Decolonizing Madrassa Reform in Pakistan


Pakistan has been engaged in the project of madrassa reform since the early days of its nationhood. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, successive Pakistani governments have introduced a series of reforms aimed at regulating and reforming the madrassa sector, but the repeated failure of these efforts suggests the presence of some systemic barrier to reform. This article looks at the history of the madrassa in South Asia under British rule, and raises the question of how this colonial experience has shaped madrassa reform in post-colonial Pakistan. It highlights three key policy interventions of the British in the education sector, namely the 1835 Minute of Lord Macaulay, the 1854 Educational Despatch of the Court of Directors of the East India Company, and the formal institutionalization of higher education, to show that the cumulative effect of these policies was the creation of an ideological binary which bifurcated the education system. It argues that by institutionalizing a singular conception of education, this colonial legacy has impacted key madrassa reform efforts undertaken by Pakistan in 1962, 1979 and 2001/02. The article concludes with a discussion of the necessity of decolonizing future reform efforts such as the national curriculum reform—the introduction of the Single National Curriculum—that Pakistan is currently embarking upon.
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