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Pathetically low representation of Muslims in higher education is robbing the community of share in the nation’s economic growth.

There are two takeaways for the Muslim community from the recently released All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE). The enrolment of Muslim students in higher education has risen from 4.16 per cent in 2012-13 to 4.7 per cent in 2015-16. Other minorities comprise 1.97 per cent of the total enrolment. The share of teachers from the community stands at 3.4 per cent whereas other minority communities put together have 3.3 per cent representation.
The figures must be disconcerting for all those who would like the community to be an equal partner in the nation’s economic growth. The numbers are disheartening to put it in simple terms.
Objective of primary education is imparting of literacy. Secondary education is programmed to make an individual an effective part of the society. But the objective for higher education is to promote economic growth. It is where men and women are turned into a variety of professionals who while earning a decent livelihood also contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nation. If the above statistics are any guide, this is simply not happening with regard to Muslims. Far fewer Muslim boys and girls are entering any kind of institutions beyond 12 years of schooling.
Reasons why this happens are not difficult to be analysed. Dropout rate of Muslim students is invariably high, except in states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu where the community shares the same mother tongue as the State’s official languages. But same is not the case where Muslims prefer (or insist upon) Urdu as the medium of instruction. Ninety per cent of Muslim children drop out of schools before 10th standard which leaves very few to pursue education in higher stages. Switch over to a new medium creates disinterest in education. Distance between homes and schools acts as a disincentive for girls to attend schools in rural situations. Absence of toilets (and separate toilets for girls), too discourages girls from pursuing high school education. Massive privatization of higher education and consequent hike in expenses for quality education is also depriving many of opportunities of higher education. Poor profile of families in rural areas or urban slums makes the higher education a luxury for them. A child sent for carrying water from community tap, a college boy sharing an 8 feet by 8 feet tin shack with a family or a girl being part of an un-electrified rural home can scarcely be expected to accomplish what she keenly desires.
Of late, the Governments, both at the Centre and the States, have chipped in with some remedial measures to boost Muslim participation in higher education. South Indian States are generally doing well in this regard. Amply supplied with scholarships and reservations, Muslim enrolment in colleges as well as professional educational institutions has shown considerable rise. Philanthropists within the community too have come up with community-funded institutions, endowments, hostels and facilities such as book banks, remedial coaching centres etc. But this is not happening in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam where live as many as 60 per cent of India’s Muslims. Even otherwise, these states are lagging behind in matters of higher education as is evident from the highlights of the AISHE survey carried elsewhere in this issue of the Islamic Voice. There is a general inhibition against sending girls for higher education among Muslims. “Boys for garage, girls for marriage” sums up the mindset in some sections of the community. There is a need for creating common facility centres which may allow students to gather in a slum for study, away from constricted space of their homes; textbook banks; supply of atlases, dictionaries, geometry boxes and stationery; organizations that take up sharpening of the skills in matters of expression and articulation; General Knowledge and career counseling.
No purpose will be served by blaming the Government for Muslim backwardness. Horses can be taken to a river but cannot be forced to drink water. Initiative to elevate the educational profile of the community should primarily come from within. Concern should lead to commitment. It is only from within, that a community can analyse the deficiencies and ways to alleviate them. It is only people with vision and farsightedness who can come up with appropriate measures to fill up gaps. If the vicious cycle of economic misery and poor educational attainments has to be broken, the community must invest in producing ample number of individuals with degrees in diversified disciplines and with necessary drive and dynamism to take the cause forward.