Malaysia seeks to expand syllabus at Quranic schools

Students at a tahfiz school in Malaysia, where they have to memorise the Quran. They do not study maths, science or technical subjects.
Students at a tahfiz school in Malaysia, where they have to memorise the Quran. They do not study maths, science or technical subjects.

PUTRAJAYA • The Malaysian government wants tahfiz schools - where students spend long hours memorising the content of the Quran - to inject other subjects into their syllabus to allow students to pursue higher education and join the regular workforce.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said these students often graduate without SPM (the equivalent of the GCE O-level certificate) or STAM (Malaysian Higher Religious Certificate, which allows entry to secular local universities), hampering their job prospects.

"If they have memorised the Quran, what is next?" he asked in a speech at an event on recently in Putrajaya. "From our previous experience, we found that there were a lot of problems, because when they don't have SPM, when they don't have STAM, they can't pursue their education," he was quoted as saying by The Malay Mail Online (MMO) news site.

The issue is important for Malaysia at a time when Malay Muslims are turning more conservative, with more parents sending their children to these Quranic schools to build character and instil good moral values in them.

The Malaysian government, aware of the need to integrate and for having closer oversight of tahfiz schools, last year set up the National Tahfiz Education Policy, monitored by Datuk Seri Zahid.

The word tahfiz literally means "memorising" the Quran.

There are more than 36,000 students in about 600 tahfiz schools in Malaysia, which are privately funded. Another 600 more tahfiz schools operate without education permits, officials have said, and these have thousands more young students under their care.

Currently, each school decides its own syllabus. In a typical tahfiz school in Malaysia, students sit down in classes to memorise the Quran, with some additional Islamic subjects added on.

But they are not taught mathematics, science or technical subjects.

Most of the Quranic school graduates become Islamic teachers and officials at mosques. Others open up small trading businesses or, much later, start their own tahfiz schools.

The tahfiz schools are different from the madrasah (Islamic school) system in Malaysia, in that some of the madrasahs are funded by the government, with students taking the SPM and STAM exams. Madrasah students do not have to memorise the Islamic holy book to graduate.

Mr Zahid said the government aims to produce more tahfiz graduates with "professional qualifications", possibly making Malaysia a model for other countries. "The prime minister aspires that by 2050, 125,000 tahfiz graduates, professional tahfiz graduates, will be created," MMO quoted him saying.

For a start, Mr Zahid said a new tahfiz school being built in his Bagan Datuk constituency in Perak will have 1,000 tahfiz graduates a year. All will sit the SPM and STAM.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysia seeks to expand syllabus at Quranic schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe