Atle Hetland Madrassahs give good education. Extremism is rare. But mad-rassahs and other private schools must be better integrated in the countrys overall education efforts. The madrassahs contribute significantly to educating Pakistani children, mostly boys, but also girls from poor and other religious families. The boarding facilities and the entirely free education are essential to many parents. Also, parents generally feel safe leaving their children in a madrassah, even more so than in an ordinary school. Extreme views are rare but greater emphasis should be placed on peaceful and positive messages, integrating the schools in the mainstream society. This applies to all schools, private as well as government schools. Some of the madrassahs are of poor quality, with outdated teaching and disciplinary methods. But generally the madra-ssahs are of much better quality than what is generally thought. Most teachers are well trained in the main religious subjects, but not always in the secular subjects. There is usually close contact between the madrassah and the parents and local community, to the envy of many other schools. It is rarely realised that a large proportion of the students are girls, about 30 percent, and most madrassahs teach regular school subjects, not only religion, philosophy and ethics. Sometimes, vocational subjects are also thought. But it is a fact that improvements are needed in secular subjects and teaching methods. The madarssah graduates usually find jobs quickly upon completion, which is often not the case for school leavers from government schools. Youth who have gone to madrassahs often become dedicated to their jobs and life in their local communities, and are less likely to be dragged into delinquency and anti-social youth activities. Although secular subjects are already thought in madr-assahs, there is need and interest for including more of such subjects. The madrassah organisations, wafaqs, want changes to be controlled from within the system, not from outside. This is understandable but should not be carried too far as no institution should operate as an island outside the mainstream society, indeed not in our integrated and internationalised world. It is a principle to madrassahs that the funds they collect from the parents and others for operating the schools must be donated without any strings attached. We believe the mad-rassahs must open up more to the outside world and admit that they can learn from other schools and educationists. They must also follow policy directives from the government and allow for insight into their financial reports. Why not? Why are they so afraid of losing control? We believe the madra-ssahs will be strengthened through this process. Government initiatives: When the government introduced its Madrassah Improvement Project in 2002-03, it wanted to put conditions on the madrassahs, thus indirectly intending to force them to include more secular subjects and government school curricula. The way it was done was wrong, but the purpose was right. The madrassahs on their side are not impressed by the government schools and do not feel inferior. In the culture and history of the wafaqs and individual madrassahs, government ultimatum leads to resistance, not to progress, even when the schools and their organisations may actually agree to the proposed changes. The madra-ssah education system itself realises the need for change, the introduction of modern, secular subjects, such as computer training, social studies and other regular school subjects, vocational training subjects, etc, in our time. Many of the madrassah teachers at intermediate level and in higher educational institutions have Masters level degrees in Islamiat and sometimes other subjects, and they are well versed with Islamic thinking and other ideas and educational issues. After all, they too belong to this world, and some form dynamic elements in the communities they live in. The teachers would like to see their students succeed in education and in the working life, and they would like the young generation to improve the shortcomings of the past. The madrassah teachers usually feel that the basic aspects of religious and moral teachings should not be altered. Their foundation is the 250-year old pedagogical traditions of the great Islamic educationist Mullah Niza-muddiun of Lucknow, who developed the framework for the basic curriculum still in use as guidelines for the upbringing and teaching of children, Dars-i-Nizami. The main principles may well be valid, but one would assume that application and moda-lities need some change. We believe the madrassahs should embrace proposals for change from within, as well as outside advice and expertise. The madrassahs would be strengthened from it and be able to provide a better and more modern education so that their graduates can be better equipped to join any sector of society, not only take jobs in the local communities. In Pakistan, there are about 60,000 madrassah teachers. They teach in about 13,000 madrassahs of at least eighty students each, according to the Governments National Education Census (NEC) of 2005-06. There are madrassahs from primary to university degree levels, approved by the government, with over one and a half million students, mostly from very poor families. Empirical data: A couple of years ago a Norwegian-sponsored Project Review Team visited randomly and selected madrassahs in Khyber Paktu-nkhwa (NWFP). In the province, about six percent of the children attend madrassahs, a higher percentage than the national average. The review team, mostly consisting of Pakistanis, found that the work of the madrassahs was qualitatively good and had many aspects which could even provide useful ideas to the government and private sector schools, not least on aspects concerning integration of the schools in the local communities and catering for the poorest. When do we otherwise see that private schools cater for the poorest? Not often, they mostly look after the middle and upper class children. Nowhere was it found that the madrassahs were involved in any forms of militancy, extremism or other negative non-educational activities. The team seems to have been truly impressed and satisfied with the educational institutions they visited. Whether it is scientific proof, though is another thing. The data in the report is based on information given by teachers, students, parents and other community members. Data collected this way is authentic, but one may question if the respondents would be entirely objective. Many users of the madrassahs are very poor people, and they have no alternative way of sending their children to other schools, such as good private schools. Hence, they would tend to be satisfied if their children get any education at all. The future: The private school sector is the fastest growing school sector in Pakistan. It could be better regulated than it is, probably with a compulsory 'core standard curriculum for all non-governmental schools. We believe that all schools in a country ought to have the same minimum common (government) curriculum, but with plenty of room to add own curriculum. It is not good that top schools teaches in English with an international curriculum when they train the future leaders of Pakistans public and private sectors. The country then gets leaders who may look Pakistani but who 'think foreign. Maybe at least one-third of the lessons and curriculum should be devoted to common subjects for all schools, including the madrassahs and other private and community-based schools. We hope that the various education systems can be open to finding ways for cooperation and exchange of ideas, in a spirit of creating better schools, not more sectarian or exclusive schools. The more openness there is in the education sector, the better education our children will get and the better life adults will live. There is great urgency for expanding and improving Pakistans education systems when more than a quarter are not even enrolled in primary schools, and many children attend substandard schools. All good forces pull in the same direction. That also means that the faith-based madrassahs should be brought more into the fold, and we must stop being negative to them, since these schools have important educational values and enroll a large number of pupils, contributing to achieving Education For All boys and girls by the EFA/MDG target year of 2015. (Reference: LINS/Oslo University College Report No.2/2008, issued by the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Islamabad, April 2008, prepared by K. Van den Bosch, B. Tahira and T. Khan.) The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with yearlong experience from education work for refugees and other needy groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan and African countries. Email: