Modern madrasas: changing attitudes towards women in Bangladesh

Modern madrasas: changing attitudes towards women in Bangladesh

Modern madrasas: changing attitudes towards women in Bangladesh

The values Islamic religious schools promote through the conservative attitudes of their teachers have implications for development in Muslim countries. The ‘modernisation’ of madrasas in Bangladesh since the early 1980s provides a good context for examining whether attitudes towards gender equality and democracy have changed.

A study from Queen Elizabeth House at the University of Oxford in the UK, looks at the social impact of areform programme in government-registered Islamic religious schools, or madrasas,  in Bangladesh. Theauthors use new data on teachers and female graduates from rural Bangladesh toexplore variation in attitudes across secondary schools and modernised madrasastowards working mothers, higher education for girls, and political regimes.

Religious education in Muslim countries hasattracted negative publicity because of perceived links with extremism. Criticsallege Islamic religious schools increase intolerance and cause frictionbecause of the values they inculcate in graduates. Few studies have looked intoeconomic attitudes and social values as post-schoolingoutcomes of religious schools. In particular, little is known of the attitudesof teachers and students towards social and economic issues such as theparticipation of women in the labour force.

The main features of the reform programme arechanges in the curriculum and the introduction of female teachers to registeredmadrasas. Thestudy found some evidence that student attitudes varied according to schooltype and teacher attitudes:

  • Madrasa graduates are less in favour of higher educationfor girls and working mothers, consider housewives best for raising children,and indicate a preference for large families.
  • Modernised religious education promotespro-democracy attitudes. While graduates express a preference for Islamic rule,graduates reject military dictatorships and favour democracy.
  • The attitudes of young people were linked to those of their teachers;those exposed to female or younger teachers had more favourable attitudestowards working women and democracy.

Governments workingto limit population growth and empower rural women by expanding post-primaryeducation face numerous challenges related to these findings. Further, graduates of the many non-registered madrasas aregiven little training in basic life skills and tend to be employed outside ofthe formal economy. The authors conclude that:

  • The female teachers employed in madrasa schools in rural Bangladeshtoday are key agents of change in the religious and secular education sector.
  • Younger teachers who are educated in reformed madrasas inspire a modernattitude among their students.
  • There is an urgent need for non-registered, unreformed madrasas toinclude subjects in their curricula that are relevant to the modern market.

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