Education failure in Marawi

Anais Prudent
Education failure in Marawi
Maute fighters were at some point regular 'Juans'. What got them off track should be our main focus, if we want history to someday stop repeating itself.

Current Marawi events are summarized into either an issue of military strategy or about human rights. But the reasons behind the emergence of ever more violent and radical groups in Mindanao are never central. History has taught us that no matter how many terrorists are killed, more will come up until the root of the problem is addressed.

It is easier to look at them as monsters who take pleasure in burning, beheading and looting and as a different category of human (??) beings who are incapable of empathy and reasoning. This is how most societies raise their children: with fairy tales made of black or white characters and good triumphing over evil. Very few people are born sociopaths, and no religion ever promoted the war of all against all.

Maute fighters were at some point regular “Juans”. What got them off track should be our main focus, if we want history to someday stop repeating itself.

One clue to understanding Philippine society’s failure to stop the emergence of violent radical groups in Mindanao is education. Citizens are the product of their education, and when rebels are looking for activists to increase their ranks, the most convenient places to look at are religious schools.

In Mindanao it is thus important to look at the Madrasah.

What is Madrasah? This Arabic word describes a school. Used in English it describes an Islamic institution of education. It encompasses structures that may be the following: night or weekend sessions during which students learn about the Qur’an; comprehensive schools that provide a range of Islamic subjects, literature and mathematics meant to be a main source of education; or schools that base their education solely on religious texts and do not include “secular subjects”. 

Madrasah appeared in the Philippines with the first Muslim missionaries in the 14th century. Their structure evolved from being reading and sharing session to constituting Mindanao’s sole formal system of education once Islam had become the major religion.

It is the  United States that decided to implement secular education all over the country. Among Moros, the change was greeted with suspicion. Some sent their children to public school, but the majority kept them in religious institutions. Children were thus unable to enter Philippine universities and to secure employment outside of the Muslim region.

Double standard in Marawi

After spending decades ignoring Quranic education, it is under the Arroyo administration that the Philippine government showed interest in the Madrasah. A program of integrated Quranic education was implemented in high Muslim concentration areas, additional 1 to 2 hours in elementary and 3 to 4 hours in high school.

It should be good enough for “them”.

Studying Madrasah in Marawi shows the application of a double standard. 

Moros requested for the recognition of Islamic education and it was given to them. However, we realize that this effort to grant some of their demands is the cause of some problems.

Marawi students are encouraged to go to accredited schools as they integrate religious education. They gain in competitiveness and are able to attend Philippine universities. However, Quranic subjects are treated differently from core subjects. Curriculums are vague and standard books are non-existent. These are left to the appreciation of the heads of Islamic studies in each school. There is no governing body. There is no national standard evaluation and very little literature available on this topic. Sponsoring and recognizing religious education is sensitive. People base their moral values, their beliefs and some of their political views partly on religion; and Islam is a religion than carries an inherent issue of consensus on major topics.

Moreover, Tahfiz deserves specific scrutiny. They are non-accredited structures that focus solely on the memorization and interpretation of the Quran.


Questioning its legality

In Marawi, they are big and well-maintained buildings. The year-long programs are used as substitutes for schools. Kids are cut from all contacts with the outside world for periods of 3 months during which they repeat the Quran until they know it by heart.

Before we even question the educational content and the pedagogical methods, we must question the legality of such structures. The process through which any organization must go in order to obtain permits is complicated. This process is meant to protect children. We are facing structures that look everything but clandestine and are tolerated by all including the authorities.

Don’t we want to know what these kids, the future generations of Moros, are learning?

Why neglect the peaceful potential of Islam in the Islamic and general curriculum?

Challenges for Dep-Ed

Two promising leads are left unexploited by the Philippine Department of Education.

The first one is that on the aspect of interfaith knowledge, the Philippines is a plural society and education fails to acknowledge it. It would be time for school books to do away with the Christian kayumanggi lechon-loving stereotype. Plurality holds potential if it is respected and acknowledged.

The second lead that deserves greater inquiry is the peaceful potential of Islam. Violent leaders manage to pick parts of the Quran, to take them out of their context and to use them to brainwash poorly educated youth into violence.

Why is it that the Department of Education does not work with Islamic scholars and successful political violence rehabilitation centers to provide a curriculum based on the peaceful message of Islam? Using the Medina charter would be a great starting point, for example.

The State is responsible for the protection of its citizens, of its youth, in particular. Primary education provides moral, intellectual and emotional foundations to future generations.

It is therefore essential for governments to know and understand what is happening in its schools. Finding balance in integrating Quranic education to the accredited system of education is a difficult task. However, mistakes toward this process in the Philippines are so monumental that we can only wonder about a hidden agenda.

Without going as far making accusations, I would like to invite you to be more inquisitive and critical. Why set up a system that is bound to fail? Do we want this historical conflict to end or is there too much profit to gain from this context of violence and lawlessness?

The office of then mayor Duterte identified issues with the Madrasah reform of education as early as 2004. How come the now President Duterte is doing so little about it? –


Anais Prudent is a humanitarian worker. She holds a bachelor in development studies from Ateneo de Manila, a master in International Security from Warwick (UK), and a master in Asian Affairs from NTU (Singapore).

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