Why are madrasas gaining more pupils amid a fall in number of school students

Educationists see a link between the growing number of madrasa students and the prolonged financial squeeze

Kazi Nafia Rahman, Staff Correspondent
Published : 1 April 2024, 04:25 AM
Updated : 1 April 2024, 04:25 AM

Sadeka Jahan Apsara, a girl living in Mirpur-12, studied up to Class Six at the conventional MDC Model Institute school and then transferred to Dhaka Ideal Cadet Madrasa in Rupnagar this year.

Madrasas in the country have seen an influx of students like Apsara in recent years, which has increased the range of education in this medium.

According to government statistics, the number of students in government-controlled Alia madrasas in primary and secondary classes has increased by a little over 250,000 in a span of four years.

The data gathered by the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics or BANBEIS does not include Qawmi madrasas.

The data shows that the number of secondary school students decreased by more than 1 million during the same period.

Delwar Hossain, headmaster of a madrasa in Gazipur, commented: "Earlier, we had to go door to door to find students, but now many students are coming to the madrasa."

DATA

According to BANBEIS data, the number of schools and colleges in the country has increased continuously in the last decade and a half. The number of madrasas has instead decreased.

Despite this, the number of students at madrasas continues to rise. In 2019, there were 2.4 million students in madrasas. In 2023, the number increased to 2.75 million.

The number of students at technical education institutions has also risen from 700,000 to 750,000 in this period.

At the same time, the number of students in secondary schools decreased from 9.23 million to 8.16 million.

Of the 1 million students who have left schools, 300,000 have been admitted to madrasas and technical education institutions.

The remaining 700,000 have apparently dropped out. However, BANBEIS figures show dropouts have decreased by 3 percent during this period.

PANDEMIC AND ECONOMIC CRISIS

The country's education system has undergone a number of major changes at a time when it has had to deal with the multifaceted shock of the COVID pandemic.

Due to the epidemic, all educational institutions in the country were closed for one and a half years from Mar 18, 2020. And immediately after COVID, the Russia-Ukraine war put pressure on the country's economy. In addition, poor economic management has made it difficult for many people to reconcile income and expenditure.

Experts are seeing a link between increasing interest in madrasa education and the prolonged economic crisis.

According to the Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2023, 40.72 percent of people in the age group of 5 to 24 years are still out of education in the country. This number has increased dramatically in the last three years.

During this period, the number of students leaving educational institutions increased at least fivefold. Although this trend has decreased slightly, data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics says that the dropout rate in 2023 was 9.36 percent.

A 2022 study by the BRAC Institute of Educational Development also showed a decrease in enrolment in primary schools while the rate increased in madrasas.

The madrasas did what the government was supposed to do during this crisis period, believes sociology Professor Sadeka Halim.

"People's income has decreased since the coronavirus pandemic. Many became unemployed. Many could not afford the cost of education. To balance that, parents stopped sending their children to school. They sent the children to madrasas."

The Jagannath University vice-chancellor said that even the school established by her grandfather in Cumilla was not getting enough students, as the financial condition of the people in the area weakened.

"Many madrasas have residential facilities or orphanages. These madrassas act like daycare centres for the day labourer parents."

Sadeka feels that schools should also have residential facilities like madrasas.

Educationist Syed Manzoorul Islam also thinks that students have been able to continue their studies even during the time of the coronavirus in many madrasas because of the residential system.

And since there is no opportunity to support poor families in general education, they are leaning towards madrasa education.

According to him, the crisis created during the pandemic was not addressed by mainstream schools.

"Our schools do not provide the same facilities as madrasas do. Madrasas, not schools, are a reliable place for our poor families."

The professor emeritus of Dhaka University said that the activities of madrasas can be an example in the management of educational institutions.

He said, "Private tutoring is not required in madrasas. Many families are in debt due to the amount of tuition they have to pay in the Bangla-medium school system for the SSC exams. Madrasas don't have this problem."

"All the lessons are taught in madrasas. That was the basic purpose of education. What will be taught, should be taught in school. But now the syndicates of private coaching centres and guidebook publishers earn billions of taka."

