Centre for Promotion of Sciences
CENTRE FOR PROMOTION OF SCIENCE
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
Centre for Promotion of Science was established on March 26, 1985, during the Vice Chancellorship of Mr. Saiyid Hamid, under Section 5(2) (c) of Aligarh Muslim University Amendment Act, 1981 which empowers the University to promote Science Education especially in Muslim Institutions of India. Noted Physicist Prof Israr Ahmad was the founding Director of the Center.
The Indian Muslims, though a minority in the country, are substantial in numbers - about 200 million. It is a well-established fact that they are not only economically weak but also quite backward in modern education, particularly in sciences. If this situation is allowed to persist it is going to hinder and retard the progress of this country. In these days of the explosion of scientific knowledge and its expanding frontiers, with numerous consequential technological spin-offs, no nation can afford to have such a huge chunk of its population uneducated in science and technology. We have to seriously address this problem to avoid disastrous consequences.
For the past several centuries the intellectual activity of the Muslim community has been mainly confined to literature, religious studies and a few subjects in social sciences. The tradition of scientific pursuits has been lacking. Consequently, the realization of the ever-growing importance of knowledge of physical, biological, mathematical and technical sciences is lacking.
A vast majority of Muslim students acquire their school education in either Madrasa or in Muslim managed secular schools (usually in Urdu medium). In the former, the emphasis is on religious education only and science teaching is almost non-existent, while in the later science education is in very bad shape due to lack of qualified and committed teachers and proper laboratories. Only a small fraction of Muslim students are fortunate enough to go to public schools and acquire quality education in contemporary subjects.
To focus attention on this backwardness in science education and to take a small step towards its mitigation, Aligarh Muslim University established the Centre for Promotion of Science in 1985, under the provisions of its Act. This small Centre is an extension service of the University. The main objectives of the Centre are:
- To create awareness amongst Indian Muslims of the importance of acquiring and creating scientific knowledge and to provide possible help to minimize their backwardness in sciences.
- To help in the introduction of regular science teaching in Madrasas and in the improvement of the quality of science education in Muslim schools.
Various programmes are organized by the Centre to achieve these aims. The backbone of these being the teacher-training programmes like the organization of Introductory Science Courses and Training Courses for Madrasa teachers, Subject Refresher Courses, Workshops, Courses on use of computers in teaching etc. Apart from other activities, till now the Centre has organized 15 Introductory Science Courses (of 12 days duration) for Madrasa teachers and 03 Conferences of Ulemas, teachers, scientists and educationists.
Teachers from all over India participate in these activities. Recently the number of applications for attending these Courses has significantly increased. Apart from providing all support for attending these Courses, the participants are given lecture notes, course material and books on science published by the Centre and certificates of participation.
In spite of several limitations, the Centre has established its credibility and has helped in creating awareness and interest in acquiring science education in Madrasas. The Centre-Madrasa interaction has also helped in removing some of the initial misgivings and fears regarding the teaching of science in Madrasas. The work of the Centre has won the recognition by the University Grants Commission through its "Hari Om Ashram Trust Award for the interaction between science and society".
Impediments and Misgivings about the Science Education in Madrasas: Perception of Madrasas
The introduction of science and mathematics teaching in Madrasa is a formidable task. Our experience through interaction with Madrasas has brought out the following difficulties from their viewpoint:
- There is a fear that the inclusion of science in the curricula of Madrasas will dilute their main thrust, which is on religious education.
- The education in Madrasas is imparted with the objective of making their students good human beings by inculcating moral and ethical values of Islam. This requires a commitment arising out of faith. They feel that to educate Muslims, one cannot divorce Islam from its educational objectives as secular Muslim institutions tend to do.
- The influence of western secular civilization would increase with its attending evils. The students of Madrasas would be exposed to the same undesirable social traits (from Islamic perspective) as is evident in students of secular institutions. Irreligiousness would spread.
