South Asia

Bangladesh plans $100m madrassa reform programme

Madrassa in Bangladesh
Image caption Thousands of people are educated by madrassas across Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi government is planning to integrate thousands of madrassas - or Islamic religious schools - into the mainstream education system.

In a $100m reform package, it wants to introduce a new syllabus to the institutions from next year.

Bangladesh has two types of madrassas - one sponsored by the government and the other financed by donors.

A few years ago there were concerns that some madrassas could be encouraging militant and hardline Islam.

The discovery of huge arms cache in a madrassa in 2009 in a remote village in the district of Bhola triggered fears of rise of militant Islam in Bangladesh.

Since then the government has taken a tough stance on militancy and leaders of many hardline groups have been arrested.

"As part of the new education policy we want to bring modern education to the madrassas side by side with the traditional madrassa education," Bangladeshi Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid told the BBC.

"We want to introduce subjects such as English, Bengali language, mathematics and information technology [to the madrassas]."

Bangladesh currently has two types of madrassas.

The Alia madrassas are sponsored by the government and Qaumi madrassas are financed by donors from inside Bangladesh and abroad.

"The new plan will apply only to the Alia madrassas and we are still in talks with the Qaumi madrassa officials to develop their institutions. We want the Qaumi madrassas also to introduce modern education," Mr Nahid said.

Officials say there are around 16,000 state-sponsored Alia madrassas in the country with around 5.5 million students. They are under the Bangladesh Madrassa Education Board.

'Modern education'

In addition, there around 10,000 Qaumi madrassas, which have more than a million students. These institutions survive on private donations and do not depend on any state support.

Image caption The government wants English and science to be studied in addition to the Koran

"We have asked the Qaumi madrassas to come out with their own proposals on how they want to relate their education to the modern system," Mr Nahid said.

"Under the existing system it is not possible for the students of these madrassas to compete in any examination for government posts. We want them to be an Islamic scholar and at the same time a skilled person with a modern education."

But the plans to revamp the madrassa syllabus have already attracted criticism from Qaumi madrassa officials.

"The government wants to modernise Alia madrassas, which means religious education will be destroyed," Muhammad Abdul Jabbar, Secretary-General of Qaumi Madrassa Board, told the BBC.

Bangladesh has already launched a programme to reform madrassas, including plans to introduce compulsory lessons in English and science in religious schools.

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