NEP 2020 and Muslims: Aspirations and apprehensions

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Wed, Sep 23rd, 2020, 18:34:07hrs
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On July 29, Narendra Modi government revealed its ‘inventive and novel’ national education policy. There is no denying the fact that from outset National Education Policy 2020 looks non-toxic and innocuous, even to the extent of looking like appealing and attractive. 

It has surprised many, as coming from BJP, there doesn’t seem to be much communalism involved in its NEP notwithstanding the fact that since coming to power at the center some six years ago it has introduced far reaching changes in syllabus. The content of history depicting Muslim rule in the country has been substantially cut and BJP has introduced its own versions, in many cases.

The efforts to saffronize education began immediately after BJP came to power at the Center. In August 2014, merely a few months after BJP’s landslide victory in Lok Sabha elections, the RSS formed a committee, the Bharatiya Shiksha Niti Aayog in order to Indianise the country’s education system. The man heading this Bhartiya Shiksha Nti Ayog was none other than Dinanath Batra, an old RSS hand who has earned fame in trying to come up with RSS’ version of Indian history.

Now as the new education policy has come, there hasn’t been much of effort to analyze the NEP from this perspective. Muslims who have been at the receiving end of the RSS efforts to ‘indianise’ the education system don’t have much to say about it and its impact. 

However, Muslim educational institutions are trying to prepare themselves for the far reaching changes that the new education policy will entail in the days to come. Muslims run hundreds of thousands of education institutions from primary level to university level and they don’t want to be left behind by latest changes in the educational policies. From primary schools to degree colleges and universities, these educational institutions cater to a huge number, mostly from poor background.

The National Education Policy (NEP) has been largely welcomed across the country. The last education policy was formulated some 34 years ago, though there were some modifications introduced to the 1986 NEP in the year 1992. Since then academia has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts. However, in more than three decades, this is the first time when wide ranging changes have been proposed in the education policy. It is needless to add here that these will have far reaching implications on how education is imparted in our part of the world.

Apparently, the implementation of the new National Educational Policy has been given a go ahead and the government is already taking steps to launch it at the earliest. It has been announced now that kids studying in class 7 right now will be the first to write their school-leaving board examinations using a fully transformed examination pattern in 2025-26. Meanwhile the ones studying in class 8 at the moment will be the first batch to experience the new curricular framework and assessment system beginning next year. This has been confirmed by the Department of School Education and Literacy.

There are apprehensions among Muslims as to how the brand new National Education Policy will impact the 200 million strong Indian Muslim community. Given the fact that the changes are overwhelming and will have far reaching impact on how education is imparted, there is obvious discomfiture among many sections of the populace including the Muslim community.

There is confusion, not just among the Muslim community, but across a wide spectrum of population due to widespread changes or rather transformation of education. Department of School Education and Literacy, according to reports, has identified some 300 tasks for a wide range of implementing agencies that need to be implemented over the next five years.

Hasan Ghias, an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University says that we first need to map the architecture of Muslim-managed educational institutions in India from Madrasas through primary and secondary to tertiary education. We should classify them into distinct categories and subject each category to a detailed and thorough SWOT analysis. Once we have clarity on their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, then we will be able to chart our way forward.

While talking about it further, Ghias tells me, “NEP 2020 may have many gray areas, possibly concealed motives and hidden agendas.  We have to find the silver linings in the clouds. Instead of wasting time and energy arguing the toss, let’s find ways to cut along the grain. In my opinion, the Policy might open up some opportunities that we can, with imagination and motivation, use to our advantage”.

