The life of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah according to the author and veteran journalist M J Akbar “evolved into a stream of consciousness one half lava one half love”.
Too much space has been given by social scientists to the ‘lava’ segment ignoring the domain of love that evolved into his consciousness with many dimensions and education and its growth being one of these.
Sheikh Sahib found education instrumental to promote the culture of peace and coexistence. After completing his education at Aligarh Muslim University in 1930, Abdullah returned to Kashmir and joined government service as a science teacher.
However, he gave up the job and commenced his journey of transformative politics with the support of plebeian masses. He was passionate about transforming education as well, and looked at it as an agency for social change and development.
His political and economic ideas continue to be the subject of discussion and research but there is a certain neglect with regard to his formidable ideas on education and its role in nation-building and citizen-building.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has declared 2022 as the year of excellence and in this context the greatest tribute to the memory of Sheikh Sahib would be to enlist and analyse his ideas on education and locate their contemporary relevance.
In this column an attempt is made to produce a synoptic view of Sheikh Sahib’s educational thought and practice.
Education and Individual Growth
Education is primarily meant for liberating the individual and leading him to complete freedom. In his inaugural address to the Third Annual Conference of Christian Schools in India (May 20, 1975) Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah said:
“It was Christ’s mission to restore the dignity of man, and the purpose of education according to Christianity is to humanise the recipients of knowledge and training. Christianity upholds the universal principle that man should live in peace with others.
This can well be achieved through scrupulous teaching. Abdullah emphasised that man cannot reach perfection if he starves economically and remains socially a destitute—something that is stressed upon in Christianity. He quoted the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) that “poverty is very near to becoming apostasy.
In other words, it is penury that might deprive a man of righteousness”. Knowledge, initiative and culture combine to pave the way for human reconstruction.
These can help banish mischief and murder from the world. Mischief maims human contentment while murder sets apace the forces of chaos. It is here that universities, colleges and schools can prevent the total annihilation of human qualities.
Abdullah stressed that there is a dire need of initiating and consolidating programmes of vocational and technical training. This would provide us with trained Agriculturalists, Technicians, and Medicos instead of ‘Generalists’.
Therefore, the critical task in the reform of school system must be to increase the number and qualifications of trained teachers. Human values are the key to success according to him and he referred to Dr S Radhakrishnan who once observed:
“The greatest story of man on earth is not his material achievements, the empires he has built or broken but the growth of his soul from age to age in his search for truth and goodness”. Sheikh Sahib knew the significance of research in universities and how it can lead to the generation of new knowledge.
Education and Research
The tall complex of buildings and such other structures are not to be mistaken for a university. For the actual goal of a university is to produce dedicated band of intellectuals and thought leaders who work hard for the uplift of proverbial common man to translate into practice the principles identified in the constitution.
Addressing the Foundation Ceremony of New Campus of Jammu University (December, 16, 1976) Sheikh Sahib stated:” The university will do well if it attends to the needs of both applied and pure research. The two after all are inter-connected and inter-dependent concepts and involve many happy and fruitful interactions between one another.
I am happy to note that this university is giving impetus to fundamental research and I hope that side by side with it applied research will also continue to grow and flourish”. The domain of Social Sciences which still awaits the quality attention of academic administrators and policy planners was of great significance to Sheikh Sahib.
He believed that “social sciences, Arts and languages are quite new and virgin pastures and valleys and researchers need to address critically this domain of knowledge. He illustrated it by looking at India as a pluralist civilisation with rich composite culture to which different religions and regions have made their own contribution”.
The university cannot be the same as it was in 19th century Europe in advanced parts of the world when education largely benefitted the upper strata of society. The university has to address the problems of all and devote more attention to those left out in the development process. Sheikh Sahib had firm belief that the concept of education as something static, stagnant and conservative has become an outdated concept.
Modern Education includes the concept of continuous growth of knowledge and its earliest possible transfer to the people for their great benefit. Referring to environs of Jammu University, Abdullah stated, “Near the campus flows the perennial stream - The Tawi. Its water does not even for a moment suffer from stagnation and stink.
It flows on and on. Let the university permit no stagnation of knowledge for then it shall cease to grow and be of no use to the people. Let the lofty Himalayas at the back of the campus inspire you to think lofty and great thoughts transcending sectarianism and narrow-ness of all kinds and play your due role in the improvement of National and international life”. True education to Sheikh Sahib was more than employment and aimed at the task of reconstruction of culture and thought.
Education and Re-construction
For universalisation of primary education and establishment of technical institutes, the state government immediately after independence commenced the process of inclusive growth and development. After his return to power, Sheikh Sahib initiated many measures to expand the reach of education in Jammu and Kashmir.
Addressing the State Education Officers Conference on December 20, 1976, he suggested that it may not be possible through formal education to bring children from working class groups to school and recommended massive dose of non-formal education and made it clear that he will be personally reviewing its progress both in his personal capacity and as head of the Ministry of Education and of government”.
He added the whole problem of higher education bristles with all types of difficulties caused by a tremendous pressure for admissions and large-scale resort to unfair means in examinations. Through certain administrative measures and a policy of selected admissions, he said, “We have succeeded in putting the university examinations on a sound footing and reduced the number of students in colleges by 40 percent”.
Additionally, steps were taken in the state to start evening coaching classes and remedial classes for failures. In order to improve the quality of higher education in Jammu and Kashmir, the government’s outside the box thinking went a long way to improve the culture of higher education. Abdullah took certain steps to improve the quality of higher education.
Some twenty one college teachers were deputed for M.Phil /PhD to various universities in the country under the UGC teachers fellowship scheme. Late Professor G R Najar availed this scheme and got an Phil Degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Political Science.
I happened to be his student at Degree College Anantnag and saw for myself how this scheme had transformed him into a brilliant teacher. Sheikh Sahib was deeply conscious of the fact that degrees alone are not sufficient for pursuing academic excellence which comes through “frequent and regular use of libraries, exchange of ideas on current affairs, pedagogical techniques and practices through seminars and tutorials and by conducting research and investigations”.
He emphasised that for making college education purposeful a number of applied courses like Electronics, Fruit Preservation, Mushroom Cultivation, Interior Decoration, Business Management and Commerce have been introduced in the state.
Looking back one can clearly see how these initial efforts in the field of higher education in the 70s of the last century have transformed and renewed the education system in Jammu and Kashmir. All these newly introduced streams were helpful in supplying needed human resource for trade, banking insurance and growth of agri-business in the state.
Sheikh Sahib had firm belief that the way forward is to avoid “substituting quantity for quality in education”. Today when there are conferences and seminars being organised on New Education Policy it is significant to underline that “better be untaught than ill taught”.
This value we always need to imbibe and carve out in stone. Today as we look around it is necessary to note the observations of eminent sociologist Avajit Pathak who wrote recently “for this qualitative transformation it is important to try our best to renew the spirit of liberal education.
Let no one forget that a society can suffer decay if our classrooms are dead; democracy degenerates if our universities cease to nurture young minds that question the pathology of power and we would lose the very meaning of living if the psychology of fear is followed to rob us of our ultimate treasure- conscience”
Prof Gull Wani is Kashmir based Political Scientist
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.