A new report, “A New Agenda For The Education Of Indian Muslims in the 21st Century”, claiming to be independent and non-sponsored, has said that the ascendancy of regional languages and English, both in education and in general use, has seen a corresponding decline of Urdu, which is particularly sharp among school-going Muslim children.
Pointing out that the number of people declaring Urdu as their first language has declined in 2011 to only 4.2% of the Indian population, suggesting that only about 30% of Muslims declared Urdu as their first language, the report, authored by Dr John Kurrien, says that even Maharasthra, which has the largest proportion of students studying in Urdu medium schools, only 6.7% get enrolled in Urdu medium sections.
Pointing out that even the 6.7% figure is misleading, the report says, “Less than 2% of all students were enrolled in ‘complete’ Urdu medium schools, i.e. those that had all the sections/ stages from primary to higher secondary”, adding, “The proportion of Urdu enrollment in other incomplete 38 schools which had only secondary or higher secondary sections or both, was also very limited, ranging from 1.1% to 5.6%.
Enrolment in Urdu medium schools for the country as a whole is far worse, says the report, noting, “While the total proportion of students in Urdu medium sections is 2%, only 0.8% of all Indian students are enrolled in Urdu medium schools which have all four schools stages/sections from primary to higher secondary.”
Suggesting that quality of education among Urdu medium schools has taken a backseat, the report says, “A large-scale survey of reading and writing levels of primary students in Municipal Corporation schools of Mumbai indicated that Urdu medium students fared significantly lower in reading and writing than Hindi and Marathi medium students. In Class 3, as many as 54.3% of Urdu medium students were classified as unable to read, and 58.8% as unable to write.”
Even as pointing out that “many historical and cultural factors account for the close affinity for Urdu among various Muslim communities in different regions of India”, the report says, “Wealthy Muslims have for decades before and after independence studied in English medium schools. Aspiring middle class educated Muslims, after independence, also began opting for English medium education for their children to secure employment.”
Suggesting that the Muslim elite in urban areas are fast promoting non-Urdu medium school, the report says, “There were about a dozen English medium schools in Bangalore run by Muslims in 1982, by around 2016 this had expanded to 450 schools.” It adds, “The abandoning of any patronage or espousal of Urdu in schools by the aspiring middle class and wealthier Muslims resulted in a corresponding decline of Urdu medium schools.”
In fact, the report asserts, “Contrary to established language policies, states all over India have undertaken various initiatives to introduce government English medium schools”, and this is not just true of urban areas. It quotes a “recent large-scale study on preschool education in rural India” documenting Muslim parents from a random sample of 357 villages in the 3 states of Assam, Rajasthan and Telengana – all of whom “preferred preschools with English as a medium of instruction!”
Suggesting that even madrasas, which are said to promote Urdu as the medium of instruction, especially in North India, the report quotes expert as stating that “in Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the medium of instruction was the regional languages.”
In Karnataka, the report further quotes a Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIOI) study of 55 madrasas, stating, about 50% of the madrasas offered Kannada as a subject, pointing out, “Many madrasa students immersed in religious instruction in Arabic and Urdu would find it far more difficult than regular students to cope with academic requirements when they transition to mainstream educational institutions.”
Coming to the gender factor in education among Muslims, the report quotes a note on minority education prepared for members of Parliament, which indicated that, in 2011-12, though more Muslim girls than boys were attending government and government-aided schools at the elementary level, the ratio of Muslim girls to Muslim boys in private unaided schools was 0.78.
While this suggests that “due to higher fee, poor parents may not be sending girls to private unaided schools”, it also shows the parents’ “choice of English medium schools for Muslim boys and Urdu medium for Muslim girls”, the report underlines.