Prominent educationists in the country came out strongly against the government decision to recognise Qawmi madrasa's “dawra-e-hadith” certification as being equivalent to a post-graduation degree.
The decision is disappointing especially since the Qawmi Madrasa Education Board still does not allow the government access to its curriculum, schools etc, the experts said.
The board will still have full control the dawra examination as before.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced after a meeting with the leaders of the Islamist platform Hefazat-e-Islam that Qawmi madrasa's dawra-e-hadith will be considered a Masters degree equivalent. The decision means dawra degree holders can now apply for jobs that post-graduate degree holders in Islamic studies and Arabic are qualified for.
Renowned historian Prof Muntasir Uddin Khan Mamun told the Dhaka Tribune: “The military and the police forces in Bangladesh are the most powerful. They can get whatever they want by flexing their muscle. Now, Hefazat-e-Islam has also become an extremely powerful political actor in the country.
“They were awarded recognition because of their power. The government values such political influence. So, the decision is a political game targeting the national election.”
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (Banbeis), there are 13,902 Qawmi madrasas in Bangladesh with around 1.4 million students.
Dhaka University Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune: “I do not understand why the government took this decision. Is it only for a political purpose or something else?
“Without improving their syllabus and curriculum, without even any government involvement, how will a student achieve the education that can be considered at the standard of a post-graduate degree?”
The government is able to pressurise private universities to follow rules, the professor said.
“But after this recognition for Qawmi madrasa, private universities will not listen to the government. There will be an anarchy in the education system,” he added.
Madrasa education is divided into two categories – Alia and Qawmi. The Alia madrasas are supervised by the government and follow a national curriculum. But the government does not have any access in the Qawmi madrasas.
The decision to recognise degrees issued by the Qawmi madrasa was first taken on August 21, 2006 by the BNP-Jamaat-led government. But the decision could not be implemented because necessary bureaucratic processes were not completed within their tenure. However, Qawmi madrasa teachers, led by Hefazat-e-Islam, have long been pushing for this demand.
The Awami League government formed a commission in 2012 on Qawmi madrasa education, headed by Hefazat chief Allama Shah Shafi, but he resigned when the issue of government regulation came to focus.
Qawmi madrasas operate through private donations without any regulatory oversight from the government. They follow the Dars-e-Nizami curriculum of the Darul Uloom Deoband Madrasa in Uttar Pradesh, India.
The syllabus contains very little or no science and English education, and teaches distorted versions of the history of Bangladesh, in particular, the absence of the Language Movement and the Liberation War. Because of these reasons, educationists have been urging the government to bring them under regulations.
Asked about the decision to recognise the Qawmi degrees, Md Alamgir, acting secretary to the Technical and Madrasa Education Division, refused to give out any details.
“The decision came from the highest authority of the government. We will issue an order in this regard soon. The prime minister also gave us some directives about the issue, but I have nothing more to say,” he added.
However, Prof Md Akteruzzaman, pro-vice chancellor of Dhaka University, was appreciative of the decision.
“Qawmi madrasa students have always been underprivileged in the society. Now they will get opportunities for social mobility. This decision could help the society,” he said.
“The examination will be conducted following a process that should be coordinated with the other existing systems. But the total education process should be brought under a system in future,” he added.
Afsarul Ameen, chair of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Education, said: “We should keep cooperating to develop Qawmi madrasa education. Their recognition is one of the steps to bring Qawmi students up to a standard.”
Asked whether they would achieve any standards without acknowledgement of their primary and secondary education, the former primary education minister said: “We are optimistic that the entire Qawmi madrasa education system will come under a process in the future.”