Explained | Missionaries, Banks, Individuals: Behind the Udupi Education Tradition

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Udupi in coastal Karnataka, the theater of hijab controversyis among the top-performing districts in the state, which have traditionally scored high on learning indicators. The verdict of the Karnataka High Court On Tuesday, the government’s continued restriction on Muslim women wearing the hijab in educational institutions raised concerns about the potential impact on students who may now be forced to choose between their faith and their studies.

The neighboring districts of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada on the Karnataka coast are home to many educational institutions – from the 183-year-old Basel Evangelical Missionary School to Mangaluru and Manipal, where one of the first private universities from India has sprung up, to dozens of newer schools and colleges that have been created to meet the ever-increasing demand for English education.

Learning surveys such as the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) and studies including an analysis of the 64th and 75th rounds of the National Sample Survey (NSS) by Khalid Khan of the Institute Indian Dalit Studies, showed a steady increase in the gross attendance rate of Muslim women in higher education in these two districts.

  • Data from ASER 2018 (pre-pandemic) showed that 86.9% of children in grades 6-8 in Udupi and 80.3% in Dakshina Kannada could read a grade 2 textbook. They were only behind ‘Uttara Kannada, the other district of coastal Karnataka (88.6%). For perspective, the state average was only 62%.
  • Children in ASER’s Mysore division – whose eight districts include Udupi and Dakshina Kannada – have significantly better reading and math skills than children in the other three divisions of Bangalore, Belgaum and Kalaburagi.
  • Students from Udupi and Dakshina Kannada have consistently ranked in the Top 5 in the Pre-University College Rankings (PUC, Class 12). In 2020-2021, Udupi students topped the PUC rankings for the third consecutive year, while Dakshina Kannada students ranked second. In 2021, Dakshina Kannada district had a PUC pass rate of 90.70%, the highest in Karnataka, closely followed by Udupi at 90.01%.
  • According to the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2020), preschool attendance in Karnataka was highest in Udupi at 56.3%; the state average was 40%.

Source: Levels of Learning by District, ASER 2018

The area – Udupi was separated from Dakshina Kannada (South Canara) as a separate district in 1997 – was part of the Madras Presidency of the Raj. The foundations of education in the region were laid by Christian missionaries, who established schools and teacher training institutes, including St Ann’s Training College at Mangaluru in 1890, among the first such institutions in India . This gave coastal Karnataka an edge over other parts of the state, especially Hyderabad-Karnataka in the north, which was under the rule of the Nizam.

In the years following independence, several committed educators built on this legacy, including the legendary TMA Pai who established the Manipal cluster of educational institutions, starting with a primary school before building a number number of university colleges (including Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College which has seen protests over the hijab), and medical and engineering schools.

In the 1970s, there was Nitte Vinaya Hegde of Nitte University (deemed to be) and Yenepoya Abdulla Kunhi, who founded the Islamic Academy of Education Trust which runs a number of medical, dental and nursing universities, in addition to a reputable school. – future university in Udupi. The region is also home to the Pejawar and Adamaru mutts, among the eight monasteries associated with the Udupi Sri Krishna Mutt, who also played a role in promoting education by establishing schools.

At the heart of the region’s educational success is private enterprise. “People in this region did not rely entirely on the government because they believed that community participation was essential to promote education…The pioneer was Dr. TMA Pai, who established about 34 educational institutions. The district (Udupi) does not have a single government college of medicine or engineering,” said Kannada writer Mahabaleshwar Rao, who retired as principal of TMA Pai College of Education.

The region’s strength in education also stems from its banking tradition, Rao said. Syndicate Bank, Canara Bank and Corporation Bank were born here. “These banks hired people who had passed the SSLC (Class 10). The girls got banking jobs and became financially independent. As families had a financial cushion, they were able to spend more on their children’s education,” he said.

Ashok Kamat, Deputy Director, DIET (District Institute of Education and Training), Udupi, said that the concept of assisted schools of the Hunter Commission (1882), which missionary organizations were using effectively, had given a boost to education in the region.

“According to UK government policy, if you studied up to grade 8, you could become a teacher. Thus, even people from low-income groups qualified. Almost every house here has a teacher,” Kamat said. He also credited men like Panje Mangesh Rao, a 19th century poet and education official who developed textbooks in Kannada and worked to make education more accessible to the people.

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