The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) is putting in significant efforts to “mainstream” the education imparted in madrasas and other Islamic religious educational institutions by introducing subjects like modern science, mathematics, logic, English, Hindi and more to bring students at par with those studying in regular schools. Under the Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM), the government plans to include over 25,000 madrasas in the country.
The MHRD introduced SPQEM as part of the National Policy on Education (NPE) in February 2009, under the 11th five-year plan (2007-12). It envisioned introduction of modern education in madrasas with teachers receiving an honorarium along with provision of science and computer labs to madrasas that were willing to register with the scheme. A budget of Rs 325 crore was allocated for the scheme, but till 2015, only about Rs 20 crore has been utilised as most of the madrasas have chosen to stay away due to fear of interference by the government. Now, according to the ministry, it is making significant efforts to implement the policy throughout India in a comprehensive manner.
“SPQEM and NPE represent a national system of education that provides access to education of comparable quality to students till a certain level, irrespective of caste, creed, language or sex. We have made it a point to mainstream education in institutions like madrasas, maktabs and darul ulooms (Islamic seminaries). There is a lot of work going on right now. There are at least 25,000 madrasas across India. It means that there are lakhs of children who are getting education, but of a kind which is not going to help them in life to earn a living or compete with others,” Rina Ray, additional secretary in MHRD told The Sunday Guardian.
“This policy lays emphasis on removing disparities and equalising educational opportunities for the educationally backward individuals. It is our priority that we bring these millions of children at a par with other students so that they can gain modern education and have a fighting chance to claim their place in society. Otherwise, they just end up as clerics or religious leaders and, in the worst case, remain unemployed. The government’s initiative is already working wonders in many madrasas in states like West Bengal, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and more,” Ray said.
Madrasas or Islamic seminaries are generally centres for Islamic learning. Although some madrasas do teach subjects like logic, language (Arabic through medium of Urdu), Islamic history and geography, by and large, they have a religion-based curriculum that focuses on the Quran and Islamic texts. However, defying stereotype, almost 600 madrasas recognised by the West Bengal government introduced a modern or mainstream school curriculum in 2013, and now even non-Muslim students are studying in those same schools which were previously meant for Islamic studies and theology. “Nearly 25% of students studying in modernised madrasas in the state belong to non-Muslim families. All the students are doing well and many of them aspire to become professionals like engineers, doctors, lawyers or scientists. I am sure that they will succeed. Some of the students who have passed out are already studying in colleges and on their way to compete with students who studied in regular institutions. It shows that with some solid will, you can do great work without getting into religion. Education should be free and equal for all so that everybody is on a level-playing field,” Maulana Syed Ali Ahmed from Orgram Chatuspalli High Madrasah in West Bengal told this newspaper.
“The children in educationally backward Muslim minorities attend madrasas. You cannot help these children by pulling them out of madrasas. You need to provide them with modern education which is at par with the education imparted in other schools. Provide more teachers, train existing teachers, provide books and other grants that will give a quick boost to the scheme. It has proved successful in states like West Bengal, Maharashtra and more. We need to make it more inclusive and remove the red tape,” said Abdul Qadir, an Islamic scholar and educationist fighting to make education a fundamental right.
At present, the Centre provides 100% funding for the scheme. Financial assistance is given annually under the scheme through the state governments/Union Territory administrations in whose jurisdiction the institution is situated. The madrasas/state madrasa boards that receive assistance are required to furnish audited expenditure certificates in prescribed formats and certification by audit officers.