Avoid Extravaganza, Invest in Creating Standard Institutions: AIEM Jaipur Conference
All India Education Movement (AIEM), founded in 1996 by Saiyid Hamid, organised its 12th Annual Conference in collaboration with Muslim Education Society, Rajasthan, in Jaipur on 2-3 September. The first conference of the series was held at Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi on 27-28 February 2010. It was a revival of Sir Syed’s tradition of “All India Muslim Education Conference” since 1868 to spread the message of inclusive education through annual meets in different parts of India.
THE THEME AND THE MESSAGE
The central theme of the Jaipur meet was, “Minority Education under New Education Policy (NEP): Prospects and Challenges.” The mammoth conference spread over nine sessions was addressed by several eminent educationists including two Chancellors and four (Ex and Present) Vice Chancellors.
The message of the conference was very clear. To cover the educational deficit, the community shall have to be self-dependent. In other words, self-reliance is the key to equalising the community’s participation in ‘Higher Education’, as well as to improving the quality. Today excellence is the key to success and not the lumps of certificates.
It was noted that enrolment in the elementary stage has improved but in higher education, the community is lagging far behind. Against the national average of 26- 27% of the youth in the age group 18-23 enrolled in higher education, the average of the Muslims is just 16.6%. It is the lowest among all communities. The NEP envisages raising the national average above 50%. But it is silent upon bridging the gap; though the slogan is “Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas.”
Ironically, the minority community has been clubbed with “Socially Economically Disadvantaged Group” (SEDGs). The group includes “females, transgender, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs, people coming from rural areas, small-towns, and aspirational districts, migrant communities, low-income households, children in vulnerable situations, victims or children of victims of trafficking, orphans, child beggars in urban India and urban poor”. This category when taken together, counts around 85% of the total population of India.
The policy document speaks of “special care” for the group, but one can imagine how much Muslims can be benefitted from the scheme.
NOT TO BE DISHEARTENED
Prof. Furqan Qamar, former VC of Rajasthan University, advised the community in his keynote address, not to be disheartened by this omission, nor to be sentimental about the silence of the policy on educational developments during 800 years of Muslim rule. He suggested the remedy in line with Qur’ānic teaching (13:11), “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people, until they change what is in themselves.” He said the community shall have to streamline its own resources to cover the deficit. The NEP will not come in the way.
THE LOW STANDARD
Not only in numbers but also the quality of education will have to improve. Notably, most of the students (54.1%) from the Muslim community depend on government-run institutions. Only 18.2% of Muslim students go to aided private colleges and 27.4% to private unaided institutions. It is not thinkable for the students of the low-income groups to join high-standard institutions. NEP suggests no intervention to do away with this disparity, though it admits that the minority is under-represented in Higher Education.
Prof. Qamar exhorted the community to create self-governed high standard institutions with best faculty and good management. This will require higher funding. The community is not short of funds. Just needs to change its priorities. (A resolution of the conference advised the community to avoid extravaganza in marriages, etc. and invest more in education.)
Unfortunately, our history of establishing and maintaining educational institutions has been dismal. Many Islamia colleges established in the last century have lost their grace. We must take a leaf from a minuscule minority of Christians. They maintain a high standard of inclusive educational institutions and as a solemn principle, avoid politics within management. Their churches help manage educational institutions and hospitals. Sikh and Jain communities are also doing well. It is good that NEP provides an opportunity to establish standard institutions. We have a right to establish and run our own schools but unfortunately, this liberty is used to mismanage and degrade them for petty interests. We shall have to change ourselves.
TAPPING AUQAF AND ZAKAT
To grab the opportunities opened by NEP, we must prepare ourselves, intellectually and economically. Creating an education fund is a basic need. Delegates suggested tapping the vast economic potential of Waqf properties spread all over the country. At present maximum properties are underutilised or in adverse possession. Effective use of Waqf properties can help in a big way.
The suggestion looks good but needs enormous labour first for a case-to-case study. Then exploring ways with local support to persuade the possession holders and assure them a beneficial replacement. Zakat funds may also be tapped for the benefit of children from poor families. Zakat and Waqf incomes entangle Shari’ah limitations. To convince people of the usage of these funds for educating poor students, the mission should turn to the Ulama for their support.
MIGRATION TO HIGHER TECHNOLOGY
The concept of education is changing fast. In the past, only an individual’s memory used to play a key role in storing information. The stronger the memory, the better the placement was the rule. Today, enormous information is stored in machines. The skill to squeeze, analyse and promptly apply is basic in all fields. It is quite interesting and not burdensome like memorising by heart. Training and development in such skills open the doors to success.
It was stressed that Madrasas should be transformed into multi-stream training institutions. In fact, curriculum of each Madrasa is based on its objectives and limited by its financial resources. Many Madrasas are limited to imparting basic Islamic knowledge, to produce Imams, Muezzins, and people who can guide the Muslims in their religious rituals. Some big Madrasas produce Ulama in different streams. The aim is to secure Islamic knowledge with age-old continuity. In some Madrasas, modern subjects and some skills like computer courses are also part of the curriculum.
It is experienced that registration with Madrasa Boards does not sufficiently support expansion of the curriculum and to add “employment-oriented” skill courses. Madrasas also avoid state finance because it brings unwanted intervention in their functioning. Corruption is also cited as one reason.
The upward trend in girls education was lauded. But some speakers seemed more enthusiastic about “Women Empowerment.” Any concept that dilutes the family bonds and tends to culminate into a laissez-faire attitude, cannot be virtuous for the person and the society. This scribe felt migration from our tested religio-cultural order should not be the end result of girls education. The engagement of women in outdoor activities is permissible if needed, but abdicating family responsibilities and natural duty of motherhood, education and training of children cannot be a healthy idea. Ayas cannot replace the cradle of the mother. Family flourishes by mutual respect, sacrifice and a sense of service and duty.
[The writer is Chairman of Forum for Civil Rights. email: email@example.com]