Prof Manzoorul said that madrasas are also breaking barriers to higher education. "Some madrasas teach English, computers and everything else. Madrasa education has achieved a fair standard."

He also thinks conservative ideas are leading parents to send their children to madrasas.

"Many families think that sending their children to madrasas is a religious act."

"Teachers often beat up students in madrasas to discipline them, which many parents consider a good thing."

WHAT PARENTS SAY

Apsra's father, Sadekur Rahman, claims that her interest in studies has 'diminished' because she could not understand the new curriculum. She now feels relieved after being sent to a madrasa.

The same curriculum is being implemented in the madrasa system.

When asked how Apsara was adapting there, Sadekur said, "I was not studying in school; I was forced to go to the madrasa. They do a lot of explaining. The lessons are taught and completed in the classroom. There is no pressure to study at home, and there is no need for a private teacher."

Mahmudul Hasan Hasib, the father of Jannatun Naeem, a 10th-grade student at Daulatganj Gazi Murad Kamil Madrasa in Cumilla's Laksam, said: "The traditional education system does not exist in madrasas anymore. The students can learn worldly things and apply for university admission or good jobs while learning about the afterlife. So, what's wrong with it?"

Many people said watching Waz or Islamic lectures online made them interested in madrasa education.

The three children of Rakibul Islam from Birhaulia village in Pabna's Faridpur are studying in a madrasa because he wanted to give them an Islamic education.

Rakibul said, "We want our children to know Allah and the Quran so that they can live according to the Quran. Madrasas also give general education."

According to Professor Mamunur Rahman, director of the Institute of Islamic Education and Research, Islamic University, there is a growing interest in madrasa education because of the religious perspective.

"A family educates its child wherever it thinks best to build their future. Here, the perspective of the parents is paramount."

INCREASING FACILITIES IN MADRASAS

The BANBEIS survey found madrasas have far fewer trained teachers than schools. However, in the last four years, the number of trained teachers in madrasas has increased by about five percent.

As many as 88.02 percent of schools now have computer facilities, up from 87.32 percent in 2019. On the other hand, in 2019, 82.95 percent of madrasas had computer facilities, which has increased to 84.21 percent.

However, internet and multimedia facilities are relatively less in schools.

In 2019, 80.83 percent of schools had internet access, now it has dropped to 75.57 percent. And the multimedia facility decreased from 78.84 percent to 73.47 percent.

On the other hand, the number of madrasas with an internet connection has risen from 75.05 percent to 89.94 percent. Multimedia facilities in madrasas increased from 66.79 percent to 69.22 percent.

Chengna Girls Dakhil Madrasa in Kapasia, Gazipur, has computer facilities as well as IT teachers.

Delwar Hossain, head teacher of the institution, says that their students can now learn computers in madrasas, with an opportunity to learn about modern information technology and science.

Amir Hossain, principal of Itakhola Senior Fazil Madrasa, Madhavpur, Habiganj, says that the thought of life after death from 'Muslim sentiment' encourages many to study in madrasas.

He said, "Many parents are thinking that their children will grow up with Muslim traditions and values if they study in a madrasa."

This teacher said that in the last few years, the number of students in his madrasa has increased by 8-20 percent. Children of poor families are able to study because of the residential facility, treatment, and education for 70 students in the residential orphanage of the institution.

He said, "The madrasa has a digital lab. Infrastructural development has taken place. Again, students' tuition fees and expenses are low.

One of the leading Madrasahs in the country is Al Jamiatul Falahiya Kamil Madrasa of Feni.

Its Principal Farooq Ahmad said that they have more than 4,500 students. He does not think an increase in the number of madrasa students is something abnormal.

Farooq thinks that many people are turning to madrasas for better opportunities in higher education and jobs. He asked to take into account the increase in religious interest and economic pressure.

Assistant Professor Mohammad Abul Kashem of Ghazalia Kalua Alim Madrasa in Paikgacha, Khulna claims that the interest of parents in madrasas is also increasing the quality of education in these institutions.

"The government has taken various steps to modernise madrasa education. Now the madrasa teachers are also trained, so that they can teach the students better."