Madrasas – a basic education Model

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By Javeed Mirza ([email protected])


Madrasas have been educating children for a long time. At one time, when education was extremely limited and the privilege of the upper echelons, Madrasa gave scope for education of the middle class and even non-Muslims joined to study there. Today the Madrasa is predominantly a place where Muslim poor youth are educated about Islam.  This has stunted the growth of these students as they are NOT provided with Basic Education but are limited to the study of Islam. There are different strands of Education that the Madrasas follow but broadly they teach the basics of languages Urdu and Arabic and the recitation of Quran in the proper form (tajweed). Taking this forward, they offer Hifz (memorization of the Quran). Some Madrasas offer Aalim courses of around 6 years which is like high school graduation. In rare cases, higher study (Mufti) is also offered. Darul Uloom Deoband is recognized as a center of Madrasa education and has produced many offshoots of its educational model. The advantages Madrasa’s offer is free learning and free boarding (in most cases). For the destitute parents, Madrasa offers an alternative in the absence of good quality public education and absence of boarding facilities.  The Sachar committee opined that around 4% of Muslim youth (thousands of Madrasas with millions of students) are enrolled in Madrasas.


Madrasas do NOT offer basic education… subjects that are essential to living and taught in mainstream schooling like English, Science, Math, Regional language, Computers have no place in Madrasa education (in a few Madrasas these subjects are being taken up in a rudimentary way). Madrasas neither have the capacity nor aptitude for basic education. Students entering Madrasas are not able to join mainstream schooling as they are ignorant of the regional language and do not know the other subjects required for regular schooling. They are invariably stunted in their educational and mental growth as they cannot proceed beyond their Madrasa learning. Most students end up being destitute as their learning provides them limited earning opportunities (like Tutoring new students privately or in Madrasas), or working as Asst Imam/ Imam in masjids. Some Madrasas are offering Vocational education as a means of widening job opportunities. This is however extremely limited and of a low standard.

For the students who would like to join mainstream learning, it becomes a daunting task of rapidly learning all the non-taught subjects and preparing for the Xth Board exam. Most students fail this exam and those who pass, find it extremely hard to pursue higher studies. The Muslim majority universities of AMU, MANU, Jamia Millia allow students to join the universities (with a total annual student enrollment capacity of  3 to 4 thousand), allowing the brightest among them to join undergraduate and graduate courses by giving credit to the student’s learning in Madrasa.

This dilemma of the Madrasa youth (predominantly Male but also Female) is present in the whole of South Asia. In Pakistan, some of the students were used as fodder in the Afghanistan war and other vested interests view them with nefarious design. The failure of the Madrasa student is the societal failure to tap into the person’s talent and capabilities for productive individual and societal growth. It is also the precursor for the individual and his/her family’s poverty and for its continual perpetuation into the next generation. It needs immediate Reform. It needs to be reconfigured and brought onto a track that guarantees basic education, besides religious education, and also guarantees the same opportunities and utilization of capabilities that every other youth in the country has.


The Mass Education Initiative was launched in 2010 and registered with the state of Andhra Pradesh in April 2011. It is a non-profit educational initiative and had the provision of providing basic education for Madrasas students as an important goal. It sought to do this by introducing English learning and Computer learning to the Madrasa students. A Training center was established that had a computer Lab and English and Computer teaching staff were hired. Professor Ayesha Mateen was recruited as English head and Ms Shaheen, a computer graduate, as Computer head. A campaign was taken to the established Madrasas asking them to enroll their students for Free learning of English and Computers. However, most Madrasas had no interest in sending their students. The leadership was curious but did not think that it was necessary for their students and declined to participate.   It was also not a viable proposition since the students were boarding students and had no time to engage in other studies as well as the prohibitive travel expenses to commute to the Training center.  The next alternative was to provide Training to Madrasa Teachers and that would help them teach their students. They were encouraged to join and attend the Free Training. However, most teachers were caught up in tutoring to supplement their frugal income, and were not interested. Some teachers and Madrasa students decided to enroll at the Training center, and they were provided with learning of Computers and English. They made rapid strides in learning and were extremely happy and grateful.

Towards increasing  the participation of students in learning of English and  Computers, MEI decided on the strategy of offering Free coaching in the subjects within the Madrasas and requested the Madrasa leadership to accommodate one hour each day of the students schedule towards the learning of these subjects. This way it would not disturb the established schedule and there was no cost for the Madrasa institution and no additional travel required for the students. Several Madrasa institutions, including exclusively female Madrasa institutions, expressed their willingness to work with MEI. A dozen teachers were hired and trained and sent to teach English and Computers in 6 centers (3 of which were girls Madrasas). This was a huge success as MEI appointed Teachers engaged the students in English and in Computer learning. The students saw this as a new and interesting learning experience and enthusiastically embraced it. This learning continued for a few years but was discontinued when it became unsustainable, since it was primarily based on financing from the MEI founders pocket and the institution was unable to garner financial support from the Hyderabad based Muslim community.

