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Attendance rate of Gujarat Muslim children one of the worst in India: NSSO

By Rajiv Shah 
Seven years after the committee headed by Justice (retired) Rajinder Sachar, appointed by the Prime Minister to quantify relative backwardness among Indian Muslims, submitted its report revealing how the minority community remained on the back-foot in education and other social sectors vis-à-vis other communities, a new report by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) has given state-wise inter-religious comparisons, belying claims by certain quarters that Gujarat Muslims have lately been doing better than the rest of India and other communities. Released in July 2013 and titled “Employment and Unemployment Situation among Major Religious Groups in India”, the report is particularly important as it provides facts on not just literacy levels of different communities, but also rate of attendance in educational institutions.
The report finds 81.4 per cent attendance rate of Hindu children of the age group 5-14 in Gujarat’s educational institutes. This is against 78.7 per cent rate of attendance in the same age group among Muslims. What is more distressing is that the attendance rate of Muslim children in Gujarat is found to be one of the worst in India – with only three states performing poorer that Gujarat – Bihar (74.6 per cent), Rajasthan (73.2 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (73.2 per cent). The report reveals that the all-India average of Muslim attendance rate in educational institutes in this age group is 82.3 per cent, higher by nearly four percentage points. The NSSO report is the first major finding on the status of minority education in India after the Sachar committee submitted its report to Parliament in November 2006.

The rate of attendance in educational institutions among Gujarat Muslims significantly goes down with children of the higher age group. Thus, in the age group 15-19, just about 32.5 per cent of Muslims are found to be attending educational institutions, which further goes down to 13.2 per cent in a still higher age group, 20-24. The report confirms the findings of senior economist Abusaleh Shariff of the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), Delhi, who had noted in a study two years ago that “despite 75 per cent net enrolment, about similar levels compared with the SCs/STs and other groups, the Muslims are deprived at the level of matriculation and higher levels.”
Shariff’s report, which came as a virtual rejoinder to those in the Gujarat government who, claiming to quote the Sachar Committee report, had been trying hard sell the view, including to those in the Planning Commission, that the average educational standards of Gujarat Muslims were much better than India. Among others, the Gujarat chief minister told a Planning Commission meeting in 2011 that the literacy rate among Muslims in India was five percentage points below the national average, but in Gujarat Muslims it took “a leap, with average literacy rate among them eight percentage points higher than the national average.”
Further, the state government has argued that the Muslim females in urban areas of Gujarat “surged ahead with average literacy rate among them being five points higher than the national average” and a “similar trend was visible in the state’s rural areas too, where average literacy rate among Muslim women was 14 points higher than the national average”. It has added, “A greater percentage of Muslims had attained primary, secondary and higher-secondary level education in Gujarat compared to the countrywide average and compared to other states.”
While Census 2011’s community wise figures are still not available, it is no doubt true that overall literacy level of Muslims in Gujarat is better than India. Thus, the NSS figures suggest that 26.8 per cent Muslims fall in the “not literate” category, as against the national average of 36.3 per cent. However, when it comes to “current attendance rates in educational institutions, irrespective of rural areas or urban areas”, and gender-wise analysis, the Muslims fare are found to be worse off than most states, and of course all-India average.
Thus, in the rural areas, the current attendance rate in Gujarat in the age-group 5-14 is 67.0 per cent among females, as against the all-India average of 77 per cent – a lag of exactly 10 percentage points. Three states which are worse performers than Gujarat in this category are (65.1 per cent), Haryana (66.1 per cent) and Rajasthan (58.5 per cent). In the higher age group, 15-19, merely 19.3 per cent rural females attend educational institutes, as against the national average of 35.3 per cent – and the gap rises to 16 percentage points!
Things are almost similar with regard to urban female children of Gujarat – in the age group 5-14, 81.8 per cent attend an educational institute, which goes down to 28.1 per cent in the age group 15-20. While in the age group 5-14 the national average here is 85.3 per cent, a gap of less than three percentage points, the gap suddenly widens in the higher age group. With just about 28.1 per cent of urban females in the age group 15-20 attending an educational institute in Gujarat, as against the all-India average of 45.0 per cent, the gap reaches a whopping 17 per cent!
If the authors of the NSSO report are to be believed, the rate of attendance in educational institutions suggests the quality of education children get in schools and colleges. Clearly, a poor rate of attendance would mean that children have either dropped out or are not attending schools or colleges because of lack of interest in the education system. Reasons for this could be variegated, including poverty. To quote Shariff’s scholarly study, “Gujarat Shining: Relative Development of Gujarat and Socio-Religious Differentials”, “Poverty among Muslims in Gujarat is eight times (800 per cent) more than high caste Hindus, about 50 per cent more than OBC Hindus and the scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs).”
Shariff, who was member-secretary of the Sachar committee, says, “Rural poverty among the Muslims is two times (200%) more than the high caste Hindus,” adding, “Despite 75 per cent net enrolment, about similar levels compared with the SCs/STs and other groups, the Muslims are deprived at the level of matriculation and higher levels… A mere 26 per cent reach matriculation whereas this proportion for ‘others except SCs/ STs’ is 41 per cent.” He underlines, “Among the Muslims a large dropout takes place at about 5th standard. A disturbing trend was noticed in case of education at the level of graduation. Muslims, who had about the same level of education in the past, are found to have left behind compared with even the SCs/STs who have caught up with higher education.”

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