In Conversation With Waseem Ahmed
In a recent mentor session, Kanyaka Foundation was joined by Waseem Ahmed. With several years of experience working in the development sector, Waseem specialises in the area of Indian education. Waseem took us through his life beginning from his attendance of government schools up to his enrolment into the MSc Education Policy program at Bristol University as a Chevening Scholar.
Shalabha Sarath Interviews Waseem who threw light on how the girls in his family were not permitted to be educated. He identifies this as the root of his passion for female literacy. Even today, India battles a gaping gender gap in its education sector. In this post session interview, Waseem expresses his views both as a passionate advocate of female literacy and an experienced scholar in the area of education..
Why is female literacy important from a national perspective?
When asked the question, Waseem replies that it is “simply the right of 50% of our population”. Just as the less privileged sections of society are given reservations, the section of female people requires recognition and attention. The same he says goes for various fields such as sports or the job market where gender equality should become the norm. In addition, he alluded to the fact that culturally, women are more embedded in society and family. Hence, the contribution of educated women could be unimaginable.
What is one area in Indian Education that requires urgent change?
“In India, people are not listening only to politicians or educationalists, there are other kinds of people involved” says Waseem. He points to the importance of the involvement of community leaders at different levels. These personalities can generate the required awareness at remote levels.
Secondly, he says, job opportunities have to be created for women. The assurance of receiving financial returns in the long term can motivate families to send their girls to school. Further, families are often hesitant to contribute to both dowry and education expenses. Hence, these social problems are connected, says Waseem. Ending the dowry system will affect the gender gap in education.
What are your views on NEP?
Firstly, some aspects such as credit transfer in colleges Waseem believes, will make education more flexible. However, the privatisation of school education he argues will negatively affect female literacy. Many families are unable to afford the finances of even a government school hence private schools are not even an option.
Families, he says, are hesitant to send girls to schools due to safety reasons as well. NEP will mean a lesser number of government schools in a certain radius. This will further widen the gender gap in schools.
One clause of NEP also states that up to class 5 children may be taught only in their mother tongue and not English. When asked about his views, Waseem expressed that considering the job market and higher education, English education is important. “I was taught English for the first time in class 6” says Waseem. He admits that learning English later has made him less comfortable with speaking it and argues that languages are learnt much better at a young age. However, Waseem says, “Putting English education down in policy is not an easy thing”. In India, the solution has to be practically thought out in terms of the availability of resources, English teachers etc. at remote levels.
Encouraging families towards female literacy
In India, the educational gender gap cannot be boiled down to one central reason. Communities and families have different reasons for not sending girls to schools. When asked about how families can be encouraged, Waseem threw light on a few different aspects. Firstly, safety continues to be an issue. Hence, women’s safety needs to become non-negotiable.
Secondly, finance is a prominent reason. “Many people do not send girls to big cities to study and give finance as a reason,” says Waseem. In this regard, government schemes and scholarships are very important. “Still, we cannot leave everything to the government, as the public we have to still continue to generate awareness. Every stakeholder in society must be involved” he adds.
Is India making progress?
“We are making progress and nobody can stop it even if they want to” says Waseem. “Today people are very connected through social media and other forms of communication”. Waseem credits the digital revolution for the awareness it is generating and how that is encouraging families to educate their girls. “The pace of progress is increasing and will be boosted if the government is involved” says Waseem.
After completing his MSc, Waseem is sure about coming back to continue working in India. He specifically plans to work in the area of education at the state level. He wishes to work closely with policymakers and bureaucrats in order to influence decisions directly. In the long term, he wishes to open schools and possibly work in politics.
General views are often expressed about the subject of female literacy. However, in the Indian context, the subject is very complex. Waseem Ahmed’s approach to thinking about female literacy is significant because it considers the role of communities, families and culture. His own story is fascinating to say the least. Much like his journey to becoming a Chevening scholar, his future contributions to policy can be expected to be nuanced and practical, in accordance with what India requires.
Shalabha is a student of International Relations at Shiv Nadar University. She enjoys writing for blogs and acrylic painting. She works with Kanyaka Foundation as a Content Writer Intern.