- The syllabus of Madrasas would have to be redesigned with cuts in teaching hours of conventional subjects to make room for contemporary education. Many Madrasas, though willing to introduce science education, are reluctant to make these cuts.
- Introduction of science teaching would encroach upon the time required for the training of students to be qualified religious functionaries.
- The Madrasas would not be able to preserve their unique, Islamic ethical values and traditions.
- Autonomy of individual Madrasas may be compromised if a government supported common curriculum, or a Central Board of Madrasa Education, is imposed.
- A section of Madrasas is of the view that acquiring religious education is compulsory for all muslims (Farz-e-Ain) whereas acquiring contemporary scientific education is optional (Farz-e-Kifayah) and so it is enough if only some muslims acquire it.
Major Practical Difficulties in the Introduction of Science Education: Perception of Centre for Promotion of Science
Apart from ideological and psychological difficulties, we feel that the major practical difficulties in the implementation of science teaching programmes are:
- The teaching methodology in Madrasas is descriptive and memory based whereas science teaching encourages questioning and lays emphasis on knowledge obtained through observation.
- Teaching in Madrasas is mostly book based rather than content based.
- Appropriate science text books and teachers' guides are not easily available perhaps because designing science courses for Madrasas and production of teaching material are not easy tasks.
- Lack of availability of qualified teachers for science and mathematics in Madrasas who may be willing to teach in small towns where most of the Madrasas are located.
- The disparities in the salaries of science teachers in other schools and Madrasa teachers (who are usually paid very low salaries).
- Over-loaded existing syllabi in Madrasas.
- Lack of financial resources for facilities for science laboratories, science kits and other resource material.
- The attitude of many Ulemas and heads of Madrasas towards science education is not very positive. There may be an element of fear of inadequacy in handling thecomplexities of modern education and consequent changes in the traditional modes of teaching. Some of them may be even afraid of losing their privileged positions.
- Lack of proper survey work to collect scientific data on the status of science education in Madrasas and its statistical analysis to draw proper inferences.
The Approach Adopted by the Centre for the Introduction of Science Education in Madrasas
The main idea is to help the Madrasas help themselves to bring about the necessary changes. This is essential for a development that can be sustained. The changes have to be brought from within and should not be forced from outside. The teaching of science has to be taken up by the teachers of Madrasas themselves. The Centre focuses on steps to motivate the Madrasas as well as individual teachers to take up science education. It also provides concrete help through teacher-training programmes and production of science resource material in Urdu. The salient features of our interaction with Madrasas involve the following:
- Maintenance of regular contacts with Madrasas mainly through correspondence and through the teachers who attend our Courses and Conferences.
- Convincing them that modernization of education in Madrasas does not mean compromising faith and that Madrasas can be modernized within the framework of Islam.
- Reminding them that science is the common heritage of all mankind to which muslims, in the past, had contributed significantly, and helped bring enlightenment to the West. This tradition has to be re-established.
- Explaining that antagonism of science and religion is a Western tradition and has nothing to do with Islam. In fact, Islam lays great emphasis on acquiring education.
- Pointing out that inviting others to Islam would be ineffective unless it is in the context and jargon of contemporary world.
- Trying to convince them that this Centre is aware of the importance of Madrasas and is alive to their sensitivities in preserving the character of their institutions, though we may differ from their old-fashioned syllabi and method of teaching.
- Convincing the Madrasas that voice of credible individuals and organisations that are genuinely interested in the development of Madrasa education be seriously taken into account by redesigning their curricula and introducing science teaching.
- Pointing out that the education of muslims, involves not only the "word of God" (i.e. Quran) but also the "work of God" (i.e. scientific knowledge of the universe).
- Production of suitable science resource material in Urdu for use in Madrasas and its distribution amongst prospective science teachers of Madrasas.
- Organization of regular training courses for Madrasa teachers for teaching science.
- Organization of Computer Courses for training teachers for use in teaching and in everyday life.