Limitation of this model was that it did not cater to the need of providing basic education, as it was limited to offering only 2 subjects and that too for one hour each day. Students, on the other hand, need to study Sciences, Regional language (other than Urdu, Arabic and English), Mathematics and Social/Environmental sciences (All Subjects taught in regular school).


A model needs to be constructed where all BASIC subjects are taught along with Islamic learning. An approach would be to divide schooling into two sessions wherein one session in the morning or evening is allocated for Islamic learning and the other one for the study of regular subjects. This is being followed in some Madrasas in Bangladesh.

All Madrasa education should be geared towards making the students capable of taking the standard X and Jr College exams and getting the student mainstream towards pursuing regular College studies.


As most students in the Madrasas come from impoverished families and have a crunching need for financial need, an imperative arises for them to be channeled in the direction where the financial need is met. This is possible through the introduction of Skills training, Vocational Training and Entrepreneurship training. This can be introduced after Xth completion for all needy students and after Junior college for those that want it. Students can also compete for entry into govt. instituted ITI and Polytechnics to obtain Skills training.


The Madrasa leadership, by virtue of their constricted thinking, is unable to comprehend this and will OPPOSE it as it will question their leadership and control of their institution. This will totally dent their old style of working as students with new awakening and thinking will start questioning and aspire for more and better learning.

The Madrasas resources are extremely limited (based on Charity, mostly obtained in Ramdaan). The expansion of learning into various subjects would mean the hiring of teachers in all these subjects and the consequent payroll expansion. (English language and Computer teachers would demand market salaries). Also, there will be the need for new material resources like Books, Computer labs, Library, audiovisual aids etc. Teachers training would be a prerequisite. This would multiply the expenses of the Madrasa. Hence mobilization of financial resources would be an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT priority. Also, the resources need to be SUSTAINABLE. Community effort is needed towards this and visionary leadership that will marshal the resources in this direction. Ethical practices and transparent working is mandated as they will permit the gathering of funds.  Effort to gather support needs to be launched in the Middle East and other places wherein Philanthropists are sought and foundational help, CSR help, Waqf resources, Central and State govt. provision of Minority funds, Scholarships, Grants etc. are obtained.


 As the need of this segment of Madrasa education is in millions, it makes sense to adopt the technological means that would permit massive education simultaneously and avoid the limitations and pitfalls of the established traditional route. Mundane and outdated Teaching methodologies (like rote-memorization) must be replaced with modern methods that provoke and encourage critical thinking. Modern life-constructs demand an education that best suits it. Today there exists advancement in Technology that permits rapid and scaled learning. Hundreds of thousands of students in different geographical corners of the world are being taught simultaneously through MOOC’s …Massive Openware Online Courses…. Example or or Good quality learning content material is available on many websites like, kolibri ( etc.

 The covid-19 has also brought a paradigm shift in education and working procedures, with a focus on online learning. We need to understand and embrace these technological advancements and marshal them for learning. This would not only permit the education of millions in a short time but also permit quality education, and with it, a renaissance in thinking and individual and national growth.


Education for the marginalized and weaker sections of society has always taken a backseat, as it is a low priority for the ruling classes. India spends 3% of its GDP on Education while countries like UK, Norway, New Zealand and USA spend more than 6%. The Indian allotment of its educational budget is skewed in favor of Higher education vis-a-vis Elementary education.  The 2009 Right to Education Act (RTE) marked a serious attempt to make education universal. This has spurred Literacy drive. Literacy is currently at 74 with Kerala leading with 94%. Muslim illiteracy is the highest at 42% The Indian criteria for literacy is defined in the 2011 India census as “a person aged seven and above who can both read and write with understanding in any language”. UNESCO defines Literacy as “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.”

What is needed today, as a starting point, is NOT just Literacy but BASIC EDUCATION for all citizens. Amartya Sen, the Indian Nobel Laureate has convincingly demonstrated the link between Poverty and Education in his contributions to Welfare Economics. The sooner we attain this goal, the sooner we can expect enrichment of the Indian citizen’s life and the country’s national growth and prosperity. We have the Technical means of achieving this. What is needed is the political will, the allocation of resources and the community drive to make this possible.  

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