Apart from subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology that madarsas do not offer, the difference between the two might be of degree and proportions. Overall thrust remains common. That is, “not to think, not to question, not to argue, just accept what is told”
Once I happened to opt for “Educational Psychology” as part of my studies in Dera Ghazi Khan. With a pitch black beard and loads of surma in his eyes, the lecturer would enter the class room in a dull manner and hop over the dice perched on top of a wooden platform – takht posh. Wearing an overly ablutioned face, he would open the textbook but start reciting verses and prayers from his own mind. He would turn furious if a student moved or whispered a word to his class fellow.
“Listen to the truth of truths,” he would shout, and then go on teaching Islamic morality as part of Educational Psychology. For the last 15 minutes of hislecture, he would read a “lesson” out-loud from the syllabus and put an end to this ‘wise mentoring’ once again with a heavy prayer.
Mustering up courage, once I dared argue: “Sir, this is not ‘Educational Psychology,’ what you teach, I suppose”.
“Shut up”, Mr. Inayat replied. “You are the most disobedient student in the whole class I have noticed. Idling your eyeballs around and murmur is all what you do during my lecture”…
Other lectures and lecturers were not too different. It was a B.Ed. course and I was being trained as a teacher. Thanks God I left it half way through.
Similarly, one of my friends in the mid-1990s doing his masters in Mathematics at Quaid-e-Azam University told me that while explaining “rational numbers” his professor would stop over and say: “Not numbers, these are yahoodis (Jews), and would speak his mind at length before getting back to the point”.
During my masters in Anthropology at the same University, I went back at Zakrya University to collect my N.O.C. and met a registrar for the purpose. Knowing my subject, he said, “What is theory of evolution, could you explain?”
Pleased! I asked, “Why are you interested in it Sir?
He said, “I want to prove it false from Islamic point of view”.
Stern beliefs, authoritarianism and respect for authority and power remain central to our education system. Most government school walls visibly read, baa dab baa naseeb, bey adab bey naseeb i.e. the respectful wins fortunes and disrespectful turns pauper. In other words, reasoning and raising question not only tantamount to the teachers’ or authorities’ insult, but also guarantee your misfortune.
Instead of promoting knowledge and critical inquiry, education is an arena to contest power and ideology in Pakistan. Whatever the claims like ‘social transformation,’ ‘knowledge revolution,’ ‘integration to the modern world’ etc made in Education Policy 1998-2010 and its revised version (2009), a battle for ideology and power remains central to the text and educational aura.
Ignoring an assortment of private facilities for the moment, it is particular system of thought, nature of the state and citizenry that our social studies attempt to promote both in public schools and madarsas. It’s a myth that madarsa is poles apart from public schools. At least in their ideological undercurrents, I beg to say, they are one and the same. Apart from subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology that madarsas do not offer, the difference between the two might be of degree and proportions. Overall thrust remains common. That is, “not to think, not to question, not to argue, just accept what is told.”
No wonder that our doctors, engineers, bankers, bureaucrats and IT people happen to be terribly religious, conservative and illogical in their policy actions and political approach. In its bid to bring deeni madaris close to the formal education – a claim made by the government - it is our formal education that first needs to be torn apart from madarsa. Learning much of the Islamic faith till 8th grade makes a strong recommendation in all our policy and training measures. The said policy for instance, says, “character-building, oriented towards humanism, tolerance, and moral-build-up on Islamic lines at elementary level shall be assigned top priority.” Madarsa students also go through a similar course of learning in muttawastia, sanvya aama and sanvya khassa i.e. middle, secondary and higher school levels. National Textbook Board is still powerful, although Textbook Policy 2009 makes claims of devolving it and getting flexible. Where textbooks and policy provision give some breathing space to incorporate secular elements – teachers fill the gap with their outdate notions and style.
More than once, I happen to ask young boys of oppressed communities, “what would they like to become, once done with their studies”. Policeman, army officer or teacher is their answer along with a desire to become engineer or doctor in some cases. A sense of power that must come through education occupies their mind. It is schools and madarsas that are diminishing children’s intellectual potential – neither poverty nor a place. I observe learning students of a madarsa in the mini market of a posh sector in Islamabad as one would do in Dir and Akora Khattak. Government schools of Islamabad are as pathetic as are in Ghotki, Jampur or Charsada. Manual work is more or less detested in educational content of both the systems. Personality packs and role models presented - mostly different in both the systems - have one thing common - glorifying the stalwarts of certain ideologies not of manual work.
Along with emphasis on Arabic, Urdu language is not only sanctified, has rather been dogmatized in association with Islam in both the systems. To a lesser extent, but learning Arabic is essentially at schools too. At least a high opinion and massive amount of respect for Arabic still remains the same. Traditionally both would award similar punishments i.e. torturing and humiliation on minor in-accuracies though the practice has begun to change in the latter. Although nationalism is not directly stressed in madarsa curriculum, the way it is done in formal education system, but in the presence of Islam being an ideology of the state and creating theocratic citizenry, perhaps there is no need for that. Precisely the central purpose of the two is Islamization of the state and society, discouraging pluralism and undermining diversity. Anti-Indianism, unfriendly attitude towards the regional powers and much of the worldview is once again common amongst the two. To both, an orthodox Muslim, submissive to its own state and fiery to others constitutes an ideal citizen. And it is not a coincidence that both of them present a distorted, self-manufactured and biased interpretation of history and heritage.
It is the conservative and outdated bureaucracy and bureaucratic mindset that designs our curriculums and policy preferences in formal education. On the other hand, narrow minded mullahs set curricula at madarsas to suit their own religious and political ends. Most of them, in both the streams, believe in outdated notions of knowledge, learning, child psychology and development. Confounded by what a child needs, they fail to develop a holistic system of knowledge and damage children’s capacity of conceptual understanding and theory formation. Depositing information and answers - described and heavily criticized by world famous Paulo Friere and linear system of knowledge and learning is what constitutes our education system in general.
Human dimension of development along with literacy, numeracy, ability to solve problems and make informed choices, as emphasized by Economist Mahboob-ul-Haq rarely feature in the said systems. Lack of relevance and poor quality continue plaguing our education as observed by a Unesco study in 1998. What remains missing from this education is the students’ own lives and critical thinking. It is only primary schools where we can make attempts to empower the poor, if we are sincere enough.
As demonstrated, number of similarities are observed between the two systems yet, wafaq-ul-madaris- and other religious groups and parties outrightly reject any effort to reform madarsa because it serves their ideological objectives as well as their obscurant motives too. No surprise that the same people wage violent protests against any move to reform formal schools text and curricula as was witnessed in 2004-5.
Power and ideological context shall have to be replaced by objective comprehension and critical inquiry in the text and classrooms if we want brighten our future. The curriculum and school environment needs to be redesigned according to the social, political and economic needs of the country. It is the pupils themselves, their lives and politico-economic future of the country that should reign supreme above every other preference.
In the words of John Dewy, a 20th century education philosopher, “The ultimate aim of education is not production of good, but the production of free human beings associated with one another on terms of equality.” Unfortunately, plurality and secularism have got slim chances to flourish given the process and substance of education in both the streams. However, without Liberal democratic and secularist reforms, peace, stability and development is not possible in Pakistan.
|Amjad Nazeer did M.A in Anthropology from Quid-e-Azam University in 1995 and did another M.A in Human Rights from Roehampton University, London . He produced several articles and booklets to promote 'peace', 'human rights' and 'democratization' in Pakistan.|