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Access to Education and the Muslim World

Education is one of the most indispensable issues for all social reformers and policy makers. No breakthrough is possible without educating man and making him capable of acquiring basic cognitive and non-cognitive skills necessary to think logically. The objective of school education is to equip people with the range of competencies including knowledge and attitudes which are necessary to lead productive and fulfilling lives fully integrated into their societies and communities. The lack of education is a global challenge which is a failure to master the many distinct competencies – decoding, cognitive skills, factual information, and socialization which is necessary to mingle with society and take advantage of available opportunities. In this context, basic education is a means to acquiring the skills and competencies that contribute to a fuller, more humane, and productive human existence. Remedying a lack of education implies that each individual has sufficient exposure to learning opportunities to achieve mastery of the basics needed in his/her society.

Lets have a brief overview of scenarios of education at a global level, particularly in developing countries where access to education is a serious issue. As we advance, we will discuss the scenario in Muslim countries. Official data [1]on enrollment rates in primary schooling show a varying magnitude of “out of school” children across countries and regions of the world. Sub-Saharan Africa lags behind all other regions of the world with only 56 percent of primary school-aged children enrolled in school. South Asia and the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region also have well less than 100 percent net enrollment ratios. In the MENA region, the net enrollment is around 84% while that for South Asia, East Asia, Latin America, and East Europe is 83%, 93%, 97%, and 88% respectively.

After enrollment comes the issue of persistence. The available data shows a significant drop out rates. In the MENA region and South Asia, the deficit from universal grade five completion due to drop out and deficit from universal grade nine completion due to drop out is 21%, 16%, 57%, and 39% respectively.  The completion of primary schooling or higher schooling in itself, however, does not guarantee that a child has mastered the needed skills and competencies. There is tremendous gap with respect to  attainment levels between developed and developing countries. In developing countries, the levels of learning achievement are strikingly low.  In most developing countries, relative to the curriculum, objectives for learning achievement is low. The main reasons for low attainment are lack of infrastructure, lack of basic instructional material, and unavailability of adequately trained and qualified teachers.

A World Bank report on the MENA region shows that the region invested about 5% of GDP and 20% of government budgets in education over the past 40 years, and made tremendous gains as a result. Currently, most children benefit from compulsory schooling; quite a few have opportunities to continue their formal education; and learning outcomes are much better than they were before. The region also saw significant improvements in fertility and infant mortality rates as well as in life expectancy, as education spread widely among the population. Despite these improvements, however, the region has produced fewer educational outcomes than many competitors, as measured by years of educational attainment in the adult population. The educational achievements are compromised in part by high dropout rates, and by relatively low scores on international tests. Literacy rates remain low and the education systems produce more graduates in humanities than in science.

The region has not made the best use of its accumulated human capital. Unemployment is particularly high among graduates, and a large segment of the educated labor force is employed by governments. Not surprisingly, the link between human capital accumulation and economic growth, income distribution, and poverty reduction in the region is weak. The education systems of the region are not yet fully equipped to produce graduates with the skills and expertise necessary to compete in a world where knowledge is essential to making progress.

In recent years, there has been good progress in attaining education in the MENA region. Most of the countries in the MENA region have enshrined in their constitutions the right to education. For example, the Islamic Republic of Iran has two articles on education:

Article 3. The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has the duty of directing all its resources to the following goals:… (3) free education and physical training for everyone at all levels, and the facilitation and expansion of higher education.
Article 30. The government must provide all citizens with free education up to secondary school, and must expand free higher education to the extent required by the country for attaining self-sufficiency.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is among the top nations making tremendous progress in expanding education. Iran also comes on the top in university students adopting engineering subjects (around 38%) in entire MENA region.

The scene of education among Muslims in South Asia, which has the largest Muslim population concentration, is really abysmal. For example, in India which is a home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, a report [2] revealed that 65% of Muslims are living below the poverty line.The literacy rate among the Muslim minority is 18%. The lowest literacy rate is observed among Muslim women and is at 8%.

Given that so much emphasis of Prophetic traditions from the AhlulBayt (as) are on attaining education, the condition of Muslims in those regions is unfortunate. Hopefully by following the divinely appointed advice, the condition of the Muslim world can improve for the better.

“If only people knew how much reward there is for seeking knowledge, they would have sought it even if they would have had to shed their blood for it or dive in large waves. Allah the Blessed and Most High revealed to Daniel saying, ‘The most hated among my creatures are the ignorant ones who disrespect the scholars and do not follow them. The Most beloved to Me in My servants are the pious ones who work hard to become entitled for greater rewards, who always stay close to the scholars, follow the fore-bearing people and accept (the advice of) people of wisdom.” – Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn (as) [3]

[1] “Towards A New Consensus for Addressing the Global Challenge of the Lack of Education”, Lant Pritchett, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

[2] “Causative Factors for Dropout Among Middle Class Muslim Families: A Study from Kothawa” A dissertation submitted to MSW programme, Dept of Sociology, Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat(India)

[3] Hadith Source: Al Kafi : H 61, Ch. 4, h 5

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