SINGAPORE - All aspiring Islamic religious teachers will now have to go through on-the-job training or work-based projects before they get accreditation to practise and teach in Singapore.
This practicum, which aims to improve the employability and professionalism of religious teachers or asatizahs, is part of the compulsory year-long Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies (PCICS).
Aspiring asatizahs have to receive this certificate before they can be accredited under the mandatory Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS).
The first batch of 50 PCICS students will start in April, with another 50 expected for the next intake in October.
Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman said on Friday (March 6) that the practicum component will provide PCICS students with exposure and experiential learning, to make them more employable.
"Our young asatizah can be great assets to the community, beyond the mosque and the madrasah. We must continue to invest in their development," he said during the debate on the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's budget.
"In turn, I hope that our young aspiring asatizah will rise to the occasion, be the confident guides that the community needs to navigate future challenges, contribute to the vision of a Muslim community of success and help us build a strong and cohesive Singapore."
Dr Maliki chairs the Committee on Future Asatizah (Cofa), a panel to guide the development of religious teachers here.
He was responding to several MPs, including Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), on plans to develop asatizahs.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), which set up the PCICS programme, said students will have three choices for the practicum: work-based projects, internships of a minimum of two months, and a work experience programme that lasts between 10 months and a year.
Participants who opt for the last two options will receive a salary.
A Muis spokesman told The Straits Times these three options were chosen to cater to the diverse needs of students.
He encouraged those who wish to work throughout their PCICS candidature to opt for the work experience programme.
Those who prefer freelance work or are passionate about a certain topic could choose the work-based project, he added.
On whether the practicums could clash with academic classes, the Muis spokesman said the PCICS programme was developed with the working adult in mind.
Face-to-face classes are thus scheduled mainly on weekday nights and Saturdays, to help students balance their studies with work or practicum commitments.
Organisations that students can partner with for their practicums include Islamic organisations, mosques and public and private sector groups like the SSA Academy and the Family and Inmates Through-care Assistance Haven (Fitrah) office under Muis.
On Friday, Dr Maliki also announced a new three-year asatizah workforce development plan to build up the skills and capabilities of the more than 4,800 asatizah here.
This plan will include schemes for skills upgrading, salary guidelines and a career and competency framework.
It was developed following recommendations from Cofa, which released its report last month on how to improve the development and competencies of asatizah here.
Muis will release a Career Map and Competency Framework (CCF) next month to guide asatizah in their personal and professional development.
"This framework articulates the different roles and pathways within the formal religious sector and provides information on the respective skillsets needed," said Dr Maliki.
A Muis spokesman said the framework will also help asatizah identify skill gaps in their current or desired job roles, which can include work in mosques, religious schools, the syariah court and the council itself.
The religious teachers can then identify relevant training programmes to improve their skills.