Like much else, Bangladeshi discourse about madrassas usually shed more heat than light, revealing the biases and attitudes of the so-called experts who see in madrassa teachers and students either footsoldiers of terror or the vanguard of the coming revolution. Niaz Asadullah, a British-trained development economist is a rare exception. With his longtime collaborator Nazmul Chaudhury of the World Bank, he has published a series of papers on the subject. I’d encourage the interested reader to follow up from Dr Asadullah’s page. Over the fold, let me hightlight this paper.
The article is titled Religious schools, social values, and economic attitudes: evidence from Bangladesh. Here’s the abstract:
This paper uses new data on female graduates of registered secondary secular schools and madrasas from rural Bangladesh and tests whether there exist attitudinal gaps by school type and what teacher-specific factors explain these gaps. Even after controlling for a rich set of individual, family and school traits, we find that madrasa graduates differ on attitudes associated with issues such as working mothers, desired fertility, and higher education for girls, when compared to their secular schooled peers. On the other hand, madrasa education is associated with attitudes that are still conducive to democracy. We also find that exposure to female and younger teacher is associated with more favorable attitudes among graduates.
Trolling through their data, I was amazed to see how similar the attitudes of madrassa teachers were compared with their peers from secular schools. For example, 36% of secular school teachers agreed with the statement ‘for a married women, working for pay is just as fulfilling as being a housewife’. Among the madrassa teachers, 33% held that view. The survey was done about a decade ago. And at that time, madrassa teachers were not strikingly more male chauvinist than the rest of the society. Turning to more directly political matters, for example, 68% of the madrassa teachers agreed with ‘religious leaders should not influence how people vote in elections’ — 78% of secular teachers did so.
In the absence of any better dataset — as opposed to a priori theorising of pseudo pundits — it would appear that madrassa teachers are not all that different from the rest of the country. Anyone freaking out at the crowd at Shapla Chottor in 2013 — relax. Anyone looking at the same crowd and pining for a revolution — get real.