Bringing madrassas into the fold
One of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) major election promises was to transform Pakistan’s uneven educational system into one that is inclusive and provides youth from all segments of society the opportunity to develop the necessary skill sets to gain employment and constructively engage with society.
The failure of the existing education system to provide this necessary rounded education to large segments of youth, therefore effectively excluding them from mainstream economic and social activity, remains one of the most critical challenges the country faces.
In order to successfully address this, the government is looking to affiliate the three million youth currently enrolled in over 30,000 madrassas (Islamic seminaries) with the mainstream education system. Toward this objective, the government has over the last year, held a series of exhaustive discussions with Itehad-e-Tanzeemat-e- Madrassas Pakistan (ITMP), a federation of the five seminary boards in the country, to reach a comprehensive agreement that will bring the seminaries into the fold of the mainstream educational system.
To begin with, all madrassas throughout the country will be registered by the Federal Ministry of Education. The Ministry has also undertaken to help facilitate madrassas to improve their standards of teaching and expand its curriculum to include mainstream non-theological subjects. The vocational and technical training curriculum and facilities will also be introduced.
Under the agreement, all madrassas students will be required to take the standard Board examinations for classes 8, 10 (Matric) and 12 (Intermediate) according to the National Curriculum, to be implemented over the next four to five years.
The PTI government can take considerable credit, where many previous governments had tried and failed, for reaching a comprehensive agreement aiming to bring on board the madrassas and affiliate them with the mainstream education system. Previous reform efforts had been undertaken under the national security umbrella that unfairly stigmatized the madrassas sector of having links to extremism. Although couched as providing all-inclusive education, the aim of earlier reform efforts appeared to be to attain greater control of the sector in order to eradicate militancy. In stark contrast, the present government has approached the issue as one of the overall educational strategy to enable quality education to be imparted to youth from every section of society. Crucially the various seminary boards that comprise ITMP will continue to administer the religious curriculum and its examination. Such an arrangement balances the desire of the boards to maintain their control on the theological aspect of education while deferring to the state in expanding the curricula to include mainstream subjects.
The PTI government can take considerable credit, where many previous governments had tried and failed, for reaching a comprehensive agreement aiming to bring on board the madrassas and affiliate them with the mainstream education system.
There are many other challenges that lie ahead in the full implementation of the agreement between the government and ITMP. Many of these are purely administrative in nature for which a high-level committee, consisting of Government and Madrassas representatives, under the Chairmanship of Federal Education Secretary, has been set up to ensure smooth implementation and execution.
The Federal Ministry of Education is also setting up a Directorate General of Religious Education in the capital Islamabad, with twelve regional offices across the country. This will be armed with an initial budget of at least Rs. 2 billion. The government is already planning to facilitate many of the madrassas in the opening of bank accounts to ensure transparency, and may also help train madrassas administrators in maintaining proper accounts and related financial matters.
The success of the integration will require close coordination between federal and provincial authorities since provinces oversee the implementation and monitoring of education reforms. In this regard, the Federal Minister has indicated that he will share recent developments with the provinces in the interprovincial Education Ministers Conference (IPMC) to try and bring on board all relevant stakeholders for its smooth implementation.
Finally, the National Curriculum Council (NCC) set up by the government is exclusively working on the revision of the existing curriculum. It is expected that a reviewed and fresh curriculum, in line with contemporary requirements, will be ready by March 2020. This new curriculum will be taught by all streams of education, including the madrassas. It is to be hoped that the new curriculum will provide students with fresh up-to-date material and reflect modern pedagogy such that the students develop critical thinking abilities as well as facilitate holistic comprehension of contemporary issues.
The objective of the reforms should be to prepare the youth, much like those from other public and private schools, to enter adulthood as well-educated, employable, and engaged members of modern society. This should also alter the largely untrue but prevalent narrative that many madrassas are linked to militancy. There should come a time in the not too distant future when madrassas students can compete head to head with those from public and private schools in the job market, as well as gain acceptance as valuable citizens in popular opinion.
-Javed Hassan is a graduate of Imperial College London and an MBA from London Business School. He is an investment banker who has worked in London, Hong Kong, and Karachi. Twitter: @javedhassan.