Challenging Myths About Madrasah (Madarsah) Education in Pakistan, 2004

Religious schools (madaris)* in Pakistan have drawn considerable international attention. There are concerns that at least some of these institutions foster religious extremism and terrorism. But reliable data about madaris in Pakistan are scarce, especially concerning levels of enrolment and reasons for choosing madaris.
Madarsah enrolment among school-going children aged 5-9 years.
In 2004 CIET analysed madarsah enrolment data collected from 53,960 households in Pakistan. We did this at the same time as a more general survey about views, use and experience of public services. We also explored parents’ reasons for choosing to send children to madaris in 853 community focus groups.This allowed us to examine some of the beliefs and myths about madarsah enrolment in Pakistan on the basis of a large representative national sample. Findings from this study have been published in Cockcroft, A., et al., Challenging the myths about madaris in Pakistan: A national household survey of enrolment and reasons for choosing religious schools. Int. J. Educ. Dev.2009; 29:342-349.
In 2004, 2.6% of all children (3.8% of school-going children) aged 5-9 years attended a madarsah, with a small increase between 2002 and 2004. CIET examined five commonly held beliefs about madaris in Pakistan:
Myth 1. Only the poorest families send their children to madaris.
Our findings suggest that poverty does not necessarily push towards choosing a madarsah. Many government schools in Pakistan now offer incentives to students, including free oil or flour, free books, free uniforms, and stipends for girl students. Thus poor families may find as much support from the local government school as from the local madarsah.
Myth 2. Madearis are mostly for boys.
There was no difference by sex of the child. Girls were better represented in madaris than in other Pakistani schools.

Myth 3. Madaris are an urban phenomenon.

Our findings show variability among Pakistan’s four provinces. There was higher urban madarsah enrolment in Sindh and Balochistan. However, in Punjab there was little difference in madarsah enrolment between urban and rural sites. And in Northwest Frontier Province, with the lowest proportion of urban dwellers, there was more madarsah enrolment in rural sites.

Myth 4. Uneducated families send their children to madaris.

We found that, taking other factors into account, a child from a household with a head who had some formal education was less likely to be enrolled in a madarsah, but the difference was very small.

Myth 5. Parents choose madaris because they have no other option.

Our study provides strong evidence that parents usually choose a madarsah for positive reasons, rather than for want of a better option or because they could only afford an institution which provided free education and incentives. The reason is most frequently that parents want their child to have an Islamic education.

This study was supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The views expressed here and in the article cited are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of DFID.

*Madaris (plural for madarsah) range from small local institutions, a room or two attached to the local mosque, to large boarding institutions that accommodate hundreds of students. Children may attend as full time students or in the evenings or Fridays to learn the Quran. The information we collected from households about madarsah enrolment covers only those children who get their full education from a madarsah; it does not include those attending government and private schools who also attend madaris for religious education classes.