Madrasahs sending more teachers abroad to hone their skills

The madrasahs are looking beyond the shores of Singapore to give teachers a leg-up in training, venturing to places such as the United States and Japan, so that students in religious schools can match up to their peers in mainstream ones.

Since the Government's pledge last year to work with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to strengthen the teaching of secular subjects such as science and mathematics, and give financial aid to improve teachers' skills, more teachers have been travelling abroad for training.

This year alone, nine madrasah teachers were sent overseas for training. Six went to the Research for Better Teaching centre in Boston, United States, a professional development institute, in July.

Meanwhile, another three went on an immersion study programme in Tokyo, Japan, last month.

This makes it the highest number of madrasah teachers sent abroad in a year, so far.

From 2011 to last year, about 20 madrasah teachers went overseas for conferences and training.

At the first Madrasah Teachers Symposium yesterday, held at the Suntec Convention Centre, Muis deputy chief executive Albakri Ahmad said that more than 90 per cent of the 250 or so madrasah teachers have a recognised teaching diploma from institutions such as the National Institute of Education.

This is in comparison to less than 10 per cent of teachers who had such qualifications back in 2003.

Over the past two years, the madrasah teachers have also been attending workshops on teaching skills and subject content, coordinated by Muis.

Ustazah Juyda Mohd Noor, the head of department for English and Malay at Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah in Geylang, said that she valued the cross-cultural exposure that she received in the US.

"In Singapore, we are afraid to voice our opinions and ask questions in class because we think that we will be judged.

"But we saw how teachers reassured students that it was OK to fail and make mistakes, as long as they made an effort," said Ustazah Juyda, 34, who has since been using the same method to encourage class interaction.

At the symposium yesterday, she shared with other madrasah teachers what she had learnt.

Muis has spent more than $3 million on training for teachers and madrasah leaders to date. More of such symposiums to encourage sharing of knowledge among the six madrasahs here could be conducted in the future.

Despite fears that madrasah students will not be able to handle the demands of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) when it was made compulsory for them in 2008, they have done well, with 97.6 per cent of this year's PSLE cohort being able to move on to secondary school.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2016, with the headline 'Madrasahs sending more teachers abroad to hone their skills'. Print Edition | Subscribe