Academic journal article Ahfad Journal

The Ahfad University for Women: A Sudanese Educational Experiment

Academic journal article Ahfad Journal

The Ahfad University for Women: A Sudanese Educational Experiment

Article excerpt

This article describes the development of a Sudanese educational experiment, from the establishment of a private, secular school for boys in 1906 to the establishment of the Ahfad College for Women in 1966 and, further, to the operation of the wide ranging programs of the Ahfad University for Women (AUW) today. Brief descriptions are provided for each of the undergraduate, graduate, support, and outreach programs of the University. Each of these programs helps advance the goal of AUW, namely, to prepare women to become agents of change in their communities and at the national level. The article described how AUW seeks this goal through academic instruction, practical experiences, rural extension and community outreach activities, by means of exercising national leadership in the area of women's rights, and through research. New programs under development are also described.

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INTRODUCTION

This article is based on the origin article by the late Professor Yusuf Badri, founder of the Ahfad University for Women (AUW). Professor Yusuf's article on the history, philosophy, and fields of study at AUW appeared as the first article in the initial issue of The Ahfad Journal (Badri, 1984). The present article updates Professor Yusuf's initial description of AUW, its programs, philosophy, and outreach activities.

DEVELOPMENT OF AUW

Origins

AUW is the direct result of the steadfast vision of one man, Shiek Babiker Badri, who combined the traditional Islamic devotion to learning with his own and then radical idea of providing secular education in addition to religious instruction to both boys and girls (Badri & Scott, 1969). Sheikh Babiker began his educational innovations in 1903 when he established a secular primary school for boys in Rufa'a, a village in the Blue Nile Province. The next year he sought support from the British colonial authorities for the establishment of a secular primary school for girls, but was turned down. A similar request in 1905 was also denied. But, as shown in the following quote from the 1906 report by Sir James Currie, director of the Educational Department of the British administration of the Sudan at the time, he had begun to change the unofficial, if not the official British position with regard to the education of girls (Currie, 1906).

"I would myself prefer that the government should not undertake the task (education for girls) for some time. "But" if it were desired, it would also, as an experiment, be possible to begin at Rufa'a where a local Kuttab (school for boys) is under an extremely competent and interesting local man (Babiker Badri), who is very anxious to be allowed to try this experiment. I cannot see that any possible harm can accrue from starting something here."

Despairing of official endorsement or support, Sheikh Babiker began the first secular school for girls at Rufa'a in 1907 with nine of his own daughters and eight girls from neighboring families.

Sheikh Babiker's vision of education for girls, however, was widely opposed. In addition to government complacency, he had to overcome considerable local opposition to the idea of providing education for girls. The prevailing view was that girls required no formal education: they could learn all they needed to know from their families, particularly their mothers. Sheikh Babiker strongly rejected this view, which cut girls and women off from any advances in knowledge. In contrast, he saw women as potentially powerful agents for effecting needed social changes. Educated women, in his view, were essential to achieving improvements in nutrition, health care, child rearing and care, community development, and for preparing both young men and women for life in the emerging urban society of the Sudan.

In time, Sheikh Babiker's vision prevailed, despite the personal criticism and abuse he endured. Based on the principle of self-help, which he constantly espoused, his original one-room, mud brick school for boys expanded into a considerable, privately-funded enterprise (Badri & Hogg, 1980). …

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