- Development of a library with science resource material (in print and electronic from) for targeted schools and Madrasas.
Summary of Information Extracted from the Responses Received from the Madrasas
The Centre mailed various questionnaires to Madrasas, with which it had some contact, from time to time, seeking information on various aspects of their set up. Responses from 192 Madrasas have been received over several years (out of about 1400 Madrasas to which questionnaires were sent).
It needs to be pointed out that this data is not the outcome of proper and scientifically conducted survey, nor is it treated as such, and has therefore not been statistically analysed. It merely provides empirical information to draw some tentative and general conclusions regarding the status of science education in Madrasas:
- Assuming that only those Madrasas have responded that are interested in science education, about 13% (of those contacted) are involved in teaching science.
- There is a definite trend of inclusion of science teaching in Madrasas during the last ten years (much before Sept 11, 2001). After 1992, this percentage is about 56% of those responded.
- About 33% of Madrasas have reported teaching science from the very beginning.
- There is a significant number of Madrasas (about 50% of those responded) that are teaching science upto class X.
- About 14% of Madrasas have between 6-10 teachers teaching science and about 90% Madrasas have upto 5 teachers teaching science.
- Most of Madrasas where science teaching has been introduced in the last 10 years are small or medium sized in terms of student strength.
- The need of a specific and scientifically conducted survey is evident. The statistical analysis of such a survey will enable us to draw firm conclusions about the various aspects of science teaching in Madrasas.
The Need and Role of Madrasas
Islam is a revealed religion. Its two main sources are the Holy Quran and Sunnah (the traditions of Prophet Muhammad). These are sacred for believers and provide detailed instructions for the various aspects of human life. For believers it is, therefore, essential to learn and to be able to interpret the revealed knowledge properly. That is the philosophy behind the establishment of the Madrasas.
It is important to accept Madrasas as a part of religious traditions of muslims. They cannot be wished away. Their role in providing free education (though old fashioned) with boarding and lodging facilities to muslim masses needs to be recognized. Traditionally Madrasas have helped youngsters from poor families to acquire education and become disciplined and useful members of the society instead of becoming wayward. They playa constructive role in the pluralistic society of India which should be appreciated. They are educating a very large number of muslims. Therefore, their role in providing contemporary education to muslims is crucial.
The teachers of Madrasas have some outstanding traits that are rare among the teachers from secular schools. They adhere to high moral principles, are dedicated, selfless and lead simple pious lives. We find that the teachers who attend our Courses are very enthusiastic about learning new things especially through laboratory demonstrations. Another noteworthy feature of Madrasas is that the dropout rate of Madrasa students is negligible.
One can differ with the syllabi and the method of teaching in Madrasas but cannot accuse them of being engaged in any anti-national and subversive activities. Most of these cater to underprivileged sections of the society and have to be helped.
To sum up, the Centre for Promotion of Science feels that, in the cause of introducing science education in Madrasas, the following points need to be addressed:
- The task of introducing science education and sustaining it in large number of Madrasas is gigantic as well as crucial. It requires concerted efforts of much bigger organizations (than this Centre) with resources, suitable manpower and commitment to match the task. Efforts on the production of suitable science teaching material and teachers' guides are essential for sustaining science education in Madrasas.
- It is important for the organizations involved in this task to establish their credibility and credentials vis-a.-vis Madrasas by showing genuine interest in their educational system and problems. They should provide all possible help to the Madrasas in bringing about the necessary changes in their system of education themselves within their paradigm of life.
- It will be more practical to make efforts to initiate science teaching programmes without trying to change the system too much.
- Appropriate methodology of teaching science in Madrasas, using Islamic experiences, has to be developed and used.
- It is encouraging to note that science teaching has been taken up by Madrasas though the pace is rather slow. This initial stage has teething problems where encouragement and help is essential.
Along with science education, there is great need and acceptability for vocational training programmes within the Madrasa system.