For Martina George, 21, putting together Rs 20 lakh to pursue a degree in medicine in Australia would have been impossible. “Coming from a middle-class background, my family couldn’t pay that amount,” George says. So, instead, her community stepped in. The Bombay Catholic Panchayat and a church from Kerala contributed with a loan and scholarship to meet those expenses.
“My school and junior college education in India was almost free because I went to Christian institutions,” George adds. Now in her final year in Australia, her graduation will cap an entire education process shaped by her community.
Few in India are that lucky. According to the 2011 census, only 4.5% Indians have completed their education in the ‘Graduate and Above’ category, up from 2.12% in the 2001 census. Some communities have fared better than others. About 41.3% Jains and 18.5% Christians continued with education after school. The number falls with Hindus, only 11.5% of whom made it to college or beyond; and Muslims, for whom the numbers stand at 6.1%.
“Educational achievement among the religious communities varies because of how different communities see education themselves. For some, it’s a means to realise an aspiration while others do not get the opportunity to pursue higher studies or to bring their education to the logical end of facilitating livelihood,” says Ranu Jain, professor at the Centre for Studies in Sociology of Education at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
A STEP AHEAD
Experts cite several reasons for why one community may have an edge over another when it comes to academics, none of which have to do with an individual’s learning ability.
Unlike other larger religious groups, Jains, Parsis and Christians are smaller in number, allowing them to be better organised when it comes to providing for their own, says Gopa Sabharwal, a sociologist and vice-chancellor at Nalanda University in Bihar. “The ecosystem is smaller and monitoring of institutions is better.”
In addition, they are culturally inclined towards education – philanthropy among these communities tends to focus on constructing schools and colleges and granting scholarship, says Anand Castelino, secretary-general of Bombay Catholic Sabha, Mahim. “Some other religious groups build temples and orphanages, so priorities vary.”
Where these smaller groups are concentrated makes a difference too. The Jains, Christians and Parsis are mostly urban communities, while Hindus and Muslims are scattered across urban and rural areas, says Birendra Narain Dubey from the Indian Sociological Society. “In villages, traditionalism prevails and there is less awareness about the importance of higher education.” Urban populations also tend to make education decisions as an individual or family rather than as a community, says Sabharwal. This means the inclination to study further instead of taking up a job is less likely to be thwarted by village elders.
Among the Jains, the road to higher education has been paved with philanthropy. Pana Lal, a trustee of seven Jain community schools in Mumbai and the Orchids International School in Masjid Bunder, says his people have made concentrated efforts towards educating their own for the last 60 years. “We support students extensively in pursuing higher education through loans, scholarships and incentives,” he says. “For the community, higher education has not thwarted but in fact helped build better family businesses and we are also having many professionals such as doctors and engineers from the community. We believe in changing with times.”
In states such as Himachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, community participation has boosted local education. After the state governments invited locals to contribute towards building 12 schools and colleges two years ago, attendance shot up and so did literacy rate there, says Dubey. “Locals helped with the administration of the institutions and parent-teacher associations were given monetary incentives for the performance of the students. The psychological impact was that a sense of belonging to the institute and communities encouraged students to go to schools and colleges and perform well.”
For those who don’t have community support and cannot afford private education, the world is grim.
Higher-education success stories have one thing in common, which is a strong foundation in quality schooling from the primary level itself. This means that communities that do not design their school systems to integrate with existing colleges, or do not establish enough reputed colleges fail to make continuing education worthwhile for their people.