Bihar invariably features in every discourse on education and it is usually not for the right reasons. With its glorious history and traditions of knowledge quest, institutions of global repute, enlightened luminaries like Lord Mahavira and Gautama Buddha, and rulers like Ashoka the Great, the current education scenario in Bihar saddens practically everyone, except the politicians in power! Decline and degeneration is apparent at every stage and aspect of education. On Teachers’ Day, around 600 citizens of Bihar met in a seminar on Taleem Ki Taqat, the deliberations focusing on how the Muslim community could extricate itself from backwardness, unemployment, poverty and, above all, a sense of desperation and an oft-mentioned sense of victimhood.
Speakers, achievers in their own field, rather uniformly emphasised how essential it was to develop self-image and acquire self-assurance in being partners in the progress of development. It emerged prominently that the Muslim community is keen to let their children get modern education, along with the traditional Dini Taleem. Instances were cited how innovative efforts to reach mosques with proposals to teach science and mathematics in addition to religious education were accepted without any hesitation. An innovative imam from Chennai narrated how concerned he felt for the community as for decades no youth qualified in the Civil Services Examinations from Tamil Nadu. He began with a batch of 60 and every year, young Muslim boys and girls are doing well in examinations. He exhorted the community to act, not complain or expect someone else to come and solve their issues. He was greatly applauded when he exhorted the community to move out of the shackles of minority-ism and reservations. Instead, they must rise to realise their full potential as dignified Indians. Another speaker said the least they deserved from the state governments were ‘truly functional schools’! That alone could have transformed the socio-economic profile of the community within 10 years. He felt that it would have brought greater benefits to the community than what the Sachar Committee or Ranganath Misra reports could do. A functional school means qualified teachers with half of them being women, necessary infrastructure with computer education provisions in place, and working toilets for boys and girls, drinking water, regularity and punctuality, and the mother tongue as the medium. Is India not resourceful enough to provide even this much to its minorities and weaker sections? Those who shout hoarse to drive away the communal forces from Bihar and thrive on casteism and communalism in the garb of secularism must account for at least one factor: Why have they not provided even primary education of good quality to Muslims in Bihar? Has this been a deliberate political ploy to perpetuate poverty amongst a large section of Indian citizens?
The audience response during the deliberations and also afterwards was indeed far different from the prevailing perceptions. Several youths appeared convinced that the first priority is universal elementary education that focuses on quality and skill orientation. It should also impart human values, and basics of all religions indicating their commonalities. That would inculcate the spirit of working together and develop respect for diversity. This is what India needs in these times of global turmoil and terror created by religious fanatics. Which other country can match the record of India in people living together and according equal respect to all religions? In Bihar, every classroom is a multi-religious ensemble and this is the strength of Bihar. A young person told one of the speakers, “Sir, we shall now ask for schools that are equipped to teach and impart skills. We feel ashamed that now we are known for fake degrees, copying in examinations and the entire education system being in a shambles. Bihar shall regain its glory and primacy in ideas, knowledge and wisdom through the doors of its primary schools!” Let everyone wish him success. There can be no better way of celebrating Teachers’ Day.
Rajput is a former director of the NCERT