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August 12, 2015

Mainstreaming madressahs


August 12, 2015


Bringing madressahs into the mainstream of our national life remains an elusive proposition as is the fabled dream of madressah reforms. Our deficiency of madressah knowledge adds to the growing socio-economic ideological gap between madressahs and the rest of Pakistan, especially urban Pakistan.
We know a few tangible facts about madressahs – like half of the 12,000 madressahs in Punjab are unregistered as was disclosed by Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada on February 13 this year. Out of these 12,000 in Punjab around 1,000 are foreign funded as was revealed by the special branch of Punjab police in a secret document submitted to Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges on 16th February this year.
Reportedly some 17 Muslim and non-Muslim countries have been contributing hundreds of millions of rupees to these seminaries. The federal government, on its part, admitted for the first time in January this year that about 80 madressahs in Pakistan received financial assistance around Rs300 million from a dozen countries during 2013-14.
Under the very nose of the federal government the majority of madressahs in Islamabad are reportedly operating illegally, having not registered with any of the government authorities.
Our ignorance cannot belie and belittle the fact that a large portion of our population is attached to madressahs. Around 1.8 million children, nearly a tenth of all enrolled students in Pakistan study in religious seminaries, according to a report launched by the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training on April 21 this year.
There is a gaping lifestyle divide between madressah students and outsiders, especially urban outsiders. The contemptuous rage with which stick-wielding madressah students act during road protests gives us a glimpse of the ostensible grudge many of them seem to carry against the world outside their madressahs. Limited interaction between the madressah students and

the ‘outsiders’ further widens the gap. The absence of an economic dream in the lives of madressah students further adds to the sense of indignation against the world outside.
Madressah students are too large a human resource to ignore. The divide between the Pakistani society and its madressahs is lethal for the stability of the state. This huge human resource of young energy should be building themselves, their families and this country a strong economic future rather than pursuing a life dependent on donations.
We ought to ask ourselves what the economic future of these two million children and those have already ‘graduated’ from madressahs is. Providing a mosque or madressah to every graduating madressah student or a group of them is neither possible nor sensible.
The state of Pakistan needs to chalk out a long-term economic plan for madressah students. As madressah reforms remain an elusive dream and the idea of introducing regular school education along with religious education in madressahs remains just an idea we would have to devise a practical way to enable madressah students earn themselves a financially stable life and position in the society.
We need to have a countrywide region specific programme of professional diplomas in technical education for madressah students.
We would need a large reservoir of technically trained personnel for the CPEC’s development and the industrial and trade opportunities that would originate with it. Technically trained madressah students can play an active role in such economic activities across the country.
The federal government should launch the programme in harmony with provincial governments and madressah representative organisations. We would need groups of experts in technical education to prepare a programme consisting of different technical training courses. We may get valuable knowledge and help from Australia which runs a vast and successful programme of technical diploma training courses.
There’s an acute shortage of efficient technical institutes in the country so we would have to be innovative and flexible in developing venues for imparting technical education. Technical courses could be held from within the premises of larger madressahs to second shifts in existing educational institutes to hands-on training in different professional fields.
Bringing madressahs into the economy is essential for the socio-economic stability of the country but is the government interested?
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