Working Paper on Education
As in many other fields, the Indian Muslim community lags far behind other sections of society even in the field of education. And perhaps this factor is responsible for all our failures in other fields of human endeavour since no illiterate or semi-literate community can take advantage of the possibilities available in the world today. Therefore, education should command our special attention.
But since HDI at present does have a meagre budget, work should start on small scale and in areas where small investments can bring large benefits. Our aim should be to derive maximum benefit from a limited budget.
Since starting afresh by establishing new schools or other educational institutions demands heavy funding, it is best avoided at the outset, especially since the philosophy of HDI says that instead of trying to do everything ourselves, we should support efforts already in any field of our interest.
It would be feasible at this stage to support or work in tandem with other organizations which are already active in the field of education or promoting illiteracy. What is needed, therefore, is a down-to-earth and practical approach, and a workable plan based on it.
The field of education may be divided into four major areas in which work needs to be done: (a) schooling; (b) higher education; (c) adult education and literacy; and (d) religious education. In all of these areas, women merit special attention, as they are the most deprived.
Besides the dearth of schools, let alone good schools, in Muslim-concentration areas, a bigger problem is that even those which are functioning, are faced with poor attendance and high drop out rates, especially for girls. This is partly due to lack of awareness and motivation, and partly as a result of financial constraints which compel the child to become an earning member of the family at a tender age.
An effort can be made to rectify this malady by:
(a) spreading awareness about the need and importance of education among economically and educationally disadvantaged sections;
(b) providing incentives such as mid-day meals, free uniforms, text-books etc.
(c) partial waiver of fees by the schools, and partial payment of the same by HDI, especially for meritorious yet poor students
Since it is not possible at present to start a large-scale programme due to scarcity of funds, some schools may be adopted for this purpose in different regions. These may be those which are being run by Muslim groups and organizations, or even those being run by the government, which often possess space, staff, & infrastructure, but lack commitment, and have sufficient numbers of Muslim students.
Individuals should also be encouraged to “adopt” a child in their area for the purpose of education, i.e., to look after his/her educational needs by paying for his/her fees and other educational expenses, and if possible, tutoring him/her after school hours, which is particularly valuable for first generation learners.
As for those who are unable to opt for formal education, they must be encouraged to join the non-formal stream through private initiatives or the government’s schemes such as the National Open Schooling system.
Another need is that children passing out of schools should be sufficiently aware of the career options open to them, and suitable to their requirement, talent, and budget. For this purpose it would be beneficial to provide career guidance to them, which may be achieved both through interactive sessions in various regions as well as by publishing inexpensive and informative booklets on career opportunities available to them once they complete schooling. Such books in various languages should be distributed free or at subsidised rates to a large number of schools having Muslim students. Career guidance should also be provided in various regions.
Another aspect of school education that merits attention is that a vast majority of Muslim children who do attend schools, are completely deprived of any kind of religious grounding. In fact, their school life is completely alien to Muslim culture, values, and teachings, leading them to live a split life between school and home. This may be remedied by establishing Islamic study circles, for which local mosques and community centers can function as a convenient and almost free venues while educated adults in each area may be encouraged to come forward to volunteer to teach in such classes and manage them.
At the level of higher education, there’s not much that can be done on a shoestring budget. Efforts must be made to encourage and mobilize Muslim students to prepare in earnest for, and appear in various competitive exams for professional courses, so as to boost their representation in these services and serve the community and the country in a beneficial way.
The abysmally low levels of Muslim literacy, specially in rural areas, and in the case of women, is a cause for grave concern, and must be remedied urgently, if we are to succeed in any kind of reform or ameliorative work. Literacy programmes must include in their ambit both adults who are beyond the age of formal education, and children, for whom education is not possible due to financial or other constraints. While in the case of children it is certainly more desirable to go in for formal education rather than literacy programmes. If the former is often out of reach for some reason, literacy would serve as a second best substitute, for it would help to impart at least basic knowledge.
For this purpose it is necessary to mobilize public opinion and effort in this direction. Programmes of “Each one teach one,” and of sponsoring at least one person’s literacy or educational programme will go a long way.
In the field of religious education work needs to be done in many directions. As mentioned earlier, one aspect is to impart basic religious education to children studying in schools where there is absolutely no exposure to Islamic teachings. The second is to achieve “religious literacy,” i.e., a minimum working knowledge of religion and the rights and duties it confers on its adherents, for those Muslim children and adults who are at the lowest rung of literacy, and this should be an integral part of any literacy programme that is launched for their benefit. Inexpensive and basic religious literature can be made available to them for this purpose.
Perhaps the biggest bane of Muslim education is the ever-widening gulf between the alim and the English-educated, the madrasa and the school, and unless we bridge this great divide, we can never succeed. The first step should be to introduce the study of the Quran, Arabic, and Islam as subjects in “secular” Muslim schools; and English, modern sciences, IT, and vocational courses in madrasas, so that the alim who graduates from these institutions is able to earn his living, and to hold his head high as an equal and respected member of the civil society in which he lives. Public opinion must be mobilized for this purpose, so that the madrasa ceases to function as a citadel of a medieval legacy.
As imams of mosques, who are in constant touch with the Muslim masses, alims can make a major contribution in educating them in the right direction. But in order to achieve this, they must first be trained themselves, so that they can motivate the public in the right direction, and strive to inculcate truly Islamic values – first in their own person, and then in those who follow them in prayer. The mosque itself can function as a primary, and Islamic school-cum-community centre.
Dearth of knowledge about Islam and the Shariat makes us not only commit grave mistakes, but also keeps us ignorant of the rights and duties it bestows on us, and this is specially true of women, many of whom may be well educated, and may even appear emancipated and progressive, but are often victimized using the weaponry of regressive misconceptions about Islam and its laws. The need of the hour is to educate all Muslims about Islamic beliefs, teachings, laws, rights and duties, so that they do not become victims of ignorance and misinformation. If the scope of these educational programmes is extended to include non-Muslims also in their ambit, they can serve even the function of da’wah.
To initiate many of these training and awareness programmes, it would suffice to establish study circles, modest libraries, and book banks (with contributions from the residents and participants themselves), in chosen localities, mosques, communities, and educational institutions. While such a programme would be low on financial investment, it would be high on manpower, and its success would be heavily dependent on social motivation and mobilisation. Needless to say, in all these programmes women must be specially targeted, as they are the builders of the home, of future generations, and therefore of society.