A unique achievement | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 20, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 20, 2008

A unique achievement

PROFESSOR Emeritus Dr. Jamal Nazrul Islam returned to Bangladesh in 1983 after an outstanding academic career and teaching in Cambridge, Princeton and Caltech. His level is best summed up by an extract from a letter from Prof. John Pople: “I appreciate hearing from old students from many years ago. You were certainly a talented group, two (Brian Josephson and Jim Mirlees) having gone on to win Nobel prizes in advance of me.”
Dr. Jamal's classmates and contemporaries were an outstanding lot, having produced four Nobel Laureates. Ironically, Dr. Jamal was a student of the same level as these Nobel Laureates. By returning to Chittagong in a misplaced sense of patriotism, he had forsaken his excellent possibilities of joining the four.
In 1985, Prof. Abdus Salam (Nobel Laureate) came to Dhaka to hand Prof. Jamal the first Gold Medal of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences. An extract from a letter, which Prof. Salam wrote to former president Ershad stated: "Prof. Jamal Nazrul Islam's newly proposed institute at Chittagong should receive funds from the government. Prof. Islam is one of the most outstanding physicists and he has been recently elected as the first Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences."
In 1998, he was awarded the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) Medal Lecture. The medal was given at the tenth general meeting of TWAS in Trieste, Italy, in the presence of several Nobel Laureates.
In 1998, Prof. Jamal was also awarded the Bangladesh National Award for Science and Technology. No other such award has been given before or after.
In 1999, a Bangladesh delegation was sent to the International Science Congress in Budapest. Prof. Jamal was not included in this delegation, but was a delegate from the Third World Academy of Sciences.
In the conference, Gen. Nuruddin noticed that Prof. Jamal was hobnobbing freely with the other participants and was on first name terms with many Nobel Laureates. Surprised Gen. Nuruddin asked the Secretary (Ministry of Science & Technology, Bangladesh) why Prof. Jamal was not included in the Bangladesh delegation. He replied: "Sir he does not belong to our party." Gen. Nuruddin, on his return to Bangladesh, proposed Prof. Jamal's name for the Ekushay Padak (highest Bangladeshi award), which Prof. Jamal received in 2000.
Prof. Jamal was made Professor Emeritus in 2006.
Let us now turn to Prof. Emeritus Sultana Zaman.
Mention mental retardation to anyone and notice the reaction of revulsion. People want to keep their distance from mentally retarded and physically disabled people. But WHO estimates that about 3% of the human population is mentally retarded, and one in ten families either directly or indirectly are concerned with this problem.
Added with those physically disabled, it comes to about 7.5 million people in Bangladesh with either mentally retarded or physically disabled. Even when the Dhaka University Academic Council was discussing about having a department to deal with the education of this population, the reactions of some of the professors was of loathing.
Prof. Sultana Zaman has dedicated her life to bring much needed relief to that abandoned crowd, and has been a pioneer in finding solutions. Although she maintains a low profile, the government has failed to give any recognition to her extraordinary achievements.
She was a mother of three and had no education. Whenever she went near a college, she longed to be part of it. She commenced her college education late in life, specialising in psychology and started working with the intellectually disabled in 1973.
After getting B.A and M.A from Dhaka University, she completed her Ph.D. from Emory University, US in 1975 (with theses on mental retardation). She worked in the Psychology Department of Dhaka University for thirty-three years and as professor from 1975 to 2000.
Apart from her work in the university, she immediately started an organisation for the challenged group named Bangladesh Protibandhi Foundation with a school named Kalyani. Working with the mental retardation, Kalyani also deals with the blind, deaf and physically impaired children. This Foundation has expanded its activities all over the country with more than six branches. All her services were on voluntary basis.
In order to generate quality intervention and management facilities for persons with special needs, and to create professionals in different areas of disability, Prof. Sultana had the vision to establish a faculty to train individuals to develop themselves as specialists in different forms of disability.
The outcome was the Department of Special Education in the Institute of Education and Research (IER), University of Dhaka, in 1993; the first of its kind at the university level in Bangladesh, the first of its kind to offer B.S.Ed. and M.S.Ed. degree in special education.
Prof. Sultana has participated in thirty international workshops and seminars in seventeen countries and presented twenty-one papers. She was also the Visiting Professor in the Department of Special Education, University of Manchester for four months from April 1992. She has countless articles and books to her credit.
Among the numerous other voluntary community services of Dr. Sultana are:
Child Guidance Centre attached to Psychiatric Department of Dhaka Medical Hospital from 1979 to 1983,
The Society for the Care and Education of Mentally Retarded Children, and was its president from its inception in 1977 to 1984,
Samaj Unnayan Songstha for a trade-cum-primary school for the slum children and women.
Her awards include the Henry H. Kessler international award, Rotary International Award "Women for Women," Anannya, Bangladesh Scouts, Autism Welfare Foundation 2000, IER Award 2003, Agradoot Award 2008.
Dr. Sultana was made Professor of Emeritus in September 2008.
Dr. Sultana and Dr. Jamal are brother and sister. This is a unique precedence for Bangladesh. Even worldwide, there cannot be many more brother and sister Professor Emeritus.

K.Z. Islam is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

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