'Education' is a social phenomenon as well as an indispensable component of social structure. Since the ancient times, education has been considered the main engine for reconstruction of a society. As a result, social thinkers and reformers have been emphasising the relation of education with society. The 'educational thoughts' of Western thinkers and reformers are very dominant in the academic arena of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the 'educational thoughts' of Bengali thinkers and reformers, who made great contributions to the reformation of our society, remain out of focus. In this regard, the book 'Bangaleer Samajchintay Shikkha Prosongo' is a very timely and laudable initiative from the author. The author attempts to analyse the social thoughts of some Bengali intellectuals and reformers in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Especially, the position and importance of education in their social thoughts are evaluated here.
The book is divided into mainly two parts. In the first part, the author discusses the thoughts and movements of seven reformers from the Hindu community. They are Ram Mohan Roy, Tarachand Chakraborty, Rashikkrishna Mallik, Akshaykumar Datta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Keshub Chunder Sen and Rabindranath Tagore. In the last part, the author includes eight major reformers from the Muslim community. They are Nawab Abdul Latif, Faizunnesa Chowdhurani, Delawarr-Hosaen-Ahmed-Meerza, Syed Ameer Ali, Nawab Ali Chowdhury, Begum Rokeya, Abul Hussein and Kazi Nazrul Islam.
In analysing the trends of social thoughts of the Bengali reformers from the Hindu community, the author shows that their aim was to eradicate superstitions and create an open environment for the betterment of their community. Ram Mohan Roy challenged traditional Hindu culture and set up the 'Brahmo Sabha', a movement of reformist Bengalis, to fight against social evils. He played a historical role in abolishing 'sati', the Hindu funeral practice in which the widow immolated herself on her husband's funeral pyre. Ram Mohan believed education to be an implement for social reform and advocated induction of Western learning into the Indian education system. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was the champion of the uplift of the status of women in India, particularly in his native Bengal. With valuable moral support from people like Akshay Kumar Dutta, Vidyasagar introduced the practice of widow remarriages to mainstream Hindu society. Vidyasagar vigorously promoted the idea that regardless of their caste, both men and women should receive the best education. He advocated the teaching of science, mathematics and the philosophies of John Locke and David Hume, to replace most of the ancient Hindu philosophy. Poet Rabindranath Tagore, a genius of the arts, culture and philosophy, contributed much to the educational thoughts. He put special emphasis on child-friendly school. Tagore envisaged that nature is the best teacher to the pupil, and nature will provide the students with necessary situation to acquire knowledge. He rejected a book-centred education for students that could confine the mind of boys and girls to textbooks only. According to Rabindranath Tagore, teaching should be practical and real, but not artificial and theoretical.
In analysing the social thoughts of the Bengali Muslim reformers, Dr. Maleque shows that the Muslim community was in a deep crisis as they had been ignoring the British education system for a long time. But from the last quarter of the 19th century, this situation had been changing. Abdul Latif, Syed Ameer Ali and Nawab Ali Chowdhury advocated Western education in the Muslim community. They took leading role in almost all the great social, political, educational, religious and cultural movements of Bengal. For the advancement of the Bengali Muslim community towards a modern trend, Delawarr-Hosaen-Ahmed-Meerza, Abul Hussein and Poet Nazrul Islam emphasised the pragmatic and real life-oriented education system. They thought education should be a powerful tool for free thoughts and humanism. The educational thoughts and multi-dimensional activities of Faizunnessa Chowdhurani and Begum Rokeya contributed a lot to the advancement of the Muslim community, especially in women empowerment. A pioneer in women's education and emancipation in Bengal, Faizunnessa established many schools for the girls. Begum Rokeya, who dedicated her whole life to liberate women from the bondage of social restraints, wrote many articles, stories and novels, mostly in Bengali, to promote women's emancipation, which, she believed, would come about by educating them. Begum Rokeya strongly criticised men for withholding education from women in the name of religion when she addressed the Bengal Women's Educational Conference in 1926. She said, "The opponents of the female education say that women will be unruly...fie! They call themselves Muslims and yet go against the basic tenet of Islam which gives equal right to education. If men are not led astray once educated, why should women?"
There is no doubt Bangladesh has made a remarkable progress in the education sector in the last few decades. From primary to university levels, the number of students has increased. Women's participation in all levels of education is increasing day by day. But, still, our education system is facing many challenges. A number of these challenges are very much rooted in our society. So a planned social thought is a prerequisite for developing our education system and making it more sustainable. In this regard, the book 'Bangaleer Samajchintay Shikkha Prosongo' will be helpful in understanding the patterns of social and educational thoughts of the major Bengali reformers. The book contains abundant food for thought for sociologists, academics, researchers, policy makers, educational professionals and also the general readers. The author Professor Dr. Abdul Maleque specialises in Educational Sociology and has been teaching and researching at Dhaka University's Institute of Education & Research (IER) since 1988. Like his other books, this one is also easily accessible. The writer deserves appreciation for producing this informative and insightful piece of writing on a subject not discussed much these days. The book is an excellent and valuable addition to the literature on education, sociology and philosophy.
S. M. Rayhanul Islam is an independent researcher.
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