Meet the Creator: The Bangladeshi Scholar Who Has Developed a Religious-Secular Subject

Education is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life. What they learn in their early years sets them up for a successful life and this highly depends on traditional education, ie. maths, english etc. as well as practical life skills. But do systems around the world take that into consideration when developing their curriculums? All around the globe, children are taught foundational skills throughout their time at school, but depending on which country you’re in, you might be taught something slightly different. Some countries place emphasis on religious education being the core foundation of their learning content, but as you will soon discover, this can have negative effects on those looking to get a job in an ever-growing secular world. So how do we get around this?

Well, someone may have found the answer for Bangladesh…

Dr. Mohammed Lais has been on a mission to help young, Muslim students gain critical skills throughout their time in education by developing a religious-secular subject that suits both Muslims and Western systems.

Keep scrolling to find out about all the details.

1. Tell us a little bit about the Blended Madrasa Education (BME) project.

Madrasah students in Bangladesh are branded as weak performers in education, a great majority of whom become unable to find mainstream jobs or are stuck in lower paid jobs. Future generations also follow similar career trends and this is predominantly because of a lack of academic skills (i.e English, Maths, Science, ICT etc.).

Madrasah education cannot provide those diverse skills that are both religious and also suitable enough for the students to compete in a job market like the one in the United Kingdom.

This has been a norm in the society for many years. However, they have talents and their talents should shine, so that’s why we’ve developed BME.

BME aims to provide sustainable support in education to Madrasah students in Bangladesh and hopes to prepare them to build a skilled professional career like other secular students. BME will integrate core elements of Islamic studies with core elements of modern education, thus enabling students to specialise in both fields to help develop more employable skills.

Here’s a breakdown of what it can provide:

1. A Hafiz/ Aleem/Mufti with the knowledge of Quranic Arabic and Aqeeda will also specialise in English, Maths, Science and ICT.

2. A barrister, doctor, engineer etc. will also be a Hafiz with the knowledge of the Quran as well as Arabic.

BME aims to prepare students for the duniya (life) and akhira (after-life) by offering opportunities to build futures in the cross-career fields. This project has the emergence of a purpose built Madrasah, Jamia Islamia Hadiqatul Quran, in which the Blended Madrasah Education is being commissioned is situated at Shah Road, Village Durlavpur, Dist. Moulvibazar, Bangladesh. It is about two miles away and eight minutes’ drive from the district town of Moulvibazar.

Credit: Supplied by Dr. Lais / Jamia Islamia Hadiqatul Quran: Under construction

The ground floor has been completed of the three storied building and the first floor is under construction. The remaining storeys- second and third now need to be built. The adjacent land to the building is to be purchased to serve as a playground for the students. The project also involves introducing Blended Madrasa Education (BME; illustration to follow) method in the syllabus in English Medium, which entails combining the core subjects from the Islamic and national curriculums.

The project has been started on February 12th onboarding 13 orphaned students, one teacher, one virtual teacher from London and one care taker but the lack of finances we have now have halted it’s development.

Credit: Supplied by Dr. Lais / Students on an educational tour – 26/02/2022

2. What’s the inspiration behind it?

The inspiration came from my PhD research which I conducted to support Bangladeshi students in the UK who faced a similar situation like Madrasah students in Bangladesh.

The British Education Policy should supports all students irrespective of their abilities, skills, ethnicity etc. and should offer opportunities appropriate to their skills. But the National Curriculum is designed to help only academic students who had skills in literacy and numeracy, which many Bangladeshi students lacked. However, they did possess vocational and practical skills for which the curriculum did not favour at all.

As a result, they often failed their GCSEs and were branded underachievers who could not find jobs, by the Home Office (1985). Ultimately, they became involved in delinquency due to this.

I challenged the National Curriculum through my PhD research (2004, examined by Oxford University). The research proposed that the so-called ‘underachievers’ could perform better if the curriculum offered opportunities for them to utilise their vocational skills.

My research combines classroom-based learning with honing work-related skills and this enabled many ethnic minority students to find employment and secure a place in further education or further training. The PhD research proved the effectiveness of blended education and earned many awards including the National Research Award.

The study then gave me the inspiration to help the Bangladeshi students, now in Bangladesh.

