Proposed Jamiat Open School : An analysis

By Javeed Mirza

The Jamiat Open School is a proposed venture to impart “Secondary Level Education to Madarsa Students”. The initiator of the project is the Central Academic council composed of the top leadership of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, Darul uloom Deoband, Markaz Deeni Talimi Board and Jamiat Ulama. These organizations have been running some of the Madrasa schools for the past many decades and have an enormous influence on all madrasas in the country. Two outsiders are inducted in the council. Dr P A Inamadaar of MCE society, Pune, and Mr Kamal Faruqi of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board. Dr Inamdaar heads an institution, Azam campus, that is one of the best in the country and is a pioneer in remote education providing the same to tens of thousands slum children in Pune. He and Mrs Abeda Inamdar are exceptional educational leaders fully committed for community educational growth.

Introduction: The premier Madrasa institution, the Darul uloom Deoband was established by Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nantowi in 1866. A report that appeared in the Telegraph, Kolkata, 20 March 2002 quoted the Minister of State for Home, Mr. Vidyasagar Rao stating in Parliament on 19th March 2002 that “…. there were 31,850 Madrasas in the country…”. Dr Asghar Ali Engineer mentioned the background of the start of the Madrasa in his book “Muslims and Education”. He wrote “This madrasa (system) had come into existence during period of great crisis for north Indian Muslims when Muslims were facing British wrath and the ‘Ulama were in the forefront of anti-British struggle much before Indian national Congress came into existence and national freedom movement started. These ‘Ulama remained steadfast in their struggle for freedom and also became allies of the Congress and firmly opposed two nation theory and partition of the country….”.
Today the Madrasa system is at a crossroad with many factors affecting its decline and continuity. A main factor behind its predicament and portending its gloom, has been its inability to understand the trends in modern society and mold itself to meet its challenges and stay ahead. Its failure is part and parcel of the failure of the Indian educational system that is in dire need of reform and for which the New Educational Policy (NEP) was passed in 2020. The NEP has formulated policies that have a bearing on the working of all Indian educational institutions. The Madrasa system needs to fall in line and urgent steps are needed to reform the existing structure, so it complies with the NEP policies and is allowed to continue. The December 2020 abolition of the Assam State Madrasa board and its total control by the State govt. is an indicator of the onslaught that the system is facing from the cohorts of the ruling BJP party.

The Madrasa system is tethered to the reform needed within the community as it struggles to forestall its rapid economic and political marginalization and institute social reforms. The Sachar committee of 2005 has documented the decline of the Muslim community. A manifestation of the decline is the low educational level of the Muslims vis-à-vis other communities and its pronouncement that the Muslim girl’s education was at the lowest tier in the country. It is high time that the community leaders take up the task of restructuring education. The crying need is the development of education affecting the marginalized and weaker sections of society like that of Girls, of Out of School children, of children in slums, of Adults, of Handicapped children, of Govt. school attending children and those attending regional medium (Urdu, Hindi etc). run schools. Madrasa education also falls in the marginalized education sector and needs a full revamp.

The Jamiat postulation: Conceptual failure: The Jamiat Open School Vison postulates “Our vision is to change the image of Islamic Madarsa and their products from the obsolete, retrogressive, orthodox, unproductive and unresponsive to the needs of our society to centers of holistic knowledge and torch bearers of the physical, moral and spiritual development”. This is clearly a recognition and affirmation of the need to bring radical change. This is a welcome move and needs to be taken forward. Towards this a conceptual understanding of Education that best serves the community needs to be formulated. Next is the formulation of Pedagogy that will bring critical thinking in the students and awaken their desire to explore and be bold in their working and thought process. Following this the best delivery model of Education needs to be built that will rapidly scale education and embed quality in all phases of its growth. Along with this a monitoring process needs to be built that will have everyday monitoring of student performance as well as monitor factors like attendance etc. The administrative working of the educational institutions also needs to be streamlined and relevant IT applications incorporated that will greatly add to the productivity and efficiency of the school system. The above Conceptual requirements are found missing in the Jamiat Open school postulation.

Mainstreaming for all Madrasa students: The Jamiat Mission is identified as “to recruit, train and support Madarsa students enabling them to pursue mainstream education to become effective leaders to deal with diverse challenges faced by Muslim communities”. The means of implementation of the high-sounding mission is nowhere in the formulation. The Madrasa students that it is talking of, are not the broad masses of Madrasa students but a selected group of students who are eligible to take grade X exam through NIOS at age 14. The Jamiat Open school postulates a goal of educating 18,000 students in five years starting with 2000 students in the first year. Today there are over a million students attending Madrasas. This goal is self-limiting as modern technology permits scaled education wherein hundreds of thousands of students can be taught simultaneously in all parts of the country using MOOC (Massive Openware Online course) technology. The Jamiat must understand new technology developments and apply them rather than pursue the old-style incremental growth model.

