There has been a lot of talk about madrassah reform doing the rounds in the news. Even President Zardari has referenced it in a recent statement.
Madrassahs in Pakistan generally function independently and the government has little or no control over their curriculum and their day-to-day running. But this is the case with other private sector educational institutions which are regulated at a bare minimum.
A lot of madrassah alarmism has been perpetuated by the Western media (and bought into by our own media circles) about their role as terrorist-churning factories but much of it is ill-founded. Not only because according to some scholarly studies, the enrolment rate in madrassahs may be as little as one percent to six percent.
Furthermore, direct linkages with terrorist networks is proved for very few of these institutions. This doesnt mean that some of them dont promote militancy and sectarianism but this trend can be checked through reforms.
There is no denying that there is a need for comprehensive registration of madrassahs and a reform in their administrative set-up. But these need to be carefully drafted and not dealt with in a heavy-handed manner.
The ground realities need to be understood and these reforms should not be based on popular myths surrounding the issue. These institutions provide a viable alternative to many parents who send their children voluntarily to these schools.
They should be able to function autonomously but the government should serve as a responsible regulatory body.