The Bangladesh Islamic Foundation’s plan to launch a new group of madrasas where Arabic and Urdu will be given priority in the curriculum has drawn flak.
Educationists questioned the necessity of introducing a new madrasa education system when the country already has two types of madrasas – state-sponsored Alia madrasas, and the privately run Qawmi madrasas.
The existing madrasas need more attention from the government and could be improved further, experts said. The third proposed system will create confusion in Islamic education as there is already a lack of coordination in the madrasa education system, they said.
The proposed new madrasa, named ‘Darul Arqam’, is at an advanced planning stage and a draft syllabus and curriculum has already been prepared by the foundation’s research department.
The new madrasas will be rolled out from next year with the Foundation planning to establish 1,010 such Islamic schools.
Islamic Foundation, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Religious Affairs set up ‘to preach and propagate the values and ideals of Islam’, plans to start classes from grade I to grade V, and eventually up to MA level.
Journalist and researcher Afsan Chowdhury thinks that there might be a political motive behind the introduction of a new stream of madrasa education, when two streams already exist.
“Multiple streams will create a chaotic situation,” he said.
Afsan Chowdhury said that the Islamic Foundation should institutionalise the Maktab based teaching at Alia madrasas at the primary level.
Commenting on the future of the new system ‘Darul Arqam’, he said that in Bangladesh all curricula of Islamic education have been designed with the idea that students will be absorbed in the Islamic job sector.
“That’s a problem since this job sector is not so big,” he said, adding, “If the proposed curriculum provides opportunities for the students to choose other sectors beyond the Islamic, it can be useful. But if not, it is better to strengthen the present Alia system.”
Asked for his opinion about the decision to give emphasis to Urdu in the proposed madrasas, he said, “One of the prime reasons behind the 1952 language movement was jobs as the Pakistan government wanted to take all government job recruitment exams in Urdu. So, it is clear that language is closely related to jobs.
“If we want to put emphasis on Urdu or Arabic, we have to think first if there is any job available in the market for speakers of those languages,” he said.
Educationist Prof Montasir Mamoon told the Dhaka Tribune: “If the government wants, such a new system in madrasa education will be launched. But I would like to say that if Bangladesh wants to do well in the global education system and job market, this is not what we need.”
Assistant secretary to the Islamic Foundation, Noor Uddin told the Dhaka Tribune: “The curriculum of Darul Arkam was fixed following the standard of primary education. Initially class one to three will start in January 2018. four and five will start 2019. but as per the plan the new system will extend to higher education level.”
Asked if the students of Darul Arqam would be eligible for the secondary education level in Alia madrasa, he said that to get admission to the Dhakil level, students would need to take Ibtedaye Somapony Examination (PSC standard) certificate.
However, Prof Dr Harun-Ur-Rashid Askari, Vice Chancellor of Kushtia Islamic University and also a member of the board of governors of Islamic Foundation, said that present systems of madrasa-based education have many gaps. “We have mosque based primary education system but that cannot help to go for higher studies. I think the Islamic Foundation may have thought of the new system to provide useful education at that level.”
“If the new system can be extended to higher level of education, it can be better,” he said.
He argued that in Bangladesh, Islamic education system is very sensitive as most of the people are Muslims. “The government cannot easily scrap any such education system or make amendments to it. I think this is why policymakers have thought of launching the new system.”