PESHAWAR, Aug 26: After mushroom growth of seminaries, organised religious groups and some alleged extremist outfits are now making significant inroads into the education sector by opening and operating English medium schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata to compete with the conventional private educational institutions.
According to some educationists, religious groups changed their strategy and focused attention on English medium schools, vocational institutions and universities when seminaries came into limelight and were blamed for producing extremists.
The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Tanzeemul Madaris (Barelvi) have set up separate bodies for overseeing their affiliated English medium educational institutions.
Maulana Abdul Malik, head of JI-affiliated Rabitatul Madaris in Mansoora, Lahore, said that a body with the name of Dar-i-Arqam had been established to look after English medium schools.
He said that around 150 private schools were functioning in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under the supervision of Dar-i-Arqam.
Besides it, two more JI-affiliated chains — Hira and Iqra — have also their networks of schools and colleges.
The Barelvi school of thought is also running English medium schools and colleges across the country. According to Maulana Fazl Jamil, the sect is running network of private schools under the supervision of four different bodies — AIMS, Mustafvi Model Schools, Muslim Hands and Minhajul Quran.
Jamaat ud Dawa is also running about 30 English medium schools in the province, but it has a bigger network in Punjab.
JI has taken lead over other religious organisations and sects in education sector. The party has one medical college and one dental college in Peshawar with full-fledged teaching facilities.
In addition, well-off persons and families affiliated with JI and other religious groups have set up universities, vocational and technical colleges.
The number of English medium schools in the province is around 5,500 compared with the number of registered seminaries that is 7,400.
However, information reveals that the number of English medium schools is increasing as religious groups have started intervention in the modern education system.
Some educationists say that religious sects’ intervention in private sector education of the country will be very dangerous for a polarised society, which has already been divided on sectarian grounds.
The acting vice-chancellor of University of Peshawar, Dr Qibla Ayaz, expressing reservations over mushroom growth of seminaries and educational institutions, run by different sects, said that it was responsibility of the state to provide education to people.
“When state fails then other groups start filling the vacuum which is very dangerous,” he observed.
He strongly opposed intervention of religious groups in education system, saying those groups were basically indoctrinating children instead of educating them.
“Opening of education institutions by religious groups or by their affiliates would further divide the society instead of cohesion,” said Dr Qibla Ayaz, who also teaches Seerat Studies at the university.
A senior official, while commenting on the issue, said that English medium schools run by religious organisations were producing graduates, who were basically mullahs, but they wore three-piece suits.
Inclination towards religious education has not decreased in the region. Few years ago there were only few hundreds registered seminaries in the province. The provincial industries department had registered 300 seminaries by April 2005 and the figure rose to 2,450 in May 2006. But now the number has reached 7,400.
Maulana Fazl Jamil, provincial chief of Tanzeemul Madaris Board, said that abject poverty, a chance of free education and growing anti-Americanism were major factors owing to which number of seminaries in the region had considerably increased.
Wafaqul Madaris al Arabia Pakistan, which regulates seminaries of Deobandi school of thought in the country, has the largest network of seminaries in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.
Wafaqul Madarris (Deobandi) Board, according to a list, has enlisted 3,395 seminaries both for males and females in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata having 556,199 students.
Tanzeemul Madaris (Barelvi) Board is managing some 600 seminaries in the province with roughly 50,000 students while JI-affiliated Rabitatul Madaris Board has 500 seminaries with 50,000 students.
Shia and Ahle Hadit have also separate boards for managing affairs of their affiliated religious institutions. Both sects have small number of seminaries. Jamaat ud Dawa, a charity body-cum-jihadi outfit, has around 50 seminaries in the province.
Seminaries attached with all sects are being run on donations, Zakat and Ushr, but fee is collected from students in their English medium schools. The provincial government provides Rs20 million grant annually through Auqaf and religious affairs department to registered seminaries.
But the department has no data of the registered and unregistered seminaries and number of students and teachers there. Minister for Religious Affairs Namroz Khan said that his department had no record of the seminaries.
Home Secretary Mohammad Azam Khan said that the issue came under discussion in cabinet meeting and it was proposed to maintain proper record of seminaries.
Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal government through department of schools and literacy had conducted survey of seminaries in 2005 that put the number of seminaries in the province at 4,680 having 183,140 students including females.
Seminaries functioning in Fata are unregistered because government is yet to extend Societies Act to the area. A cell has been set up in the directorate of education, Fata to enlist seminaries in the area. Officials said that 318 seminaries were enlisted in Fata and government had allocated Rs9.6 million in 2011-12 to provide assistance to those seminaries.
About 48,318 students have been enrolled in these enlisted seminaries. Under the project some of the enlisted seminaries have been provided teaching staff, computers and other basic facilities. A hostel for girl students studying in a seminary in South Waziristan Agency has also been constructed.