A panel formed by the Maulana Azad Education Foundation, a central government-funded body, to study the educational status of the minorities has found Muslims to be ‘educationally the most disadvantaged community’ among the minorities. The panel, with former secretary Afzal Amanullah as convenor, has recommended a three-tier model of institutions – central schools, community colleges and national institutes – to promote education among Muslims. Schools could follow the Kendriya Vidyalaya or Navodaya Vidyalaya pattern and the community colleges the open access model. If the recommendations are implemented they would go a long way in promoting education among the Muslims and helping them secure employment.
While Goa has far better statistics, the number of Muslims pursuing education as compared to other communities in Goa is lesser and needs to be improved. As compared to overall 89 per cent literacy rate in Goa, the literacy among Muslims is roughly estimated at 75 per cent. Though most ethnic Goan Muslims send their children to schools and colleges, it is not so common among migrant Muslims, especially the poorer sections among them and the dropout rate among them is high. Even among ethnic Goan Muslims a number of parents do not encourage children’s education beyond school. The major reasons for Muslims lagging behind in education in Goa are absence of support from parents and community and financial support. A number of Muslim parents, instead of supporting higher education for children, initiate them in their trade to supplement the income of their families. As a result of this children drop out of schools. Another reason for the parents to ‘withdraw’ their children from school is absence of guarantee of job. There is also a feeling that good education would prevent the youth from doing menial jobs in case they do not land up in a comfortable position, forcing them to remain unemployed.
According to the 2011 Census data, the literacy rate among Muslims at the national level was 68.53 per cent against the national average of 72.98 per cent. The Maulana Azad Education Foundation panel has observed that the gap in school enrolment rate for Muslims (at 74 per cent) and that for other communities (at 83 per cent) was large and needs to be bridged. The panel found that Muslims have been lagging behind in education at all levels, be it literacy, enrolment and in successful completion of courses at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Given the fact that young Muslims are in disadvantageous position educationally and financially, only a special drive meant to raise their educational level and bring them at par with the other youth from other communities could help improve their status.
The central government should study the report and take steps to implement the recommendations made by the panel. Though Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has said that the government could implement the recommendations that are easy to implement as early as next year, steps have to be taken to turn the plans into reality. The panel’s suggestion to open 211 schools, 25 community colleges and 5 national institutes imparting professional courses should be implemented. Proper education would help Muslims improve their economic status and bring them into the mainstream to contribute to the development of the nation. Dedicated educational institutions with good quality faculty could go a long way into changing the outlook of the Muslim community, which because of their social, economic and economic backwardness, is looked down upon as backward, fanatical and whatnot. The most vulnerable among them are the poorer sections. The panel’s recommendation that Muslim children should be given free education in co-educational institutions in three streams – arts, science and commerce – should be accepted. They should be given all encouragement to take up higher education in humanities and professional education.
It is for the government to take steps to set up the proposed schools in 167 identified minority-dominant and concentrated districts of the country with all requisite facilities to achieve the desired goal. Education is central to development of both the citizenry as well as the nation. While good and quality education is made available to Muslim children up to all levels, there should also be conscious initiatives on the part of public and private sector employers to leave no scope for discrimination in employment against Muslims. Exclusion can only breed bitterness and expand the ground for the violent trouble makers. Good education and employment would go a long way in the integration of Muslim youth into the mainstream by insulating them from radical and divisive views. The suggestions of the panel should be seen as a ray of hope for the Muslims as well as the zealous advocates of national integration.