Hindus have the lowest level of educational attainment in the world, according to a PTI report from Washington, citing an international study of the Pew Research Centre on religion and education. Pew has done some useful poll-based studies, including in this country. The utility of a study naturally depends on studying factors that logically look to be related. It is here that the purpose of this study appears open to question.
While it would be a perfectly valid argument that the level of economic development of a society (or country) will have a strong bearing on the spread of education (though this may not be the only factor), it is hard to see how a religion correlates with education. Thus, there should be no surprise in the fact that the Christians of Western Europe are likely to demonstrate higher educational attainments than those in Latin America or Africa. Within a country too, the Hindus of Kerala (a populous Indian state with the highest literacy levels in the country for major states) will typically have spent more years at school and college than, say, in Bihar, that lags far behind.
Extending the argument, it will be reasonable to expect that Hindus (or for that matter Christians or Muslims) in all parts of India will have broadly similar educational levels if they come from broadly similar economic backgrounds.
A religion-derived omnibus category for the world does not, therefore, appear to serve much point. Since Hindus live in one of the world’s poorest regions, South Asia (preponderantly India and Nepal), no surprise is caused by the Pew finding that the average Hindu female has only 4.2 years of schooling and the male 6.4 years. This, in fact, broadly tallies with India’s official data on proportions of India’s literate population (about 75 per cent male, against around 53 per cent female) having primary education (uptil Class 5).
For the world’s Muslims, the Pew research shows only a very marginal increase over the result for Hindus. Muslim women have 4.9 years of schooling on average while the case of men is identical with that of Hindus.
The colonial and imperialist bent of mind — and this embraces policymakers and scholars — picked on religion a great deal, as an instrument that was used very consciously, to speak of differences among peoples and to keep them divided and frequently in a state of mutual animus. That mindset simply did not conceive the notion that the colonised people seemed so different from their colonisers for the simple reason that they lacked economic and social status.
We trust Pew’s approach is different, and that it doesn’t subscribe to the thinking that certain people are incapable of reaching certain levels on account of their religion.