In the 21st century, should traditional modes of education (eg. Madrasas, gurukuls) be allowed to function? Identify the ethical issues and suggest a way forward. (150 Words/10 Marks)

Mentor’s Comment:

The question seems to be straight forward but have some complications in proper deciphering the exact context.

Here we need to talk about traditional modes of education which are still running in India like Dar-al-ulum at Deoband, Gurukuls, Akali Sikh Schools, etc. and their role and importance…

Further in main body, what ethical and social problems are involved in such institutions and role of state. Like state’s failure to promote secular education, flourishing of aided and unaided institutions involved in imparting religious beliefs, atheist beliefs, irreligious beliefs etc…Bring examples like Aurangzeb, Syed Ahmad Khan etc..

Suggest ways which should be more secular in nature and in conformity with the constitutional law, unity and harmony of nation (more in the context of present demands).

Conclusion must contain a balanced view point…

Model Answer:

Not long ago, we took pride in our seminaries and traditional modes of education for their part in the anti-colonial struggle. The Dar al-ulum at Deoband, the gurukuls situated in Banaras and various parts of MP, Akali Sikh schools in Punjab and Delhi were showcased as vibrant symbols of secular India. Today, they are portrayed as nurseries of inward looking education and backward in nature.

Such institutions are plagued with major ethical and social problems:

  • Part of the reason why they flourish is because the state has not done enough to promote “secular” education in mofussil towns and the rural hinterland.
  • Hence, children of poor families flock to religious schools.
  • Given the limited access to state-run or state-aided schools, religious and traditional schools provide space for education and cultural-religious survival for the deprived, who suffer from poverty, conflict and oppression.
  • Their managers brook no intrusion in their special field of instruction.
  • A majority of them shut themselves off from the contemporary world denouncing each other and dubbing everyone else ignorant, irreligious and atheist.
  • The other major problem has been the unchanging character of the curriculum.
  • The Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, reprimanded his former teacher for having taught him Arabic, grammar and philosophy rather than subjects more practical for a future ruler of a vast empire.
  • Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of Aligarh Muslim University, found the madrassa syllabus “unsuited to the present age and to the spirit of the time”. He criticised it for encouraging memorising rather than real understanding.
  • As the needs of 21st Century grow, the education has to grow also. If the education did not evolve, then it would be difficult to fulfill the need of the society today.
  • But they have their own place in the society and banning them or shutting them altogether is not an option.
  • Instead we should thrive to make them mainstream along with their traditional outlooks.

Way Forward:

  • Over the decades, such schools have performed a vital function (as do the gurukuls or the Christian schools) and cannot, for this reason alone, be done away with.
  • They should be treated with sympathy and understanding, rather than with suspicion and disdain.
  • A standard curriculum that excludes rational sciences is not good enough; instead, there is a serious need for a constructive and bold humanism that would restate and reinterpret religious educational ideas in the contemporary social and cultural environment.
  • India’s religious and spiritual groups must have their share of men with turbans, flowing gowns and tilaks, but they must also produce, in equal measure, front-rank professionals who can excel in all fields of life.
  • For this to happen, the secular and religious leadership has to amend the curriculum in order to make it responsive to the requirements of this millennium.
  • The principles of intellectual integrity necessitate a fundamental reconstruction of religious and spiritual educational thought.
  • Future trajectories of graduates from these traditional education centres need to be crystallised as the main issue for further scrutiny.
  • The degree and effectiveness of their vision may affect not only their own future but also much of the world around them.
  • At the same time, the current mindset towards these traditional centres must be changed.
  • Just as all Hindu or Arya Samaj schools do not spread hatred against Islam and Christianity, the maktabs and madrasas do not necessarily nurture fundamentalist ideas.
  • Central and State Governments should intervene creatively in secularising their curriculum and methods of instruction.


In the past, these institutions produced leading theologians, political activists – who went to jail in response to the Gandhian movements and liberal reformers. They can still be the resource of and the inspiration behind rationalist thought and reformist initiatives. Though conservative in outlook, the traditional education centres in India stand opposite to fundamentalist religious and traditional outfits and contribute, as is evident, to a rather pluralist attitude among their students.




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