Mainstreaming is a requirement for all Madrasa students. Every Madrasa student is entitled to full and comprehensive learning. They are deserving and have the potential to shine like all students pursuing education in the country’s top schools. It is poverty of opportunity that restricts their growth. All learning institutions should construe it as a privilege to provide the needy students a decent education. The RTE (Right to Education) and NEP (New Economic Policy) have laid down the laws governing education to be followed across the country. It postulates education from age 3 and have laid out the 5+3+3+4 model. Mainstreaming of education is the process that makes students follow the govt. mandated educational policies. The Jamiat brochure bypasses the NIOS standardized exams of grade levels 3, 5 and 8 as it “requires additional burden, resources and change in the curricula of the Madarsas” (sentence from their brochure). The consideration for the Jamiat is clearly not the pursuance of the education of all the Madrasa children who qualify for the 3, 5 and 8th exam. It is against full mainstreaming and nowhere meets its stated AIM “to provide quality educational program that will enable all students to develop their knowledge, skills and understanding of mainstream education through an integrated study offered by Jamiat Open school” and become “torchbearers” of the community. Mainstreaming and the provision of good quality education will ensure equal opportunity for all students.

Equal importance for Religious learning and Secular learning: The Jamiat Open school’s objective is to “train and give secular education to the Madrasa students or dropouts. It enables the candidates to acquire basic qualification i.e., recognized secondary level, opening the way for further higher education or to perform their role as religious leaders more effectively as well-informed citizens”. Religious education is the prerogative of the Madrasa and this can be provided side-by-side with the secular education. The Jamiat brochure, however, allocates 5 hours on Friday for Secular learning. Friday is a Madrasa student’s off day, and it is seen to be convenient to indulge in the secular education on this day. This part-time allocation is very flawed. Secular education, like religious education, demands time and sustained effort. It needs to be imparted on a regular basis and a nonserious effort will only lead to failure. To conceptually downgrade the secular learning of subjects is to push learning back and create obstacles in the child’s educational progress. Islamic educational institutions in the USA and some countries in the Middle East are averse to providing purely religious education. They have combined both the secular and religious education in their curriculum or posit equal time, each day, for the two segments.

Adoption of modern Pedagogy: The Jamiat model makes no mention of Pedagogy. The right Pedagogy serves to open the students mind to new and creative thinking. Our current pedagogy of rote learning and regurgitating is an obsolete model as it stunts the mind and does not enable students to become productive members of society. It negates creativity, questioning and bold learning. It does not instill innovative thinking and does not prepare the student for problem solving skills that the modern society demands.

Learning English: English language is a key component of educational enhancement. There is NO mention of English learning. English learning is an essential prerequisite as it is the most advanced of the global languages and also a global communicator. Strong foundation in English from an early start will enable the full utilization of all the educational materials and tools that have been developed in the language.
Building a foundation for learning: The formulation identifies the preparation of a few subjects like Urdu, Arabic, Psychology, Business Studies, and Indian culture & Heritage. These are presumably easy subjects, and the notion is to cram through the easy subjects and get through the Xth exam. Exam-taking is part of the process of learning. It should not be the end goal. Such a postulation of education will definitely not build a foundation that will enable the students to pursue higher studies after passing the Xth Board. There is a need to lay a strong foundation of learning. The student’s path of learning must start early, and the trajectory built so that the student understands well the importance of his/her education and internalizes it. This will give the student a depth of his/her educational curve and they will exert due effort to keep up with it. Learning should be made fun and not a forced habit.

NIOS is not the answer to instill learning that will produce capable citizens and take the community forward. NIOS can be one of the ladders used to go forward. To compete in the competitive world, ladders that have deep foundation and can climb taller, need to be built.

Drop out children’s education: Education of the Dropout segment (those students who did not enroll and those students who enrolled but did not continue education) is an important consideration. There is a mention on the recruitment of dropout students, but no clarity is provided on how this process will be done. Dropout students’ needs counselling and parental and community support to motivate them. Dropout trends in the students attending classes need to be mapped and forestalled before the dropout takes place.

Curriculum revision: The transition from a purely religious to a religious and secular education is not a straight path. It needs development of bridge courses that are sensitive to religious learning and ease the induction to mainstream learning. However, there is no elaboration on this subject of curriculum changes that is required.
Implementation issue: The implementation of the educational work is meant to be done by the Jamiat coordinators. These leaders come from the old school of thought that is best meant for religious learning. They have built-in aversion to secular learning and are unable to comprehend change or be the catalyst for change. They are the wrong choice for teaching of secular education and one can only expect obstruction from them due to their traditional mindset. The wise approach would be for the Central council to step away from the educational leadership and give it into the hands of competent people steeped in regular education and with whom they feel comfortable. Once the new leadership for developing the Secular education is confirmed, they must be given independence in building the curriculum and for its method of implementation. This leadership will train the Coordinators and teachers who will serve to establish the new educational dynamic.

Funding: The funding is also modeled in the traditional way. This has been a failure as the existing Madarsas are always at the mercy of local community members, who are themselves extremely poor. There is a constant appealing for alms. The meager revenue results in dilapidated infrastructure and poor living conditions of the students and Teachers. It needs a replacement.
Conclusion: Madrasa education is an icon of the community. Its progress will directly contribute to the progress of the community. An all-out sustained effort must be made to bring this change asap. Many generations of students have been adversely affected by the incapacities built in the current Madrasa system. With the rapidly changing political, economic, and social landscape in the country, the time for change is ripe. The crises must be turned into Opportunity. What is required is not a patch-up effort or trivial cosmetic change, but a deep-rooted systemic change. If this challenge is not met, the leadership and intelligentsia would have failed, and the societal malaise will linger and keep causing havoc in the community life.

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Javeed Mirza can be reached at Email: javeed.mirza@gmail.com

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