By Javeed Mirza
At a zoom webinar organized today, a participant quoted an author who mentioned that out of the 130 outstanding personalities of the period around 1000 AD, the Madrasa education had produced more than a hundred of the luminaries. The former Indian president Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the reformist leader Raja Rammohan Roy and noted writer Munshi Premchand was Madrasa products. One can laud the Madrasa system that had produced such talented gems. For many centuries Education remained a scarce commodity and was the domain of a small minority of well-to-do. The Muslim Renaissance from 800 AD to 1300 AD had spouted high development of Science, Literature, and Mathematics. The West used this learning as a springboard to attain its own greater height. The Muslim Renaissance died with the decay set in by its Feudal setup that preferred ignorance to learning, as it was a better means of controlling the subdued subjects it ruled. What had developed 200 years back lurks in today’s curriculum of the Madrasa. The Madrasa education today is hackneyed, obsolete and unproductive. It demands an overhaul.
The Indian education system, a product of British educational legacy, initiated with the intent to develop willing clerks for the continuation of the British Raj, is itself in need of massive reforms. Its public (govt.) school system is beset with poor quality; its administration is flawed and rampant with corruption and nepotism. The societal evils of caste, class and religious discrimination permeate its working. A whole marginalized section of school dropouts, Adult illiteracy, co-exist with lack of girls education, of slum children’s education and absence of special education for the handicapped. The Madrasa education is one such marginalized education composed of the children of have-nots. Amidst the poverty that the parents face in the upbringing of their children and the absence of good quality education as well as religious discrimination in the public school system, the Madrasa offers a way out wherein students get free education and, in most cases, free boarding. The Madrasa has shielded the students from becoming vagabonds and instilled in most students a sense of ethics and morality, traits that are rapidly dying and in severe shortage. But this is no answer to the students’ needs for sustenance, progress and for societal advancement.
The Indian institutional set up has paid lip service to the educational needs of its massive poor. It has allotted low funds (3% GDP while western countries allocate 7%) and has skewed the funds in favor of prioritized sectors… the IIT’s, IIM’s, Central Universities and Research centers where the Indian privileged attend and shore up the system. The struggle by the SC leader Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and his supporters produced Reservation for the Dalit and the Tribal. This has enabled a small section of the underprivileged to step out of the blighted alley and join the mainstream. It is a silver lining but one that is dwarfed by the many underprivileged that see no light at the end of the tunnel. Massive unemployment rules for those who were able to get an education. Poor quality of learning, absence of needed skills training, poor planning, abuse and diversification of national wealth and resources for personal gain, have hobbled the system. Madrasa reform is part and parcel of the total system overhaul that is needed.
The Madrasa establishment exists. There is a vested interest by those running the system to nurture and keep it going. It serves to preserve their fiefdom and provides them with community funding and bestows honor. This is however at the cost of the lives of the Madrasa youth as there is no directional path for them to grow except to subserve the system and eke out a low-paid living with limited opportunities like Imam, deputy imam, muezzin or as an Arabic tutor for the children of the well to do. The Indian establishment, while decrying the Madrasa establishment, is also happy to see its preservation as it forsakes the community betterment and can be conveniently manipulated by taking its leadership under its belt through coercion or co-option. It was the educated mainstream Muslim youth that spearheaded the anti-CAA(Citizenship Amendment Act)movement.
The Basic ailments:
a) Revision of curriculum and syllabus. There is a huge development of thought by Islamic scholars in the last few decades that can be incorporated in the syllabus and make it current. It can seek scholarships from noted institutions and enter academic relationships with them. Modern technology allows global connection. This needs to be availed and new thoughts encouraged.
b) Pedagogy is a key element of learning. Rote learning and the absence of reasoning and questioning are the opposite of critical thinking. The latter is a pre-requisite for the problem-solving skills necessary for success in society.
c) Non-integration with modern education: The secular education promoted by the govt. allows students to continue higher education and climb the ladder. Madrasa education is cut off from mainstream education and puts fetters on further growth of the student. Modern education, composed of pure sciences and social sciences, technology, Math, languages other than Arabic/Urdu is essential learning for all citizens. This should not be underestimated or underplayed. The Madrasa students are barred from pursuing higher studies and obtaining admission in skills learning institutions like the ITI or Polytechnic, as they do not meet the minimum threshold of passing the Xth standard.
d) Isolation from National integration: Like all religious-based organizations, the Madrasa student’s interaction is primarily within his/her community and minimal interaction with non-Muslims. This fosters a disconnect with other communities and this, in turn, builds a wall of separateness that has the potential to build phobia and ill will.3
e) Separation of gender-based education. Muslim girls’ total isolation in the Madrasa system is non-productive and staggers girls mental and social development. Girls have equal rights and equal capabilities and their Right to full learning and development of their potential should be respected and supported.
The issues outlined above need reform. Some suggestions are:
a)Madrasa Education must incorporate simultaneous learning of the Religious and the Secular. This can be done by dividing the Madrasalearninginto two components and having one stream taught in the morning and another in the evening. This practice is being adopted by Muslim religious schools in the USA. The Jewish religious schools provide regular education for most of the day and have two hours daily allocated for religious education plus one day a week.
This approach will meet both the secular and religious learning requirements and equip the student with dual learning and enable higher education. If equal time cannot be allocated to secular education, then a couple of hours each day need to be allocated so there is a regular continuity of secular education. If all subjects cannot be taught, then essential subjects like English, Math and Computer skills should be taught as a starting point.
b)Most Madrasa students are from poor backgrounds. Economic sustenance is a primary need. Maximum skills-based training needs to be provided within the Madrasas with an objective of making the student ready to fill in jobs related to market-based skills requirements.
c)Modern education tools must be used for building large scale education. MOOC (Massive Open ware Online Courses like www.edx.org) and Free apps like www.khanacademy.org and Kolibri (www.learningequality.org) need to be incorporated in learning. Online skills-based training also exists,and it should be availed. The pandemic has further shown the relevance of developing online learning. Failing this, both the Madrasa and regular education had collapsed.
d)A Madrasa reform board needs to be established of Madrasa establishment and non-Madrasa reform seekers that will work out the details. Reform of Syllabus, curriculum and adoption of Pedagogy that is most current, innovative and productive, needs to be devised.
Even though Madrasa education is availed by around 4% of the Muslim youth, it has high significance. It involves the lives of millions of youths, their families,and their effect on interaction in the community. The propagation of Islam by the Madrasa educated Imams, having no understanding of the modern working of the society and the capitalist system, will be a hotchpotch of false understanding and imagined truths, leading to a distortion of Islam. The 4wastage of the talents of this huge turnover of a million or so Madrasa students each year is a blight on our society and its willingness to accept the students become alms-seekers instead of productive citizens. The concentrated memorization of900 pages of the Quran that the Madrasa’s hafiz student does, has the potential to unleash high productive gains, if properly educated and gainfully employed.
Educational reforms, if not implemented, will limit the community and national growth. It will continue the community’s downslide that is seen for the past many decades and has been chronicled by bodies like the Sachar committee. This is not the end but the beginning. Social reforms are needed, Struggle for economic and political empowerment is needed. Educational reforms can initiate and build the crescendo for all reforms and prosperity.
Javeed Mirza (firstname.lastname@example.org)