Jul 12, 2010

Education: The Most Powerful Antidote Part 2

Comparing Education Systems: Pakistan and Indonesia

International security issues due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and wars in the Middle East have placed madaris under scrutiny. Madaris often bear the brunt of the blame when it comes to identifying sources of radicals and terrorists as militaristic education often breeds narrow, extremist worldviews. In a recent publication issued by The Brookings Institution, Corinne Graff and Rebecca Winthrop argue that while there is a clear link between madaris and militancy in the extremist epicenter of Pakistan, there is a need to look at the bigger picture and identify the flaws in the Pakistani education system as a whole.

Many madaris continue to have established links with suicide terrorists and groups such as Sipha-e-Sahaba—however, only a tiny fraction of Pakistani students attend madaris. According to The Brookings Institution, 65% attend public schools, 30% attend private schools and about 5% attend madaris. These statistics dispel the myth of widespread madrasah attendance. Furthermore, the fact that more parents are choosing to send their children to private schools raises alarming questions about the quality of public school education in Pakistan. Graff and Winthrop also highlight the importance of enrollment rates: A study suggests that an increase in one year of average schooling of the population leads to a reduction of about 3.6% of likelihood of conflict.

Unlike the madaris in Pakistan, madaris in Indonesia operate with a national curriculum under the oversight of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Currently, there are about 40,000 madaris in Indonesia, of which around 4,000 are state-owned. The curriculum of primary (basic) and secondary education must include religious education, citizenship, languages, mathematics, natural science, social science, art and culture, physical education and sport, skills/vocational education, and local content. They teach the national curriculum and use extended hours for the purpose of religious education. This curriculum has been in effect since 2006, and students have been able to move freely between religious schools and national public schools due to the standardization.

The reason why madaris in Indonesia have been effective is because they are less expensive than public secondary schools and increase access to education for rural and urban lower- income communities. In addition to the added Islamic education, they have become an attractive option for parents and potential students. Therefore, many of these schools are supported by the local community, many of which are populated by Indonesians who live around or below the poverty line. Where madaris are unavailable, there are pesantrens, which are independent, self-governing Islamic schools. It has been noted that a number of Indonesian pesantrens teach a moderate form of Islam, one that encompasses Islamic mysticism or Sufism. Despite their independence from governmental oversight and stronger focus on Islamic knowledge, they still have to compete with madaris and other secular schools, and therefore many include subjects within the national curriculum.

Quality education comes with a curriculum that is relevant to the labor market while breeding good civic values and citizenship skills. Quality education should be available to all, or governments will run the risk of inflaming civilian grievances. There is a need to look at national education systems and adjust them so that they cater to the population’s needs and address broader security issues.

For Winthrop & Graff's article, please see: