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Friday, July 18, 2014

Quest to redefine madrassa education


"More and more Islamic seminaries are incorporating government curriculum n Experts say education opportunities improving for Muslim girls"

Nepalgunj: Like many public and community schools in the country, Ayesha Girls’ Madrassa in Nepalgunj suffers from a host of problems, including lack of physical infrastructure.
Education experts believe the more the madrassas adopt national curriculum, the more girls will have formal education.photo courtesy: the kathmandu post
Students in nursery and upper kindergarten share a room divided by a thin wooden partition. The students in third grade sit on crammed benches out on the hallway, next to a staircase to the roof. Fifth grade students take classes in an open room, at the far end of the corridor. And last week on Tuesday, the students of grade six and seven sat for computer exams without ever having seen a computer in the school.

Still, since its integration into the national education system in 2007, Ayesha has been engaged in an admission campaign, more aggressively so in the last two years. The school’s teachers and founders visit houses in their localities and in the villages around looking for girls who are out of school. They try to convince the parents of the importance of education for girls and to keep their daughters in school. Not all madrassas registered with district education offices conduct a yearly admission campaign. Most of them, though, help keep girls in school despite challenges of accommodating both madrassa and government curricula and lack of infrastructure and teachers.

Estimates put the total number of madrassas, including the unregistered one, at  3,000. Muslim communities use madrassas as religious schools where they teach  Urdu, Arabic and Islamic teachings. Apart from Banke, a large number of madrassas are found in districts populated by Muslims like Rautahat, Kapilvastu and Morang.  

Strict adherence to religious principles means most Muslim parents in the country prefer these religious institutions over secular public and private schools, especially for their daughters.

A stark example is Aslam Haluwai, one of the founders of Ayesha, whose two sons go to a nearby private school while his three daughters attend Ayesha. A small man, Haluwai defends this decision by saying that his daughters’ enrollment at Ayesha sends a positive message about the quality of education the madrassa offers.

Haluwai’s daughters are not the only students in Ayesha whose male siblings attend non-religious public and private institutions. Sabnam Kasgar, an eighth grader, also has two younger brothers who attend a private school nearby.

A high regard for religious customs also means that most parents pull their daughters out of madrassas, especially from co-ed ones, once they reach puberty. “Even all-girls madrassas are out of the question if the girls have to walk to school,” says Haluwai, sitting on a chair at the principal’s office in Ayesha. It does not help that more than two-thirds of the madrassas have no validity in the national education system.

According to a 2013-2014 flash report prepared by the Department of Education, only 735 out of the 3,000 madrassas are registered with their district education offices. These registered madrassas offer both madrassa and government curricula.

The other factor that encourages protective parents to keep their daughters at home once they turn 11 or 12 years is the low number of registered madrassas which run lower-secondary and secondary-level classes.

Of the 735 registered madrassas, only 25 offer lower-secondary level courses. Twelve are permitted to run secondary-level classes and just three have higher-secondary status.  Because the majority of the madrassas which also follow the mainstream curriculum do not offer classes beyond the primary level, girls do not stay there beyond the fifth level. For instance, Ayesha offers classes up until the eighth grade. Once the eighth grade final exams near, the teachers and the founders have to launch another campaign

to convince the parents to send their daughters to non-religious schools so that the girls can at least complete the secondary-level education. “So far we’ve managed to convince 90 percent of the parents, but it’s always tough. Parents only agree to allow their girls to continue their education once we and the principals of other schools promise to keep the girls safe,” says Talat Khan, the principal of Ayesha. Except for the three founders, all other staff members in Ayesha are women.

Experts believe that as more madrassas are brought into the mainstream, education opportunities for Muslim girls will improve. The pace of integration is slow, but the number of madrassas teaching the government curriculum is on the rise--from 689 in the fiscal year 2012-2013 to 735  last fiscal. Since 2006, the government has  been wooing madrassas with cash incentives, an integrated curriculum and waivers such as on teachers’ licences to get them registered.  “The more the madrassas that accept the national curriculum, the more the girls who are educated,” says Vidyanath Koirala, an education researcher who has extensively studied madrassas.

source:the kathmandu post,17 july 2014

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