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FP: The Madrasa Myth

Authors: Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, C. Christine Fair, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja
June 2009

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Four authors argue that in the fight to save the country's next generation, more should be done towards building up mainstream and affordable private schools in Pakistan.

On May 3, the New York Times published a lengthy description of Pakistan's education system. The article, like so many before it, rehearsed a well-known narrative in which government schools are failing while madrasas are multiplying, providing a modicum of education for Pakistan's poorest children.

"The concentration of madrasas here in southern Punjab has become an urgent concern in the face of Pakistan's expanding insurgency," veteran Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise wrote. "The schools offer almost no instruction beyond the memorizing of the Koran, creating a widening pool of young minds that are sympathetic to militancy."

The story coincided with a debate in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee over a new aid package for Pakistan. The proposed legislation, among other initiatives, focuses upon eliminating madrasas with ties to terrorism and reforming the public school system, riven with teacher absenteeism and out-of-date pedagogy. Numerous charitable organizations and NGOs have also embraced this dual focus.

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