By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI â€“ The new importance being given by Indian Muslims towards changing stereotyped images held about the role being played by madrasa education system in India was reflected in the enthusiastic participation during the two-day national seminar (March 29-30) held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The subject was: — â€œMadrasas and Educational Needs of the Indian Muslims.â€ During the two-day discussion, it was accepted that thousands of madrasas in the country are playing a crucial role in increasing the literacy level of masses, without taking any aid from the government in most cases. While to a degree, certain madrasas have made a decisive beginning towards modernizing their educational infrastructure, the need of spreading this further was voiced. It was felt, greater importance should be given to taking measures, which boost the morale of the madrasa -students, pushing their economic aspirations beyond the boundaries of madrasa -masjid. Modernization of madrasas was viewed as a solution to problems as backwardness of Indian Muslims in the field of modern education.
While it was accepted that the madrasa education system has produced some scholars of international fame, it was also pointed out that majority of talaba remains deprived of job opportunities. At the same time, attention was also paid to the fact that only madrasas should not be held responsible for the weaknesses the countryâ€™s education system is suffering from. The government schools reaching out to poor people in rural areas can from no angle be held to be centers of ideal means of education. It was also pointed out that a negative image held about madrasas was not absolutely correct. There are quite a few madrasas in the country, where courses in computerization and other modern skills were being imparted. It was felt that while it is important take measures towards enhancing standards of education offered at madrasas, it was equally crucial to check negative images being spread about them by communal elements. In this direction, it was voiced that the Indian government cannot be expected to take the needed measures. The efforts made at the governmental level about changing stereotyped, negative approach held in certain communal quarters regarding madrasas can at best be expected to be confined to the stage of making proposals and perhaps forming a committee to look into the issue. The Indian Muslims themselves need to adopt an action-oriented, constructive approach in letting others know about the strong and also weak points of their madrasa education system.
The tendency prevalent in the national media to make noise about negative news regarding Indian Muslims, including their madrasa was also taken note of. But with Muslims being in a minority in the country, forming less than 15 per cent of the total population, while every Muslim can be expected to have interacted with a non-Muslim, not all the non-Muslims may have even ever communicated with a Muslim. Thus, it was highlighted that communication, beginning from the Muslims themselves can play an effective role in changing negative images held about Muslims and their education system. It was accepted that organizations of such seminars regularly over a continuous period of time could contribute to effectively changing negative opinions held needlessly about the madrasa system.
Some of the issues discussed at the seminar were role of madrasa towards education in Muslim society; the factors responsible for pushing Muslim children to madrasa education; expected consequences of the appeal to modernize madrasa education; practical feasibility of modernization program that gives emphasis to modification in the syllabus and teaching methodology; importance of madrasa for religious education and Islamic scholarly tradition; strength and limitation of madrasa system in connection with role of Muslims in nation-building and the need of a practical strategy towards introducing vocational courses for madrasa students. In addition, light was shed on historical evolution of madrasa education and on politics of minority education in the country.
The two-day seminar was organized by Ark Foundation, a non-government organization (NGO) with support from National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA). Established by Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development, the NUEPA is a premier organization, which deals with capacity building and research in planning and management of education in not only India, but also South Asia. The origins of this national university date back to 1962, when the UNESCO established the Asian Regional Center for Educational Planners and Administrators, which became the Asian Institute of Educational Planning and Administration in 1965. It was named as National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) in 1979.
Ark Foundation is a socio-clinical research group of teachers and research scholars of JNU, which began work regarding systematic schooling system and related works in 1995. ARK stands for Action, Research and Knowledge based service provider. The Ark research team is at present working on a research project, â€œModernization of Madrasa Education System.â€ In the teamâ€™s opinion: â€œWe believe Madrasa can be converted into vehicles for communication of secular and modern knowledge so that Muslim participation in civil society increases. This shall evidently lead to the empowerment of an entire community.â€