The Financial Express

How Bengalee reformers shaped the educational thoughts of society

| Updated: October 22, 2017 01:16:28

How Bengalee reformers shaped the educational thoughts of society
'Education' is a social phenomenon as well as an indispensable component of social structure. Since ancient times, education has been considered the main engine for reconstruction of society. As a result, social thinkers and reformers have been emphasising the relation between education and society. The 'educational thoughts' of Western thinkers and reformers are quite dominant in Bengal's academic arena. The 'educational thoughts' of Bengalee thinkers and reformers, who made great contributions to the reformation of society, remain marginalised. In this regard, the book 'Banglaeer Samajchintay Shikkha Prosongo' (Place of Education in Bengalees' Social Thoughts) is a very timely and noble initiative by the author.
The writer analyses the social thoughts of some Bengalee intellectuals and reformers in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. The place and importance of education in their social thoughts are especially evaluated here. 
The book is divided mainly into two parts. In the first part, the author discusses the thoughts and movements of seven reformers from Bengal's Hindu community. They are  Ram Mohan Roy, Tarachand Chakraborty, Rashikkrishna Mallik, Akshaykumar Datta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Keshub Chunder Sen and Rabindranath Tagore. In the second part, the author focuses on eight major reformers from Bengal's 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 Bengalee reformers from the Hindu community, the author shows that their aim was to eradicate superstitions and to 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 Bengalees, to fight against social evils. He played a historical role in abolishing 'sati', the Hindu funeral practice in which the widow would immolate herself on her husband's funeral pyre. Ram Mohan believed education to be a tool for social reform and advocated induction of Western learning into Indian education. 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-remarriage to the mainstream Hindu society. Vidyasagar vigorously promoted the idea that regardless of their caste, both men and women should receive the best education. He advocated teaching of science, mathematics and the philosophies of John Locke and David Hume to replace most of the ancient Hindu philosophies. Rabindranath Tagore, a genius of literature, the other branches the arts, culture, and philosophy, contributed broadly to educational thoughts. He put special emphasis on child-friendly schools. Tagore envisaged that nature was the best teacher to pupils, and nature would provide them with the necessary condition for acquiring knowledge. He opposed book-centred education for students that might confine the minds of boys and girls to textbooks only. According to Rabindranath Tagore, the great Bengalee poet, teaching should be practical and real, not artificial and theoretical. 
In analysing the social thoughts of Bengalee Muslim reformers, Dr. Maleque shows that the Muslim community found themselves stuck 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 a leading role in almost all the great social, political, educational, religious and cultural movements of Bengal. For leading the Bengalee Muslim community to a modern path, Delawarr-Hosaen-Ahmed-Meerza, Abul Hussein and Rebel Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam emphasised a 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 had contributed a lot to the advancement of the Muslim community, especially to women empowerment. A pioneer of women's education and their emancipation in Bengal, Faizunnessa established many schools for girls. Begum Rokeya, who dedicated her whole life to liberate women from the bondages of social backwardness, wrote many articles, stories and novels, mostly in Bengali, to promote women's emancipation, which, she believed, would come about through educating them. Begum Rokeya strongly condemned men for withholding education from women in the name of religion as she addressed the Bengal Women's Educational Conference in 1926: "The opponents of female education say that women will be unruly...fie! They call themselves Muslims and yet go against the basic tenets 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 remarkable progress in its 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 lots of challenges. Many of these impediments are rooted in our society. That's why a planned social thought is a prerequisite for developing our education 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 major Benglaee reformers. Written in lucid Bangla, the book contains abundant food for thought for sociologists, academics, researchers, policy-makers and educational professionals on the whole. The author of this book, 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 well-written and easily accessible. The author deserves plaudits for producing this informative and insightful work. The book is an excellent and valuable contribution to our writings on education, sociology and philosophy.
The writer is an independent researcher.

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