Pakistan’s Educational System and Violence: Is There a Connection?

Christopher Candland, Political Science, Wellesley College

Research Grant, 2004, 2005

The goal of the research was to investigate the claim that a madaris [Islamic boarding school] education in Pakistan promotes justifications for violence.

The method of inquiry involved extensive interviews with madaris and non-madaris educators in 2005 and a survey of 220 Pakistani students in 2006. The students, ranging in ages from sixteen to twenty-two, attended madaris, private, and government schools in Karachi and its environs. The survey consisted of seventy-three questions, many of them open-ended. Questions related to students’ biographies and families; curriculum and school attendance; sources of news; knowledge of Islam, Pakistani history, United States politics, and international relations; the nature of violence; and judgments about justice and injustice, including justifications for violence. The survey rendered more than sixteen thousand pieces of data on thirty schools.

Analysis of the survey results found that madaris students are not more likely to indicate approval of violence to address perceived injustices.

Students in government schools were slightly more likely than madaris students to advocate violence to address perceived injustices in family, local, national, regional, and international affairs. Students in private schools were slightly less likely to approve of violence to address such perceived injustices. The exception to this trend was with respect to Indian-administered/occupied Kashmir. Madaris students were more likely than government and private school students to approve of violence.

Analysis of the survey results found that madaris students are not more likely to indicate approval of violence to address perceived injustices.

Madaris students were also more likely to question the professed purpose of the survey and to be provocative in their answers (e.g., Question: What is justice? Answer: Whatever George Bush says it is.)

Related research
Researchers on madaris education in Pakistan might benefit from noting that the distinction between madaris, government, and private schools can be misleading. Government schools do provide a religious education.

Islamiyat is a mandatory subject in government schools. Further, some religious political parties operate low-cost or free-of-cost private schools that follow the national (government) curriculum and use government-approved textbooks but are designed to inculcate in students the ideology of their political party. Thus, the conclusion, drawn from other research, that parents who send one child to a madaris and another to private school are not religiously inclined in their school choices might be mistaken. Also, Pakistanis regard “school” (iskool) as a western educational institution. Thus, if people are asked about the schools that they attend or have attended, they will not consider a madrasa as a possible response. This would explain why some surveys of schooling in Pakistan have suggested that madrasa enrollment rates (as a percentage of the school-going population) are far smaller (about 1 percent) than previously thought (about 30 percent). Those surveys ask people about schools they have attended, not about madaris. Researchers are well advised to be critical of using western curricular assumptions in designing educational research projects for Pakistan.


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