Modernising madrassas a good move, UP must now drive higher educational attainment among Muslims.
Modernising madrassa education is a crying need—from being centres of learning that offered subjects like mathematics, science, philosophy, etc, along with instruction in the Quran, Islamic jurisprudence and fiqah till well after Independence, a large number of them have now become institutions that primarily offer religious instruction and subjects relevant to understanding and interpreting the religious texts in Islam. In the past, for instance, the madrassa Ghazi-ud-Din that became the Delhi College in late 18th century offered courses in languages, literature and arithmetic. Therefore, the Uttar Pradesh government’s move to introduce NCERT books in madrassas in the state, and make mathematics and science compulsory at the intermediate level, is commendable—it offers children at the madrassas, often committed there by parents, a way out of training just to be a priest/religious scholar.
It gives them a shot at another profession. But the UP government needs to go well beyond just madrassa modernisation if it truly wants to benefit Muslim children in the state. As per the Sachar Committee report, only 3% of Muslim children of school-going age were enrolled in madrassas. The remaining 97% were either in public or private schools or not admitted in schools in the first place. Some 30% of Muslim children in the country, as per the HRD ministry data, were out of school a decade back, and now the figure has risen to 34% (2016 UNICEF report).
Of the total number of children not enrolled in schools, as per NSS data, a quarter are Muslim—add SC and ST children, these groups together make up three-fourth of the out-of-school children. Consequently, Muslims as a group have lesser representation in the pool of graduates and post-graduates than they have in the overall tertiary-age population. As per the 2011 Census, Muslims make up a fifth of UP’s population and lag the other communities in terms of economic progress and educational attainment. Given how unemployment and illiteracy would make the youth vulnerable to a life in crime, driving Muslim formal education in the state would have a long-term positive impact.