No reliable estimates are available of the number of madrasas in India and of their teachers and students. India probably has the largest number of traditional madrasas in the world, employing literally tens of thousands of teachers and with many times that number of students on their rolls. Despite this, no modern facilities exist anywhere in the country for training madrasa teachers. Most madrasa teachers simply enter madrasas after finishing a lengthy course in a madrasa that takes several years. Bereft of any sort of skilled training, many madrasa teachers, so the complaint is often heard, are not well equipped to deal with students or to introduce badly needed reforms in the curriculum and pedagogy of traditional madrasa education. This is one of the major reasons for what, besides others, even many clerics or ulema who run the madrasas themselves readily admit is the overall stagnation of India ’s traditional madrasa system.
It is in this context that the work of the Centre for the Professional Development of Urdu-Medium Teachers at the Hyderabad-based Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) assumes particular importance. Established two years ago, and funded by the University Grants Commission, the Centre has been working with heads and teachers of Urdu-medium madrasas in southern India to seek to promote reforms in teaching methods in madrasas as well as to help broaden the scope of traditional madrasa education.
Says Dr. Mazheruddin Farooqui, noted educationist and Urdu scholar who heads the Centre, ‘We don’t want to impose anything on the ulema of the madrasas from without. Change has to come from within. For this, it is crucial that we dialogue with them, and this is what we are trying to do. Madrasas must reform, but only with the consent of the ulema and in such a way as to enable madrasas to better fulfill their basic purpose of promoting good and effective religious and community leaders.’
Working with the ulema of the madrasas has not been easy. ‘Initially, many of the ulema we approached to come to our programmes were reluctant and suspicious,’ relates Farooqui. ‘They felt that the government wants to interfere in the madrasas in the name of reforming them. It was with considerable difficulty that we managed to convince them that our Centre has no such intentions and that we only want to help improve their teachers’ skills.’ ‘And now’, he adds, ‘the response is quite enthusiastic.’
So far, the Centre has organized eight madrasa teachers’ orientation workshops, in addition to eight others for heads and teachers of Urdu-medium schools. More than 400 teachers from madrasas in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala have participated in these workshops, where they have been exposed to such issues as modern teaching methods and teaching aids, inter-personal skills, students’ psychology, institutional organization and management and the need for expanding the scope of madrasa education to take into account contemporary needs and challenges.
Farooqui and his team of four have major plans for the Centre with regard to the madrasas. These include preparing, with the help of madrasa authorities, textbooks on new teaching methods for madrasa teachers, commissioning in-depth studies about madrasas and their problems, and conducting long-term orientation programmes, up to a month’s duration, for madrasa teachers. The University Grants Commission has provided a generous grant to the Centre to build a hostel which will be used by madrasa teachers attending these programmes.
Farooqui tells me excitedly about the proposal that his Centre has just submitted to launch a one-year diploma course in teaching, especially for madrasa teachers. This would be the first such initiative in the country. In order to make it easily accessible to madrasa students, most of whom come from poor family backgrounds, the fees have been kept nominal—a mere three hundred rupees for the entire programme.
‘We have structured the course in such a way as to provide students with an basic understanding of crucial issues subjects that they would need as would-be teachers, but which they get little exposure to in the madrasas’, Farooqui says. These subjects include the history of the development of madrasas in India , their role in promoting knowledge of Urdu, the interface between madrasas and the wider society and important facets of Indian society, besides more technical aspects of modern pedagogy and relations between students and teachers.
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