribution to Indian education
Azad was an outstanding educationist too. He helped shape the Indian educational system in the immediate post-independence years. It is during his time that the University Grants Commission was established and the Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) launched. It went on to play an important part to promote education and culture in the country. It was Maulana Azad who created the three academies — Sahitya, Lalit Kala and Sangeet Natak — to promote literature, art and music in the country. He assisted Pandit Nehru to set up the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and other chains of science laboratories in the country.
During his tenure as the minister of Education — from 1947 to 1958 — his initiatives saw the budgetary allocation for education raised 15-fold. He appointed the University Education Commission in 1948 and Secondary Education Commission in 1952.
As an education minister Azad insisted that both the Union and the States share responsibility to promote education in the country.
What Nehru said of him...
“…. He (Azad) was great in many ways. He combined in himself the greatness of the past with the greatness of the present. He always reminded me of the great men of several hundred years ago about whom I have read in history, the great men of the Renaissance, or in a later period, the encyclopaedists ... men of intellect and men of action…”