While most schools in the state have more boy students than girls, the majority of students in Urdu schools are girls, a state-wide study by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)has revealed.
The trend, the report said, could be attributed to the tendency of Muslim parents to send daughters to Urdu schools, and sons to English and Marathi schools.
In English, Marathi and Hindi schools across the state, less than 50% of the students are girls. But in Urdu schools, 57.1% are girl students, said the report by professor Abdul Shaban, titled ‘Muslim girls in Urdu Medium Schools in Maharashtra: Progress, Retention and Aspirations’.
In Urdu schools, where 95% of the students are Muslims, most girls outnumber the boys.
The report points to several factors behind this trend.
First, most Muslim localities have only Urdu-medium schools, with most teachers from the community, the report said. “Therefore, Urdu schools provide a sense of security among parents and guardians.”
The socio-economic status of the community is listed as another factor. “Given the socio-economic situation of Muslims, it is difficult for them to afford education in other schools. Also due to difficulty of getting admission in other schools, parents send girls to Urdu schools.” The report also said parents are sending boys to English or Marathi schools, as women are not considered as economically important.
The Urdu language linked to Muslim identity and the understanding that women are carriers of culture has also led to more girls in Urdu schools, the report suggests.
The trend could be hampering the development of Muslim girls, the report says. “The state of Urdu and Urdu-medium schools, the limited choices available for Muslims, and patriarchy in the community is significantly compromising the educational, personal and overall development of Muslim girls,” it reads.
The report’s conclusion, however, has been disputed.
Badrul Islam, an Aurangabad-based educationist and assistant professor at Hyderabad’s Maulana Azad National Urdu University said the patriarchy claim is unfounded.
“One must understand the Muslim community is in a transitory phase. Most people from the previous generation didn’t even go to school. If the community was indeed patriarchal, it wouldn’t be sending girls to schools at all.”
Farida Lambay, the co-founder of Pratham , a non-governmental organisation (NGO), said in the past 15 years, awareness among Muslim parents about educating the girl child has increased, and several girls from Urdu schools have done well. “All communities prefer to send girls to the neighbourhood school, mostly for socio-economic reasons. However, when it comes to Muslims, girls are admitted to Urdu schools for religious reasons as well,” Lambay said.
“While the parents’ preference for Urdu-medium schools for girls is a reason for their low participation in the work force, the community should now focus on giving them vocational education for their economic upliftment.”
Badrul, however, agreed with the report when it came to the poor state of many of the state’s Urdu schools . “Socio-economic mobility is not the only aim of school education, the overall development of the child is. Besides, there have been quite a few bright lights coming out of Urdu schools,” he said.
Badrul Islam, however, added the social structure of Muslim community, where usually male is the breadwinner and women look after the household, is one of the reasons for the trend.