Mission of the madrassahs

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In the debate about madrassah education, little is heard about the position and views of the teachers. My research collected the feelings of madrassah teachers as well as their students. The key issue in learning anything is the structure of the learning task so the students can assimilate what is being taught into the mental structure of their brains. Pakistan teachers in government schools have little understanding of this approach and practise the forced learning of content by rote (memorisation) methods. You would expect madrassah teachers to be little different.

I found the majority of the teachers reported that they use the lecture method to teach. Some said that they use the direct (expository) method according to the real Sunnat, which Prophet Muhammad PBUH used to teach Sahaba (companions) with the questions and answering method. They explain the lesson in summary, and then describe in detail the concepts on a white board. So a teaching approach of a 1000 plus years vintage remains popular. But some teachers do appreciate that society has moved on and new methods might make learning easier.

 

Almost all teachers believed that madrassahs are making true Muslims. The teachers said that they work hard to inculcate good moral values, but later on in life if students divert from their mission, then nothing more can be done. Although most madrassahs are performing their duty of making good students, this is not true of all Pakistani madrassahs, and a small number are involved in wrong activities

 

“I would like to use multimedia and a projector in the class during my lecture. Due to the lack of funding, the madrassah is not equipped with the latest technology so I have to use traditional methods to teach the students” (male teacher, Sect: Barelvi).

As might be expected, a boring teaching method leads to bored and uninterested students. The teacher then needs a strategy to compensate for this.

“I observe over several days the behaviour of students of low motivation in studies. I then try to understand the reasons behind their disruptive attitudes. After class, I like to involve them in discussion and try to resolve their educational problems. I also explain the benefits of education to students” (female teacher, Sect: Ahle- Tashi).

All teachers reported that they use counselling techniques to teach students who are showing less interest. Teachers can use harsh words and show their annoyance to students to redirect their attention towards their studies. Some teachers said that they use moral lectures and punish a little, such as making students stand up in the class, putting up hands, and leaving the classroom. Students are instructed in such a way that if they will not study properly, then they know it will affect their future life.

 

All teachers reported that they use counselling techniques to teach students who are showing less interest. Teachers can use harsh words and show their annoyance to students to redirect their attention towards their studies. Some teachers said that they use moral lectures and punish a little, such as making students stand up in the class, putting up hands, and leaving the classroom

 

The students have to study an abstract presentation of difficult religious subject matter. The end product is assumed to be a new generation of religious teachers at madrassahs or mosques. As a madrassah education has no value in the Market, the students only alternative is to join Islamic teaching places. If they take school subjects such as mathematics, science and English then they have more employment opportunities, but some teachers advise against this.

“I advise my students to concentrate only on their studies and not to take interest in those subjects which have materialistic benefits. This is a temporary world, and it will finish soon. So, try to become a true Believer and make easy your arrival in Jannah” (male teacher, Sect: Jamaat- e -Islami).

Nevertheless, a majority of teachers said that there should be curricular reform and some modern subjects introduced to meet the contemporary needs of society. This would reduce the curriculum gap between madrassah and school. A few madrassahs are already offering secular school subjects but these are of a limited basic knowledge, because the teachers are poorly prepared to teach these. The minority of teachers were not in favour of secular subjects feared that students would read according to a materialistic point of view, and so would be unable to concentrate on their mission of spreading Islam. Indeed, some teachers put forward the view that all development in the world is due to Islam. The Western world is seen as acquiring its knowledge from Islamic books before redeveloping this knowledge further, so it is not necessary to adopt Western culture and subjects today. The majority view was, however, that curricular reform is needed to have a better madrassah education system. The teachers said that this should be done by educated and expert teachers using the latest technology with appropriate funding.

“Islam and Science should be run side by side, people learn from the Quran and then progress from this.  See how Western countries took our values and got developed.  So there is no harm to adopt latest curricula in a uniform system of education”. (Male teacher, Sect, Barelvi)

Does this mean that there is a majority view that the curricula of the madrassahs should merge with that of the government schools? If so the teachers point to the real differences. The madrassah focuses on the students’ spiritual development, because it is preparing students for both worldly and eternal lives, so students can become rounded human beings. School teachers are not devoted in this way, and think more about material benefits. Madrassah teachers are accountable to Allah Almighty, so teachers work hard and teach with devotion. They feel that they are more highly respected than school teachers. Schools, which can charge substantial fees, do not make students aware of religion. Madressah teachers get much lower salaries than school teachers, but feel they are doing a good job.

“I have seen the school environment where students have more autonomy and liberty. Girls hang out with their boyfriends and get involved in unethical issues. Islam gives liberty to women to some extent, so the madrassah is doing a good job to make true Muslims.” (Male teacher, Sect, Deo-Bandi).

The teachers saw government schools also changing by addressing religious education through the syllabus of Dars-e-Nizami.

I found that almost all teachers said were satisfied what they were today doing a madrassah job without any materialistic benefits. They had been selected by Allah Almighty for this specific purpose of teaching and spreading religion.

“My basic purpose of life is just to serve human beings, no monetary benefits. My mission is to just spread the teaching of Islam and I took this oath when I entered the madrassah. I am fully satisfied.” (Male teacher, Sect: Deobandi).

The environment outside a madrassah is not seen by the teachers as ‘friendly’.

“I will not join others jobs because I don’t feel comfortable, and I don’t have such knowledge and communication skills to adjust in that environment. Other professions have other requirements, I wear Shalwar Kameez and have long beard. I am unfit in other professions.” (Male teacher, Sect, Ahle- Hadith).

Teacher job satisfaction was tempered by the feeling that their teaching pedagogy could be improved with a half agreeing that there is a need for professional development training.            

Almost all teachers believed that madrassahs are making true Muslims. The teachers said that they work hard to inculcate good moral values, but later on in life if students divert from their mission, then nothing more can be done. Although most madrassahs are performing their duty of making good students, this is not true of all Pakistani madrassahs, and a small number are involved in wrong activities. The Government is felt not to be supporting the large majority of caring madrassahs, because of the attraction of Western culture.

I conclude by referring to my earlier paper on the students of the madrassah. There is a significant awareness in the madressah system of a need for change. This is supported by a small number of perceptive ulama. I now recommend that groups of progressive madressahs become associated with supportive University departments to embark on a staff development project with government funding. This would demonstrate a model for practical curricular reform of the madrassahs. Quite an ironic state of affairs as Madrassahs, the target of much negativism, might turn out to be leaders in a better national education system!