Frank Islam – entrepreneur, philanthropist and an alumnus of the Aligarh Muslim University – is a Non-Resident Indian based in the US. He and his wife Debbie, have used their fortune to provide targeted financial assistance to educational causes in India. In a conversation with DNA’s Smitha Rajan, Islam, talks about why education is the game changer.
On his education initiatives
A high-quality education is the only investment that can level the playing field for all. It opens doors for people to lift themselves out of poverty and deprivation and enables those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A good education is the key to opportunity and a bridge to the future for themselves and for others.
On India’s efforts in the field of education
I am not on the ground in India, so I cannot provide a comprehensive assessment. What I can say is not enough is being done to ensure equal access for minorities to participate in and graduate from the education system. The Muslim literacy rate in India went up from 59.1 per cent in the 2001 census to 68.5 per cent in the 2011 census. Though laudable, significant inequalities still exist.
The literacy rate for Muslim women was 52 per cent – the worst among all groups. A study by the US India Policy Institute showed that only 11 per cent of Muslims in India pursue higher education compared to a national average of around 19 per cent and that percentage has gone down since the Sachar Committee Report was issued in 2006. Finally, there are substantial differences in education across the country in terms of participation rates for those from the Muslim community. What this suggests is that there is still a need to develop a multi-part plan to address the “development deficit” of the community.
Roadblocks for Muslims in education?
Some of the factors preventing Muslims from making strides include the aspirations of students, lack of family and financial support, lack of outreach, recruitment and special assistance to bring those students into the higher education realm.
Having said that, I must say that Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) remains a bright star in the crown of Indian higher education for Muslims and people of all religions, backgrounds, and beliefs. This is why my wife Debbie and I contributed $2 million to help build a management complex in the university.
On Muslim women and education
In one of my articles, I recognised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for empowerment and education of Muslim women and wondered why it had not received greater acceptance and support. I had noted in that article that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Muslim women in education is lack of access to higher education. Higher education is a powerful equaliser and a path to social and economic opportunity. By higher education, I mean technical, vocational and professional education. Which is why our Foundation has contributed to building a school for girls in Azamgarh.
On NRI help to India
Indians living outside of India have the character and capacity to extend a helping hand to the country. I believe higher education remains the key. It helps create higher aspirations which propel individuals and nations forward.