While there is a fundamental capacity challenge in delivering education, the challenge of well-rounded education is also an important one, particularly for young, impressionable minds. India’s National Policy on Education, for instance, talks about the need to uplift educationally backward minorities, notably the minorities who attend Maktabs/Madrassas/Darul-Ulooms.

A few years ago, the Government had announced a scheme to spend Rs 325 crore over 5 years to improve the quality of education in Madrassas in the XIth Five Year Plan. The look back question: is it sufficient, given the numbers?

The scheme hoped to cover 4,500 to 6,000 Madrassas (of the estimated 30,000) by providing an honorarium to some 13,500 to 18,000 teachers in the next five years. Some 700,000 students studying in such Madrassas, which largely provide religious teaching, could benefit. Incidentally, the numbers of Madrassas in Pakistan (often discussed post 9/11) are estimated at 40,000. The figure in 2002 was an estimated but unregistered 13,000 Madrassas with 1.9 million students. Not all Madrassas in India are unregulated.

Primary Education Failure

Arshad Alam who teaches at Delhi's Jamia Milia Islamic University and wrote a book on the subject recently is quoted as saying: "Most Madrassas are in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This is due to the collapse of the primary education system. Madrassas have moved in where the states have failed to deliver."

The Indian scheme will help children expand their learning (by bringing in subjects like science, mathematics, Hindi and English) as well as provide vocational skills to children above 14 to better equip them for the job market. The Government has recommended that the Madrassas link with India’s National Institute of Open Schooling for subsequent certification. With 1.5 million students enrolled, the NIOS claims to be the world’s largest open schooling system.

The flip side of this scheme is that it’s voluntary. Though the commitment is strong and the budget healthy but the numbers thin out considerably. For instance, the scheme will pay a full-time graduate teacher Rs 6,000 per month ($133) and a post-graduate teacher Rs 12,000 per month ($266). These teachers will teach the new subjects.

Private Participation

Some funding will also go towards libraries, books and the like. The effectiveness of this programme will depend on more and well utilised funds. The chances of that are happening are slim. One option is obviously to bring in private participation in the specific areas, at costs which are amenable to the parents. There are variations of this already being attempted in state-owned schools in cities like Mumbai. The challenge is to expand the scope.