He further says that in the context of higher education, the Policy states “higher education can lift individuals and communities out of cycles of disadvantage. This Policy envisions ensuring equitable access to quality education to all students, with a special emphasis on SEDGs........Earmark suitable Government funds for the education of SEDGs ........Set clear targets for higher GER for SEDGs.....Provide more financial assistance and scholarships to SEDGs in both public and private HEIs......Conduct outreach programmes on higher education opportunities and scholarships among SEDGs.......Make admission processes more inclusive”. He goes on to add that this emphasis on Socio-economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) actually opens up more vistas of opportunity for marginalized groups at both school and higher education levels. There must be well-planned efforts by community leaders to engage with MHRD, the Ministry of Minority Affairs and other relevant agencies to ensure that the rules, regulations and schemes formulated with regard to SEDGs reflect the intent and emphasis so clearly articulated in NEP.

Dr Tayyaba Qidwai an academician based in UAE says while the recent NEP document does seem to have taken into consideration the improving of learning of school students, they reflect a lack of understanding of the seriousness and depth of the school learning crisis in underprivileged children. I have found during my work that the learning crisis extends beyond the school and is impacted by earlier developments in infancy and childhood. So a more holistic approach is required, that can articulate the extent of learning deficit in different groups of children and youth which hinder them from meeting the contemporary challenges of engaging constructively with the development changes they face in contemporary India.

As a religious block Muslims remain among the most backward communities in the country. According to 2011 data on education level by religious community and gender the level of illiteracy among Muslims in at 42.7 per cent. For Hindus it is 36.4. According to the data, the percentage of illiterates is 32.5 for Sikhs, 28.2 for Buddhists and 25.6 for Christians. The overall percentage of illiterates is 36.9 for all communities. According to the same data Christians have 74.3 per cent literacy level, while Buddhists have 71.8 per cent, Sikhs 67.5 per cent, Hindus 63.6 per cent and Muslims 57.3 per cent. There are reasons to believe that the overall literacy level has gone up for all the communities including Muslims.

A slightly updated study by Employment and Unemployment Situation among Major Religious Groups in India has a bit better picture, though this too shows Muslims behind others. 

According to this report literacy level among urban Muslims was around 81 percent while it was 91 percent for Hindus, 94 percent for Christians and 86 percent for Sikhs 86. This report definitely shows that despite being behind other groups, Muslims were actually catching up.

Ms Qidwai says most Muslim kids come from disadvantaged groups and so special attention needs to be given to them and in resolving their issues. “One needs to understand the life trajectories of the underprivileged and Vulnerable Muslim children from that of the children from affluent backgrounds, because that has a tremendous effect on the Learning of these children in later life. While many young vulnerable children enter with poor language and cognitive skills, the benefits of pre- primary education are almost none at all for them. Thus by the time they enter school, which sometimes may be very late for their age, they will be already disadvantaged and then, in addition  to the poor quality of education provided by inferior government schools and low cost private schools, it results in subsequent  acquisition of substandard reading, writing and arithmetic skills”.

Qidwai tells me that while the recent NEP document does seem to have taken into consideration the improving of learning of school students, they reflect a lack of understanding of the seriousness and depth of the school learning crisis in underprivileged children. I have found during my work that the learning crisis extends beyond the school and is impacted by earlier developments in infancy and childhood. So a more holistic approach is required, that can articulate the extent of learning deficit in different groups of children and youth which hinder them from meeting the contemporary challenges of engaging constructively with the development changes they face in contemporary India.

There are other major issues that need to be taken into account, especially for deprived sections of the population. Muhammad Sajjad, who teaches history at Aligarh Muslim University, says that “NEP doesn’t seem to be serious about implementing the policy of imparting education in mother tongues/ Indian languages. This is evident from its language policy. In this era of massive internal migrations, we have linguistic minorities in large number of our cities. Where would the money for teachers and books come from, to provide education to those linguistic minorities in Indian languages?” Then there is a lot of confusion about Urdu and the fate of Urdu medium schools. Where Urdu will fit in new education policy is a mystery and many Muslims are worried about it. 

More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:

Despite muted denials, NRC will target Muslims

Bhagwat, Madani meet: End of the maddening divide

Ahmadullah Shah: Hero whose head and body are buried 

Muslim women's entry in mosques: What is the truth?

Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October