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Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Whether Islam has influenced Gambian rural development in a positive or negative way is hard to say. Since I primarily worked in schools, I will stick to considering Islam’s influence on education development work. I will start by looking at what Islam sometimes hinders. Many government schools often experience low enrolment due to competition with Quranic schools. In Quranic schools, children simply learn to recite the Holy Quran by memory. This involves constant, brainless repetition guided by a teacher with a rod. If students get a passage wrong, they are usually beaten. Despite these poor teaching practices, most students eventually learn to recite the entire Holy Quran by memory. However, if you ask children to explain what they are chanting in their own language, they will most likely not be able to answer you.

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These children memorize immense amounts of Arabic that they do not even understand. This same concept and practice exists in government schools. Especially in the early grades, an “English language” lesson typically involves a teacher with a stick shouting “this is a cat” over and over again until the children can say it. This is why a lot of children greet me by saying “Howare –oo- fine!” Children will also ask me “what is your name?” After I tell them “my name is Ousman,” they usually respond with “Ousman, what is your name?” Obviously they have no idea what they are saying or learning. English is as much a mystery to them as Arabic. This makes teaching math, science, and the other subjects very challenging.

Further confusion is caused by Quranic schools on the subject of handwriting. Since most children start in Quranic schools, the standard they learn for writing and reading is to go from right to left. This makes teaching them that Enlgish goes the other way, from left to right, very confusing for them.

The final thing is that women tend to be repressed in Islam and Quranic schools are no exception. Girls are not expected to participate or excel. As with the rote learning, this mentality is reflected in the government schools. Girls are often too timid to participate in lessons and they are not encouraged to do well in school.

Islam has also had a positive influence on education in rural areas. Some of my best students in URR were girls from Muslim families, so Islam cannot be entirely blamed for girls’ tendency to fall behind in school. While Quranic schools compete with government schools for attendance, this competition leads to an overall increase in the percent of village children attending school. Many Quranic schools have also begun to recruit trained teachers who incorporate other subjects into their lessons, such as math and science. Many students in Quranic schools finish their studies and carry on in government schools.

Parents tend to be more willing to put their children in school if it is a Quranic school. Studying the Quran encourages literacy and hugely develops the children’s abilities to memorize information. Many villages receive funding from other Muslim countries to better their Quranic schools. Quranic knowledge is also applied to settle village disputes and to discourage devious behaviour.

Overall, I think that Islam has not majorly hampered education development work in The Gambia. In fact, it has provided assistance is some key areas; most notably in increasing school attendance. Islam is a central part of Gambian culture and nothing will ever change that and nothing ever should.

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