Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) will be celebrating 100 years of its existence soon. Hence, it becomes increasingly important to have an audit to establish if the University has been on the designated path as envisioned by the Aligarh movement torchbearers. The Aligarh movement founders conceptualized the course of educational, cultural, economic, and moral prosperity. In the present situation, Muslims of India find themselves in a similar situation that existed at the time of Sir Syed and had prompted him to redefine the community’s direction. His life, teachings still find relevance under changed but strikingly similar circumstances.

Right from the time of graduation of Ishwari Prasad (The first alumni of AMU) till the present year, AMU has come a long way. AMU has come through high waters and has seen the best of everything. Events of the last few years have often left everyone associated with AMU simmering in pain. However, the Union HRD minister’s recent message made a positive impact on the AMU community. There has been an ongoing debate for some time if the purpose of founding AMU was only to produce an educated middle class among Muslims of India or to built individuals with faculty of independent thinking who refuse to be merely a cog in the system. Individuals who have a dream to institutionalize the vision of its founders and give something back to the society. It is worth investigating if the scope of AMU’s purpose can be broadened so that social responsibilities are better served.

Presently there appears much emphasis on the importance of rankings in the media. However, there are diametrically opposite opinions concerning rankings. Many academicians agree that as long as University is accredited, the degree obtained matters more than the ranking of University. Not all the factors which matter in the ranking are essential contributors to the quality of the product. Example: Alumni contribution is a crucial factor in the ranking of University, but effective use of that contribution improves the product quality.

There are many aspects regarding the ultimate purpose of AMU. Issues often left out or seem to require more attention can be entrepreneurial, education for masses, school reforms, democratization and strong image building.

Entrepreneurial

Antipathy of Muslims towards western education early on had put them way behind in education compared to their fellow countrymen, the Hindus.  Raja Ram Mohan Roy founded the Hindu College in 1817, putting them in a far more advantageous position. The formation of AMU helped create a western educated middle class among Muslims, which gave them some recognition in society in terms of government jobs and judicial postings. However, AMU alumni do not have much to show as far as successful entrepreneurial stories are concerned. This does not count alumni who had family businesses, but the ones who were first-generation entrepreneurs. It is to be noted here that everything is in relative terms. The entrepreneurial spirit among students is essential, especially in places where economic development is not in symphony with the rate of educated youth entering the job market. This stressed relationship makes the contribution of any university towards the growth of the nation as irrelevant.

Education for have nots

During the initial stages, most of the students in AMU were from well to do class, but later majority came from lower segments of society. AMU decided to give a new meaning to the idea of providing education to students of backward areas by starting AMU campuses in Murshidabad, Malappuram, and Kishanganj around 2010. It did provide a needed educational push in these areas plus created employment opportunities as well. However, it is essential to note that the main reason for the lack of education in Muslims is poverty. It is because of this majority of Muslim students drop out by the time they reach high school. It is highly recommended that technical skill training gets more promoted at AMU so that an uneducated or semi-educated individual gets certified as an electrician, plumber, or welder. A skilled individual in a low-income family can help remove poverty so that his siblings may have interruption-free school education.

Another vital aspect is the presence of many craftsmen and artisans among the Muslim community in small industrial units and cottage industries all over India. These artisans remain poor from generation to generation, although middle traders/Exporters keep minting money on their hard work. It will be a great help for them if AMU starts a training course in Export management. Even if one family member gets trained sooner or later, that family will be out of poverty and be an asset to similar families.

School reforms

Schools are regarded as feeders for any University. Raw material is an essential contributor to the quality of the product. It is often repeated saying that children learn best when ready, so there is no need to pressurize them. Finnish system of education is booming as they lay more emphasis on individual attention to kids, more recess time, well-paid teachers, and less weightage to tests and assignments.

One has little doubt if there is any shortage of resources in present AMU schools. Therefore teachers can be better trained, if possible, on assignments abroad. It was widely reported in media that the successful revamp of Delhi Schools by the present Delhi government had inspiration from Finnish Education System. Inputs can be had from Finnish educational experts for better curriculum design so that students may learn and not end up as memorizing machines.

Democratization

Everybody likes democracy but not when in authority. Sometimes this problem crops up at AMU as well. There has never been a harmonious relationship between the student union and the university administration. Most of the institutions have seen a sharp democratic recession in the last couple of decades. Every time students have to agitate for their union elections. University administration also feels threatened when the union is there. It is high time that some programs should be in place for the grooming of desirable student leadership. When student representatives cannot speak eloquently in TV debates, it clearly shows that the grooming process lacks. This grooming includes moral training for student leadership, as well. Therefore, remedial measures are immediately necessary.

Perception is better than reality. Its high time University takes the bull by the horns and gives proper rebuttal to the vilification campaign of AMU and Sir Syed by vested interests. It will require some extra effort to take the problem head-on, and the PR department has a larger role to play in it. A well-chosen team of professional writers can be used to promote the image of the University in reputed print media.

Lastly, there is no hesitation in saying that AMU has successfully responded to the challenge of doing away the educational backwardness of Muslim Indians, as was the founders’ dream. It is also to be remembered that founders also wanted the students to develop the ability to have and follow their own dream instead of having pious hope in the founders’ vision even after 100 years.

Nadeem Khan is an author and speaker based in Toronto.


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