Indian Muslims are often charged with not sending their children to school for education. To some extent, this perception is not too way off the mark. The growth of Muslim students attending school has remained dismal over a long time. Good schools and institutes of higher education have less Muslims than their proportion in the population.
The lack of Muslim representation in institutes like IITs, AIIMS, IIMs and NITs is often attributed to the lack of interest Muslims have in sending their children to schools. Also, the dropout rate of Muslims before reaching higher secondary level is higher than that of other communities.
However, the situation seems to be changing. The recent trends recorded by the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) for the Ministry of Education presents a hopeful picture of Indian Muslims. In its first report in 2012-13, the UDISE recorded that of 26,22,63,428 students enrolled in schools across India. only 12.48%, (3,27,37,553) were Muslims. The proportion is much below their share in the country’s population, i.e. 14.2%.
A breakup of enrolments at different schooling levels provided a much more depressing picture. In 2012-13, India had 2,86,71,045 students enrolled in class I. Of them, 15.22%, or 14,22,171, were Muslims. This figure is good but as we move up the levels of education this proportion decreases. At Higher Secondary (XI-XII) level, only 7.14% were Muslims and this ratio is almost half of their share in population. This dismal enrolment ratio at the higher levels brought the total share of Muslims in schools at 12.48%.
Last decade has seen Muslims taking more interest in sending their children to school. As a result, more Muslims are attending schools now. In the latest UDISE data, 14.02% were Muslims and this is close to the share of Muslims in population. At the entry level, the 1st standard, the proportion of Muslim enrollment has jumped to 16.03%. At the Higher Secondary level, Muslim enrolment has jumped to 9.89% from 7.14%, seven years ago. Education among Muslims has particularly picked up pace in the last couple of years. The overall proportion has jumped to 14.02% and at Higher Secondary the improvement is from 8.86% to 9.89%. At the entry level Muslim enrollment has increased from 15.11% to 16.03% in a year.
It is a commonly held notion that among the educationally backward Muslim community, women are further discouraged from going to schools. However, the recent trends show that the Muslim community has accepted the importance of women’s education. In the latest UDISE compilation, more Muslim girls were found enrolled at Higher Secondary level than the boys. With 13,46,007 girls against 12,20,175 boys, Muslims were among the three communities, Christian and Parsis being the other two, where more girls were enrolled than the boys at Higher Secondary level.
Contrary to the popular perception, gender parity among school going children in Muslims was always better than the national average. In 2012-13, of the total 26,22,63,428 students in schools 48.05%, or 12,60,25,719 were girls. The ratio of girls among Muslim school going students was much higher at 49.85%. At Higher Secondary levels while the national average of female proportion was 46.51%, among Muslim students enrolled at this level of schooling 49.64% were girls. In fact, at the entry level also Muslim girls constituted 48.35% of the total Muslim enrolments which was much better than the national average of 47.98%.
Over the last few years, the government as NGOs activists ensured that more women attend school. Seven years later, in 2019-20, UDISE found out that while the overall female proportion in school enrolments in India remained at 48.05% it has improved from 46.51% to 48.62% at the Higher Secondary level. Here again the Muslim girls outdid the national average. 49.88% of the total Muslims enrolled at schools and 52.45% of the Muslim students enrolled at Higher Secondary level are girls. Though at the entry level the female ratio remained almost stagnant at 47.88%, here again with a female ratio of 48.39%, Muslim girls fared better than the national average.
These numbers are encouraging and point towards a better India where all the communities and genders will participate in nation building.
(Saquib Salim is a writer and a historian)
Source: Awaz The Voice