At the madrasah in Cuyapon, the students graduate in July

KABACAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/09 July) —  Purok Malimo in the small village of Cuyapon here was abuzz. Women were busy preparing food, men were busy fixing up the stage, and children clad in their abayas and kopias, and some in togas were milling around, excited for one of the most important events of their lives: graduation day.

Yes, a graduation in July.

While most students in the country now are busy attending classes in public and private schools, students in the madaris (plural of madrasah) are anticipating their graduation which is usually held right before Ramadan begins, and starts again after the holy month ends.

Ramadan this year begins on July 20. This schedule allows Muslim children, teachers and their parents to fully concentrate on fasting, one of the five pillars or basic acts of Islam.

At the Madrasatol Ibno Annas Al-Islamiya in Purok Malimo, the closing rites of the madrasah on July 4 started with a command from an ustadz to march around the grounds as they sang “Allah Hugaya Tunah,” the madrasah anthem. It was followed by Qur’an readings and speeches from religious and madrasah leaders. (Male teachers are popularly called ustadz. Others refer to them as mudarres).

Then the graduates sang “Yamah Hadanah,” their graduation song. It was led by an adolescent girl, who in the middle of the song, broke into tears. Right after their performance, her classmates huddled around her, trying to comfort her.

MindaNews later learned she cried because she missed her mother who works abroad.

Medals and certificates were handed out to the graduates right after the mothers, who also attended literacy classes in the madrasah, rendered a song in Arabic. Some of them were also in tears, happy to experience this milestone in their lives.

Rashid Abdullah, the mudir or the school administrator of the madrasah, told MindaNews that asatidz like him do not receive regular pay like the public school teachers in the government. (Asatidz is the plural form for ustadz in Arabic. English writers refer to them as ustadzes)

Abdullah added that they are only receiving a small amount, donated by the parents of the students.

There are six asatidz in the Malimo madrasah that sits beside a vast ricefield leading to the Ligawasan Marsh.

As an administrator, Abdullah was so busy at the closing rites. “The closing rites usually take whole day because the students had to recite or summarize what they have learned [for] the entire school year,” he explained.

The simple ceremony was suspended around noon, just in time for the sambayang or prayers. Members of the community as well as guests gathered around the house of Freddie Balantiawon, the purok (community) leader who hosted the kanduli or thanksgiving feast to celebrate the graduation.

Grade levels in the mudaris are similar to our public and private schools: kinder, grades 1 to 6, first to fourth year high school and first to fourth year college. Mudaris classes are usually held on weekends only since the students also attend classes in public or private schools during weekdays.

According to the mudir, mudaris also have “summer classes” but instead of April to May, it falls during the Holy Month of Ramadan. But since they are fasting, only a few students enroll and classes are held for half day only.Students sing the "Allah Hugaya Tunah" hymn before the start of the closing rites at the madrasah in Barangay Cuyapon, Kabacan, North Cotabato on July 4, 2012. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursday More

Sacrifice for the children

In his speech, Balantiawon was also overwhelmed with emotions. He was grateful that a new batch was able to graduate, making their efforts and sacrifices as a community all worth it.

As a purok leader, he takes the lead in ensuring that the madrasah is up and running. He sees to it that the asatidz are given their allowance, no matter how small.

Each student only pays an enrollment fee of P100 for the entire school year, said one of the parents. “But this is not compulsory,” he said.

Unlike public schools which are funded by the government, madaris usually depend on contributions from the community. Balantiawon cited the construction of the school stage, for which he had to shell out his personal money so that the construction could start. Then the other members of the community eventually shared some money for the completion of the structure.

“During the election period in March 2010, a politician promised to donate the stage for the madrasah. But years have passed, nothing happened to the promise. So we decided to build it with our own efforts,” he lamented.

As to the salary of the teachers, Balantiawon said they are usually giving P500 a month to each ustadz. They also provide for their meals, snacks and fare every Saturday and Sunday, he added.

Seventy-one year old Ustadzah Maisarra Abdullah told MindaNews that some parents are giving rice which is then shared equally among the asatidz. (An ustadzah is a female teacher. They are also called mudarresah.)  

Abdullah said some farmers can afford to give at least a sack of rice every harvest season but it is not compulsory. “Only if they can afford it, but it’s still okay if they cannot give anything for the madrasah,” she explained.

She added that she has been teaching in the madrasah, more particularly the mothers, for 11 years already. “I don’t receive any salary here, this is my jihad. So that the mothers will learn to write, to read and to worship Allah,” stressed Abdullah, who is also a relative of the mudir.

In some areas though, like in Davao City and Compostela Valley Province, madaris receive funding from the local government. Last year, the government released P251.6 million for the Department of Education’s Madrasah Education Program. This went to the Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) in public schools, out of school youths and adults, and to private madaris.

Based on the data found at the website established by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication, “there are between 600 and 1,000 madaris in Mindanao with a total student population of between 60,000 and 100,000.” A PhilStar article reports that there are also 893 public elementary schools all over the country incorporating ALIVE classes in their curriculum.
Dropouts in Madrasah

The Grade 6 students of Arabic who graduate at the madrasah in Barangay Cuyapon, Kabacan, North Cotabato. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursday Out of the hundreds who attend the madrasah, only a few get to finish the school year, the mudir said. A major reason cited is that the students had to help their parents in the farm, especially during the harvest season.

Normaida Eliyas, 17, a Grade 4 student in the madrasah, recalled that there used to be a hundred of them when classes started but less than 10 of them were left at the end of the school year.

“Some dropped out in the middle of the school year because they needed to work in the farm especially during the harvest season,” Eliyas said.

She admitted that it is not easy to study in the madrasah but added that it is very important for every Muslim to learn Arabic. “Dito namin mas lalong naiintindihan ang tungkol sa aming relihiyon,” she explained.

The madaris is no different from our regular schools. It may have a different calendar, language, and a form of writing but both aim to educate our children and youth, and to a point, both even share the same set of problems each school year—lack of classrooms, facilities and teachers, and a high dropout rate.

Despite these inadequacies, mudaris continue to exist even in the far-flung communities.

For Balatiawon and his wife who had to shell out their own money just to make sure that the needs of the madrasah are met, they see this as a form of sacrifice for the children.

“We have nothing else to give the children but education. If they have education, they can bring it with them wherever they go. It’s different if you have education not just money. That’s why we’re doing a small sacrifice for the children,” Balantiawon concluded in Filipino. (Ruby Thursday More/MindaNews)