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Warning: This is going to be a long one 😉
Everyone can agree that Madrasas make up almost the biggest part of our great childhood memories or perhaps the worst. This is where we got shaped and molded into the characters we are today. How we were shaped however, is a different story. They say, the end justifies the means… or does it? If anything, Madrasas are the best example of this phrase.
Back down the memory lane, most families had neglected the Madrasas. Secular education was given the priority giving minimal time for the children to adopt Madrasa teachings. This in turn made the children consider Madrasa as ‘not-so-serious’ a place. It was like the damp spot where parents would take them on weekends so that they don’t bother people back home.
If you ask anyone about their Madrasa days they’ll mention a lot of punishments where students were subjected to individually or as a group. First mistake would always be ‘getting late’ because hey! It’s weekend! The entire family is going for a wedding somewhere and you spent an entire hour crying why you are being left behind while they’ll be enjoying some good biryani with roasted chicken. So you get to the gate, eyes red and swollen and you find a whole group standing aside while the assembly is going on. You become a bit relieved that you are not alone. However, once the assembly is over and the teacher on duty confronts you, he surprises you all by checking the uniform instead or whether your nails are clipped. So you end up with double punishment. But it never ends there does it? You somehow end up in the noisemakers list in class and the ustadh gives you ‘THAT look’ of ‘Too many mistakes in one morning young boy’!
There was always a lot of fun associated with all the mischief which involved incomplete assignments and ending up doing the assignment at the corridor, making fun of other students or rhythmic and loud reading during classes; which more often than not irritated the teachers, a lot of skiving where one or a collective group would go out for lunch break and decide not to come back because you decided that your family will not go for that wedding without you, a lot of ‘tell your parent to come tomorrow’ because let’s face it the teachers were having up to their necks dealing with stubborn kids.
Coming back to class late was a norm because you got caught up in the games you were playing or were waiting in line for your potatoes and other snacks to be prepared; and so when you reach the class you know what’s waiting inside so you all stand by the door deciding who was bold enough to ask for permission to get in. Then there were those days we’d be sent home because we had applied henna on Eid day despite it being against madrasa rules or for the lack of payment of fees on time…yeah the list is endless!
In attempt to change the ‘relaxed-mode’ children had on madrasa, the teachers always opted to cane the naughty children, especially with the famous kikoto (A local type of cane commonly made in Coastal region by use of Reeds.)
When it came to the need for students to learn, caning only brought fear into them making them memorize things they don’t understand in the least bit. My mother tells me of how when they were young, they’d go to madrasa sit in straight lines and start singing what they’ve been taught, swinging themselves frontward and backward. How they’d put small pieces of kashatas between the mashaf pages then come back and start eating them piece by piece while the ustadh is not looking. They’d then quickly go back to chorusing with the rest, turning their oily mashaf pages. It seemed all merry when the whole class was chorusing like that…but now many years later, she confesses that then, she, and many others did not even know what they were saying. The caning only prompted them to cram something so that whenever the teacher asks a question, they had an answer. Nonetheless, the caning was fruitful when it came to hifdhul qur’an (memorization of the holy qur’an).
So basically, punishments differed on 3 factors: The teacher himself, the personality of the student and the kind of mistake done.
We all had some experience with the ‘bad news’ ustadh who you’d carefully avoid on the way even if you’ve done nothing wrong. He is always ready to cane; always ready to strike; always armed with his kikoto. Yet others would go for other less violent kind of punishments like making the students kneel, making them stand the whole session, pinching, sweeping, squatting, washing the washrooms, cleaning corridors, extra assignments, calling of the parent or being detained from going to tea/lunch break.
This however also differed according to the child in question. For some children just the mere mention of ‘I’ll cane you’ is enough to scare them and make them do the right thing. They’d weep like no one’s business if you even jokingly mention that you’ll summon the parent. Yet another child is so used to the canning that it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s routine now and thus, doesn’t mould them in anyway. Sometimes, it even made the students become more rebellious and beating them was as useless as screaming on their faces. But this same naughty child if detained from going to have lunch, he tends to settle down. A lazy child would detest being given extra assignment and that would be the perfect punishment for him/her.
When it comes to collective mistake i.e. the whole class making noise, or late comers, the teacher would ask them to sweep the classroom or wash the loos for the older students. For some children, telling them to go out of the class as punishment acts as the best thing for them. It turns out to be ‘free-class-to-have-fun’ oh yeah, and to make more mischief. So the child’s personal character always factored in the kind of punishment.
How the child/children are punished depended on the kind of mistake too. For a mistake like late-coming, the punishment would be lesser than the ones who got into a fight. Or noise-makers compared to the ones skiving classes.
The teachers would always use the small punishment methods and only when things really escalated is when the parent is summoned.
It’s no secret that Madrasa punishment is better than school (before the anti-punishment law came in). Yet still, there were/are parents who still go to complain once their children are canned or in the least, touched at all. The parents would sometimes respond to complaints from the Madrasa by transferring their child to another institution which ends up making the child always half-baked with information and sometimes in character too.
We all have experienced or at least witnessed the dramatic parents who are always so protective and just at the slightest caning of their child, they’d appear at the institution and start shouting to whoever they can throw words to, threatening to report to the police if their children are canned again yet they are in the first place responsible for the negligence the children have on Madrasa. If the parents showed the children how important Madrasa is, the mischief would be less and they’d be more serious on Madrasa education.
Punishment systems have changed over the years. This could be because the teachers realized that they are using the wrong approach in the desperate need of making students prioritize Madrasa studies. Nowadays, there is less caning. We can’t say it has stopped completely but teachers are more and more adopting the alternative punishment systems like giving them extra assignments or sweeping classes and corridors amongst other methods. Different Madrasas have also tried different ways to make Madrasa more interesting for children i.e. including extra-curricular activities and trips too. They also involve the parents a lot more than before on the issues of their children.
The best move Madrasa systems have taken, however, is ensuring that their teachers undergo teachers’ training before stepping into class. This is unlike before whereby anyone with the knowledge could teach regardless of whether they knew how to handle the mentality of children or not. Some Madrasas would let the older kids teach the younger ones just because they had a little more knowledge than the little ones, or the smarter kids would teach the other kids when a teacher was not around. So now we have better teachers who have studied psychology of the children and are able to deal with them in the right way.
The punishments have been the better evil for many of us. Apart from the notorious students whom we’d tell ‘haskii la mwadhini wala mteka maji mskitini’ to, many owe their good discipline to the Madrasa teachers who ensured they behave. Many of us wouldn’t even know how to recite Surat Fatiha if not for the canning. The punishments done in Madrasa have mostly been moderate apart from a few cases and they seem necessary in order to straighten the children up.
Apart from that, we got the many memories from these days; the days we did mistakes and cried even before the teacher raised the cane, or the days we knelt down until our knees ached, or when we were late and were sent back home; half happy half miserable, or those days when someone stole and we’d have soot applied on his face (someone mentioned this and couldn’t help but imagine and laugh). As much as we as a community have undermined the Madrasa for so long, we have to admit that we learnt good lessons and became better people from what we learnt back then.
I know some really hate the memories they have of back then or of the entire madrasa system, and some would enthusiastically want to debate this whole punishment issue, nonetheless, I guess at the end of the day it is only each one of us who can judge and perceive those days as they will. Everyone is entitled to their opinion after all.
In my opinion, there is improvement and gradual process in the Madrasa systems which hopefully will make more students serious on the deen education which has been comprised for so long. As for the punishments (the moderate reasonable ones that is), I hope they still stay in the system until the later generations. In the current dark world, we need a system that will still humble us and mold us to be better individuals.