By Mehol K. Sadain
Education as a method has been defined as the process of teaching and learning in an established system. The system may range from one-on-one tutoring to classroom instruction to laboratory or shopwork, to distance mentoring, and now, to online teaching. Whatever the method used, education is simply a transfer of knowledge. These days, however, the transfer is not as simple. The pursuit of education that we used to take in stride has become a challenge, not just in developing mastery, but also in searching for connectivity.
Apart from subject contents which have been increasingly modularized, the recent change consists in setting up the necessary hardware and software components of online schooling (which can be expensive for many students and schools alike) and establishing reliable and consistent network connectivity. The former can sometimes be meticulously tortuous, while the latter is often frustrating, especially in a country which has one of the lowest megabits per second bandwidth.
The pandemic, however, has given us no choice except to digitalize education in virtual classroom scenarios, where the teacher can lecture, and the students can listen, from their respective homes, instead of meeting physically. Classrooms can now be created, presentation materials uploaded, and discussions done, online; and the vital requirement is both teacher and students can simultaneously access the internet. In a country like the Philippines, the challenge is real, and exists even in urban centers where there are blind spots or areas where the connectivity is weak or nil.
Schools have been forced to adapt to these educational changes, and confront the corresponding challenges that online schooling entails. Making things even more difficult is the projected decrease in enrollment this year due to financial difficulties, thus adversely affecting the operational viability of many schools. According to recent government data in the Philippines, 30% of students will not be able to enroll this schoolyear, and around 440 schools will not open.
The bigger, wealthier and adequately subsidized schools, colleges and universities may have managed these changes and challenges well into the initial months of classes. But they still have to contend with operational exigencies, like weak connectivity and impaired online access, which will definitely impair the effectiveness of knowledge transfer.
Among the Muslims, one of the hardest hit educational institutions are the madaris or religious schools that operate the traditional way in both teaching methodology and course contents. It is a pity that many of them cannot meet face-to-face in actual classroom settings due to the pandemic restrictions, and neither can they meet online due to financial limitations of both the madaris and their students. It is a pity that they cannot operate, as many of them have indeed opted to go on a forced break for lack of necessary resources.
This, in spite the many exhortations in the Qur’an about acquisition of knowledge: “And say O my Lord, increase me in knowledge!” (20:114) “And whoever is given knowledge is indeed given abundant wealth.” (2:269) “Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given knowledge to high degrees.” (58:11)
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) reiterated the value of acquiring knowledge in the following wise: “He who goes forth in search of knowledge is in the Way of Allah until he returns” (Tirmidhi 39:2) and “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory upon all Muslims” (Bhq. Msh. 2).
The madaris must be able to transcend this latest hurdle, as it has done so with past hurdles, which include the unfinished business of upgrading its curriculum so that it is able to respond to the needs of the contemporary Muslim. The ability and capability to operate uninterruptedly, as well as reform continuously, will ensure the educational relevance of the madaris to the Ummat ul-Muslimeen, and its fidelity to the concept of education prescribed by the Noble Qur’an and preached by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
Urgent educational challenges now confront our school institutions. In the case of the madaris, these challenges have grown more imperative and more multifarious. It is time they respond so the Muslims continue to be gifted with abundant wealth (khayran khaseeraa) and knowledge of a high degree (‘ilma daraajat).