Singapore Budget 2015: Madrasah students will not need to pay national exam fees

SINGAPORE - Madrasah students will not need to pay national examination fees starting this year, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said today.

His announcement comes after Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced in his Budget speech last month that the Education Ministry would waive fees for national examinations for Singapore citizens studying in Government-funded schools.

The six full-time madrasahs, or Islamic religious schools, are largely funded by the Muslim community, and are not covered by this waiver.

But Dr Yaacob said on Thursday that the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth would assist the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) so that madrasah students will not need to pay these fees too.

Besides full-time madrasahs, Muis is also working to strengthen part-time Islamic education and make it available to more people in the Muslim community.

A home-schooling programme, Kids aLive (Learning Islamic Values Everyday) Home Edition, for parents to teach their children about Islam at home was launched in 2014.

And more than 16,000 students were enrolled in its aLive programme, for children between seven and 16 years old, in mosques last year. This year, Muis plans to start extra sessions on weekdays and weekends, and extend the operating hours for these centres, aiming for a 12 per cent increase in spaces within the next year.

Meanwhile, to meet rising demand for its Adult Islamic Learning (Adil) classes, Muis has also increased the number of participating mosques to 13, and will develop eight more modules later this year.

Self-help group Mendaki, too, is stepping up its education outreach efforts to benefit more in the Malay/Muslim community, including having more space in its tuition and homework supervision programmes and giving more guidance to parents of children aged six and below.

It will be expanding its flagship programme, the Mendaki Tuition Scheme (MTS), which has benefited over 180,000 students since it started in 1982.

Last year, about 10,000 students enrolled in its 50 centres islandwide. This year, it will set up MTS centres in six more mosques here to make the programme more accessible, among them Al-Ansar Mosque in Bedok, Al-Iman Mosque in Bukit Panjang and Al-Mawaddah Mosque in Sengkang.

Mendaki will also pilot a mentoring scheme at four of its MTS centres to counsel lower secondary students and help them plan their future, said Dr Yaacob, and aims to have 15 Mendaki Homework Cafes up and running this year - up from two in 2013.

It also recognises the need to lay a strong foundation for children in their early learning years, and will provide greater support for parents with children aged six and below.

It will, for instance, develop a toolkit and a curriculum to help parents develop their child's learning capabilities during the early years.

Adults will not be left behind. Mendaki's training arm, Mendaki Sense, will design programmes that tap on schemes under the SkillsFuture initiative, which helps people master skills throughout their career.

Mendaki is also looking to boost financial literacy among families by working with national financial education programme MoneySense.

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) also asked for an update on mosque kindergartens. Dr Yaacob said there are 18 such kindergartens, with about 2,600 pupils enrolled. This year, Muis and Mendaki will study ways to further strengthen these kindergartens.

asyiqins@sph.com.sg