By Namini Wijedasa
The Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Ministry has presented to the Government a bill called the Madrasa Education Regulatory Act that seeks to set up a Board with powers of regulation, registration, supervision, control and development of education within Madrasas in Sri Lanka.
The Sunday Times obtained a copy of the draft which is seen as a move towards addressing a longstanding vacuum in Madrasa regulation. The Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department said this week that there were 1,675 Quran Madrasas across 24 districts in the country.
The only district without one is Kilinochchi, which also does not have Arabic Colleges or Ahadiya (Sunday) schools. The highest number of 344 is in the Ampara district, followed by Colombo which has 161 and Batticaloa 148. Arabic colleges are also most numerous in the Ampara district, with 42, followed by Puttalam with 38 and Kandy 28.
The Madrasa Education Regulatory Act envisages the creation of a Madrasa Education Board comprising nine Muslim members to advise the Minister on policy matters. “The power of regulation, registration, supervision, control, development and improvement of Madrasa education in Sri Lanka shall vest in the Board.”
It has a separate provision that states that an employee of an affiliated Madrasa “shall not take part in, or subscribe in aid of, or assist in any way, any movement or any activities tending directly or indirectly to excite disaffection against the Government as by law established, or to promote feelings of hatred or enmity between different communities of citizens of Sri Lanka, or to disturb the peace and order”. The Madrasa Education Board shall cause the registration of all Madrasas, Arabic Colleges or other such institutions teaching Quran, Arabic language, Islamiat–that is, Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, Kalam, Usul, M’aqulat, Faraid and relevant subjects–whether incorporated or not. None of them would be permitted to function unless registered under the proposed law.
The Board members will include three Islamic theologians with expertise in Madrasa education; three eminent persons with “considerable experience” in education; representatives of the Ministries of Education and of Skills Development; and the Director of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs. The Registrar, Controller of Examinations and the Inspector of Madrasas are among the public officers to be appointed.
The Board will have power to grant or withhold or withdraw registration from a Madrasa based on its compliance of standards set out in a quality assurance manual. It could prescribe curricula and recommend examinations and assessments; prescribe criteria for the annual students intake based on needs; and develop and promote studies in humanities including Arabic language and literature, Islamic history, Sri Lankan history, Sinhala and English languages and culture.
A quality assurance manual will be developed with details of registration procedure, student admissions, regular monitoring, qualifications of teaching staff, courses delivered as per curriculum, and basic infrastructure requirements.
The Board could grant certificates, diplomas and higher national diplomas to persons who have passed its examinations and also withdrew these if required. It could hold and manage endowments and award scholarships, stipends, medals and prizes. And it could liaise with the Ministries of Education, Higher Education and Skills Development to improve Madrasa instruction.
The Act will also set up a Madrasa Fund to accept all grants, donations, gifts, contribution and bequests made to or in favour of the Fund.
At present, there is no serious oversight of Madrasas which have mushroomed around the country in recent years. The syllabuses are not unified and the ones offered by Arabic Colleges are in Arabic. They are only looked at by the Department during registration. There is no monitoring or review process.
The Muslim authorities also recognised that the products of these religious schools and Arabic Colleges were not suited to the job market, said M R M Malik, Director of the Department. In 2017, the Ministry set up an expert committee to look at whether a national examination could be conducted based on a unified syllabus under the Examinations Department but the plan did not reach fruition.
The opening of so many religious schools is also facilitated by West Asian donors who believe the most merit is earned from funding water projects, facilities for fatherless children and religious institutions like mosques and Madrasas.
Government MPs have in the meantime asked the Madrasas to be brought under the Education Ministry.