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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Market solutions for Qawmi madrasas

Let's bring madrasa education up to standard. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

PERIODICALLY, the topic of low-quality education imparted by some private universities becomes a matter of debate. However, there is a much bigger problem of low-quality education in Bangladesh; namely, the thousands of Qawmi madrasahs across the country.

Low-quality private universities generally target students who are not bright enough to get into the state-funded or better private universities; Qawmi madrasahs are serving (or rather dis-serving) a similar low-quality market composed of lakhs of impoverished rural children. The parallels between the two provide an interesting clue as to how to reform the Qawmi madrasahs, which generally seem resistant to change.

Qawmi madrasas are a remnant of Bangladesh's traditional Muslim educational system. Although, post-1971, they have slowly modernised by teaching in the medium of Bangla instead of Urdu, as well as by including some English and mathematics, they still largely follow the medieval-inspired Dars Nizami syllabus.

Since they are set up as locally-supported waqfs (Islamic property trusts, like mosques), they are self-supporting and completely outside the funding and regulation of the government educational system. Students unable to afford admission, textbooks, transport and private tuition required to attend government schools may often find that their only option is a Qawmi madrasah. Unfortunately, one gets what one pays for: a low-quality education composed of rote memorisation of outdated material, with almost no job opportunities.

In the case of private universities, it is clear how to improve the situation; increasing regulation and supervision by the University Grants Commission to improve quality. Furthermore, the private university market is increasingly competitive, and the under-performing universities are forced to improve or close for lack of students.

Unfortunately for the rural poor, there is no government department regulating and improving Qawmi madrasahs. In fact, the slightest hint of government intervention is enough to stir protest among the legally independent Qawmi madrasah administrators. So the only way to force them to improve is by increasing competition in the market for poor rural students.

Market mechanisms are effective regulators if utilised correctly. The presence of a Qawmi madrasah in any location obviously indicates a population of education consumers (students) whose needs are not being supplied by any government school. This may be due to excessive distance or other costs of attending local government schools. In that case, the appropriate market response is to set up a good quality government school nearby, and to target it with larger than normal quantities of student stipends. If the government were to make such moves, Qawmi madrasahs would soon find their student numbers dwindling. Rational parents would send their children to the better government school which offers better job prospects, provided it is accessible and affordable.

Such a change in the rural education market would not eliminate the Qawmi madrasahs; but it would force them to change and improve, just as they adapted to the post-1971 reality of Bangladesh by introducing Bengali.

Whereas now Qawmi madrasahs are not willing to change, if the government made them compete for their students, they would be forced by the market for students to adopt a more modern and higher quality syllabus. Such an initiative needs to be taken by the government sooner, not later.

Zeeshan Hasan is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

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Dear Mr. Zeesan Hasan, assalamu alaikum.

I appreciate the views expressed in your article in the Daily Star today. You and all concerned know the situation that has brought the Qaumi Madrasas to this condition. However following points may be discussed for some one who may do something to change the situation towards betterment of the madrasas.

1. This type of madrasa developed in the South Asian subcontinent when, after colonization by the British, the religious leaders felt that the religious education would be exterminated if it is kept under the govt. hands. Previously, the unified education system followed by the Muslim rulers used to impart religious as well as worldly education in the same institution; even warfare used to be their subject and able leadership was created from them.

2. However, after the Ulema formed the madrasas this had taken the form of a movement for a separate education system for preserving the religious education, specially based on the Quran and Sunnah. The Madrasa Dewbandh was a direct result of this movement led primarily by Maulana Abul Kashen Nanutubi ®. From then till now, new madrasas are being opened almost each day throughout the subcontinent to teach Islamic subjects among the students - mostly coming out of villagers. These people, largely poor, even ‘sacrificed’ one of their many children in the way of Allah, by letting him go to the madrasa, knowing fully well that these boys will get no jobs either in govt. or in private institutions.

3. Recent years have seen the opening of a considerable number of female madrasas also, having no scarcity of students. People are sending their daughters to these madrasas with the same zeal as earlier mentioned. As such, no step to make the numbers of madrasa students ‘dwindling’ is practically possible.

4. It may be noted that the student themselves are not the ‘consumers’ as mentioned. Rather the Quran-loving people are the consumers and no change of their attitude is possible until they are made to understand that the object of education should be to create able/useful citizens for the country. These students work, after their education, in agriculture, in small business and some revert to the old system as teachers. Some also gets place in the mosques as Imam.

5. We feel the Govt. should persuade the guardians, the Quran-lovers, to be positive towards practical education, specially, if professional courses are introduced. The subjects may be on computers, trade courses, even those directed towards foreign employment as trained technicians and commercial courses such as poultry, livestock etc.

6. The writer mentioned madrasa education as ‘low quality’ education by not knowing the worth of Quranic education. This is natural for those who are educated in the ‘other’ form of education, i. e. normal curricula of education getting the govt. support and well aware of the value of worldly education.

7. After all, every step taken should be credible in the eyes of those guardians and not creating the fear of ‘losing the religion’. Every respect should be shown to religious education that imparts moral as well as spiritual teachings to the students.

M. Karim

: M.Karim





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