Introduction to Madrasas
According to the report, the significant presence of large number of religious schools makes the education sector in Bangladesh unique. The religious education sector comprises both registered madrasas, known as Aliyah madrasas, as well as independent unregistered madrasas, known as Quomi madrasas. Aliyah madrasas provide modern general education alongside Islamic education and most of these madrasas operate as co-educational schools.
Reform in Madrasas
Bangladesh has a long history of pragmatic reforms of madrasas at the secondary level. The Government of Bangladesh made a decision to allow private madrasas to receive public funding provided that the madrasa, officially registered under a unified Madrasa Board, included modern subjects in its curriculum, and opened its admission to girls. Today, most of these madrasas operate as co-educational institutions and follow state-approved curriculum where alongside religious matters, students are educated in Mathematics, English, and Science.
Despite some positive changes, there are concerns about the madrasa sector in Bangladesh. Much remains unknown about the relative quality of these schools and in particular the incidence and quality of the unregistered madrasas.
To bridge this gap in knowledge, the World Bank sponsored the study “Secondary School Madrasas in Bangladesh: Incidence, Quality, and Implications for Reform”. The report presents findings from the first ever comprehensive survey to document the incidence and quality of secondary level madrasas in Bangladesh. The findings from the study would be helpful to systematically address a wide range of policy questions through a careful comparison of three broad classes of providers in the secondary education – registered schools, privately owned registered Aliyah madrasas offering modern curriculum and unregistered Quomi madrasas.
Quality Differences between Institutions in rural Bangladesh
The report highlights the importance of adopting a much more nuanced approach when addressing the issue of quality in secondary education in Bangladesh.
The study finds that students of Aliyah madrasas underachieve in Mathematics and English when compared to those from other non-government secondary schools. However, the difference in average student achievement in Mathematics between Aliyah madrasas and secondary schools is rather small. This means that the overall quality of education in rural secondary sector, both in mainstream schools and Aliyah madrasas, is poor.
Alongside Aliyah madrasas, mainstream schools must be targeted to raise the level of learning. Another important finding of the study is the large gender gap in achievement in all aspects of learning – Mathematics, English, Islam and general knowledge. Again, these gaps are bigger in the madrasas. Therefore, whilst Ailyah madrasas have already promoted female education, they need to do more by narrowing the gender gap in learning.
There is a huge variation in what is being taught and how it is being organized in madrasa. About 95% of the madrasas offer some combination of subjects such as Bangla, Mathematics and English. At the same time, 26% do not teach English whilst 56% do not offer Mathematics.
Prevalence of Madrasas
The enrollment share for registered Aliyah madrasa at the secondary level is 19%. The study reveals that share of unregistered Quomi madrasas is low in terms of enrollment and accounts for only 2.2% of the total secondary enrollment. Interestingly, the physical presence of the Quomi Madrasas is quite high compared to the enrollment that it draws.
Overall, this report represents an empirically grounded investigation into the undocumented changes Bangladesh has witnessed in the secondary madrasa school sector in the past two decades. Based on their analysis, the authors suggest a range of policy initiatives that cover the entire secondary education sector, not just madrasa education.
Some key recommendations:
- The report stresses that quality of schooling in rural Bangladesh is low regardless of institution type. Innovative ways to link substantial public resources to aid private institutions, religious or otherwise, with concurrent improvements in numeracy and literacy skills has to be implemented.
- The quality gap between public-aided secondary schools and Aliyah madrasas needs to be reduced. The discussion on quality should not only be about Aliyahs raising their standards to match schools – both have to be held accountable to improving basic numeracy and literacy skills.
- A more nuanced policy discussion regarding madrasas reform is needed. Distinction has to be drawn between registered and unregistered madrasas not only for syntactic reasons but also for policy relevance.
- There is a need to empirically anchor the debate about madrasa reform in the metrics of learning outcomes. Currently there is no systematic assessment of basic literacy and numeracy skills. Learning assessments will help to address other important issues such as gender and regional disparities as well.