Why a ‘New Education Agenda’ for Indian Muslims is urgently needed

Written by John Kurrien | Published on: October 9, 2019

An in-depth report by scholar John Kurrien provides deep insights into not just the dire status of education among India’s largest minorities but suggests strong remedial measures


Indian Muslims

Eighty per cent of the 9.90 crore of Indian Muslims, which is a staggering number of 7.9 crores (in 2020) are under 25 years and need special programmes and focus to draw them within the formal education sphere.

Three Goals
  1. Ensure all Muslim children complete a full cycle of 12 years of quality school education from Classes 1-12 leading to relevant learning outcomes by 2030
  2. Ensure all Muslim children between birth - 6 years benefit from access to Early Childhood Development programmes, which includes 2 years of pre-primary education by 2030
  3. Ensure all Muslim youth outside the formal education system under 25 years have better access to educational opportunities and vocational training.

The following is the rough breakdown of these 3 groups of vulnerable Muslims estimated to be about 7.9 crores in 2020 ; approximately 80% of the 9.90 crore Muslims under 25 years.
  1. About 2.1 crore infants and children under 6 years
  2. Approximately 2.7 crore school students
  3. About 3.1 crore out-of school and college youth below 25 years

While this agenda applies to all Muslims, none of the above 3 agenda goals or their broader socio-economic objectives can be realised without primarily focusing on articulating and improving an expanded and comprehensive vision of learning for the above 3 distinct groups of poor and lower middle class (vulnerable) Muslims under 25 years.
  • Official data indicates that Muslims have now the lowest levels of school and higher education enrolment - even lower than traditionally disadvantaged groups like SCs and STs – and have also the lowest participation rates in all prestigious school and higher educational institutions including KGBVs, and other Institutions of National Importance
  • Muslims continue to be among the poorest and most disadvantaged groups in India. A pioneering 2018 intergenerational mobility study indicated that in the current economic liberalisation period, most of the upward mobility gains in India over recent decades had accrued to other traditionally disadvantaged groups like SCs and STs, but for "Muslims these opportunities have substantially deteriorated". Muslims are now also the most insecure and politically marginalized in India
  • Post-Sachar education policies specifically targeted at Muslims have had very limited impact. In the absence of a popularly acceptable and comprehensive alternative report on the education of Indian Muslims replacing the decade-old Sachar Committee Report’s educational views and recommendations, a new education agenda is required which rectifies the Committee’s critical omissions and addresses the current educational and other critical challenges facing Muslim youth.
  • In times of crisis, for nations at large and individual communities like Muslims seeking sustainable solutions, there is now a world-wide, evidence-based consensus that relevant education reform is the single most important driver of all-round social and economic development.
To ensure that the widest audience - and Indian Muslims in particular - can access the Report’s summary and action points, both these documents have also been uploaded in English and 9 other Indian languages – Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Urdu. In addition to this, a link to the full report in English has also been provided. All these documents can be freely downloaded and used by interested organisations and individuals with due acknowledgements.

What is ‘New’ about this Education Agenda?
This education agenda has distinctive features which differentiate it from other various commentaries on the state of the education of Muslims and recommendations for its improvement in the recent past. In the main, these discussions have not made any substantial break from the general thrust of the 2006 Sachar Committee’s educational perspectives and recommendations. Specific examples of the differences between this agenda and the Sachar Report, as well as other documents on overall education policy, will be highlighted later.

While recent Indian education policy documents have emphasised the importance of improving the learning of school students, the policy changes advocated by them with the significant exception of the 2019 Draft National Education Policy, reflect a lack of understanding of the seriousness and depth of the school learning crisis. Moreover, since the learning crisis extends beyond schools and is impacted by earlier developments in infancy and childhood, for any significant improvements to be implemented it is not enough to focus only on the learning outcomes of students.

A more holistic perspective is required that can articulate the extent of learning deficits in different groups of children and youth which hinder them from meeting various contemporary challenges, highlight the considerable negative impact of this failure on the nation as a whole and vulnerable Muslims in particular, and thus provide the context for understanding the relevance and effectiveness of the solutions offered at the end of the report.

Distinctive features of this education agenda for Indian Muslims:
  • Focuses exclusively on the learning of poor and lower middle class, (vulnerable/disadvantaged) Muslim youth under 25 years, who constitute about 80% of the total Indian Muslim population.
  • Emphasises the interdependence of deficits and improvements in learning of each of the following 3 distinct groups of vulnerable Muslim children and youth: infants and children between birth - 6 years; students in Classes 1-12; and out-of school /college youth below 25 years.
  • Demonstrates that only an uncompromising focus on improving the learning of these 3 groups of disadvantaged Muslims within a holistic and interdependent perspective can meet the larger learning crisis faced by Muslims, and engage constructively with the developmental challenges they face in contemporary India, concentrating on states and districts in which Muslim participation is particularly weak.
  • Underscores the foundational importance of developmental inputs during the first 1,000 days of life, demonstrating that the learning of disadvantaged Muslim students cannot depend solely on educational reforms in pre-primary centres and schools, but also requires a special focus on learning and development in the first 3 years of infancy.
  • Rectifies the lack of attention paid to the large group of out-of school /college vulnerable Muslim youth under 25 years, whose varied and considerable learning needs are often seen as requiring little else beyond adult literacy classes and opportunities for vocational training. At 310 lakhs, these poor and lower middle class Muslim youth exceed the 270 lakhs enrolled in schools and colleges.
  • Articulates a new and more expansive conception of learning to meet the challenges facing all disadvantaged students in contemporary India, including poor and lower middle class Muslim school students - far more relevant to the entire range of the latter’s educational needs than basing it mainly on student learning outcomes and a misguided focus on vocationalising secondary education- the narrow and main features of current school educational reform.
  • This education agenda also highlights the understanding that the learning of all 3 groups of vulnerable Muslims cannot be significantly improved without Muslim organisations and other Civil society groups also providing a variety of "learning enabling" interventions for them, including policy advocacy, capacity building and community-based initiatives. This has been detailed in 7 charts outlined in Chapter 9 - the final chapter of the report - and is also provided as a separate document entitled, Action Points on this website

(John Kurrien has worked in the field of education for many decades. His formal qualifications include a Master of Arts in Teaching English, State University of New York at Binghamton, and a Ph.D. from the Department of Education Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin at Madison. In addition to teaching at university level in the US and later in India, the main body of his work has been in the development and education of poor urban and rural Indian children and youth.)