Credit: Supplied by Dr. Lais / Teacher, Jubayer Ahmed, with students

3. Why do you believe there’s a gap in the education system for this project?

According to research such as Professor Barkat, Dhaka University Research (2018), research teams from International University, Malaysia (2021) and SMEC International Pty Ltd., Jakarta, Indonesia, 75% of madrasah students fail to find jobs due to a lack of expertise.

The main reason is down to the fact that madrasahs are usually privately-operated schools, which rely on the support of the local community or foreign donors, particularly from Muslim countries. The research project also found that around 92% of madrasa students are from poor or lower middle-class backgrounds and they choose those establishments for religious and financial reasons.

The lack of adequate government support is the reason why the students cannot utilise their full potential and are categorised as weak performers and underachievers. Ultimately, they become unable to find jobs which significantly diminishes their life prospects and causes social deprivation.

These students are victims of the government’s educational policy. Should they have government support similar to those in the general educational institutes, they would prove to be contributors to the country’s economy.

Literature search did not find any project like BME has been taken to address the issue of Bangladeshi students. Neither the government nor the stakeholders are coming forward to address it. The gap thus encourages the projects like thus one to take place to address the growing issue of the country.

4. What reaction have you had towards it so far?

Reaction from academic institutes

The unique theme of BME to combine both fields together was shared with many institutes both Islamic and secular. In summary the overwhelming responses say that Bangladesh should have such a unique curriculum already.

The country’s huge workforce which the madrasah students can help to build is currently being neglected. The education system, both modern and Islamic, should adopt this policy to produce students with diverse qualities who could compete in the job market in their own country as well as abroad.

Reactions from local politicians, educationists, policy makers etc.

The project was opened by the Mayor Fazlur Rahman on the 12th of February, 2022 in attendance with many dignitaries including The Deputy Director of Islamic Foundation, Sylhet Moulana Shah Nazrul Islam, Additional Police Super, Hassan Asad, Islamic Bank Manager, Mr Muhammad Abdullah, Principal Gias Uddin Ahmed, and Director of Village Development, Khaled Choudhury.

Credit: Supplied by Dr. Lais / Deputy Director of Islamic Foundation, Moulana Shah Nazrul Islam

All of them have admired the aims and objectives of the project. They felt the country needed isomething like this. So many poor students who cannot afford mainstream learning can find routes to build their future.

It is the BME curriculum that will provide the structure for the provision of quality learning, and their students lacking the prior frameworks. And it is the curriculum that articulates both the competencies necessary for lifelong learning as well as for holistic development in this world and the hereafter.

But they warned that the achievements of the project depend heavily on two important factors which are (1) Delivering qualitative education and (2) Financial inputs. They concluded that the delivery of qualitative education is directly proportional to the financial inputs of the project.

5. Where do you see the future of this project going and what do you hope the outcomes are?

The project future can be influenced by two vital factors:

  1. Academic development-in the positive direction
  2. Financial constraints – in a despairing situation

Academic development-in the positive direction

The future of the project is bright. Our experienced and qualified team of teachers, who operate at a ratio of 1 to 10, which includes face-to-face teaching and virtual teaching will treat students like a coaching centre to help offer the best qualitative education they can.

Financial constraints

Although the project has a high demand in the country, it can prove to fail unless supported financially to fulfil its essential requirements. My family has already spent £75,000 out of which £25,000 is borrowed and must be returned soon. It is a five-year long project to educate the students from the first year to the fifth year. This requires about £200,000 to run the project. I would like to take the opportunity to request help even for a little amount for the project to be fulfilled. This can benefit people in this life and the hereafter.

You can find a link to the official website if you click here where you can donate.

Immediate support is needed.

Financial support will help to employ experienced staff and assist them by providing modern equipment. Furthermore, it will help the staff to adopt British education methods to deliver qualitative education in an aim to make the project a success.

6. Personally or professionally, what aspirations do you have for the future?

Once in the UK, I took the initiative to support Bangladeshi students which offered me a PhD and a National Award. I hope to achieve similar credentials from this project in a few years time, Insha’Allah.

This project will hopefully be an example in the country and will receive national exposure. As a result, many madrasah students will prove themselves to be good contributors to the country’s economy.

You can find more details about the project if you click here.

Written by Mvslim

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