Singapore's six full-time madrasahs will receive an annual grant of up to $1.5 million to improve the quality of education in secular subjects, such as science and mathematics.
About $100,000 will be put up for an estimated 350 new awards, for students who shine in these subjects. The rest will go to the 127 teachers of secular subjects, as financial incentives or training grants.
The grant makes good on a pledge that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made, in 2015, to give the teaching of these subjects in madrasahs a boost.
The awards for madrasah teachers and students were announced yesterday by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim.
The government grant will be matched by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), which is setting aside its own funds for religious education.
Muis will pour $1.1 million a year into incentives and training for the 112 teachers of religious subjects, and about $100,000 into awards for students who excel in subjects such as Islamic jurisprudence and theology.
"This partnership between the Government and the community will encourage our madrasah students and teachers to continue to improve themselves and be the best that they can be," said Dr Yaacob, at the debate on the budget for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. Muis is a statutory board under its purview.
Yesterday, Muis' deputy chief executive, Dr Albakri Ahmad, told The Straits Times that the government grant will help madrasahs do even better at national exams.
Dr Yaacob said that 98 per cent of madrasah students who sat the PSLE were eligible for a secondary school course in either the madrasahs or national schools last year, up from 91 per cent in 2012. More qualified for the Express stream as well.
"These trends bode well for the future of our asatizah fraternity and Muslim institutions," he said.
Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) wanted to know if there were plans to review the Administration of Muslim Law Act.
The minister said that draft proposals will be put up for public consultation on March 14. The amendments seek to reinforce Muslim institutions, enhance the management of Muslim assets and further strengthen Muslim families.
Dr Yaacob also gave updates on the new Madrasah Al-Arabiah campus in Toa Payoh.
It will be equipped with up-to-date information technology infrastructure and facilities, and is estimated to cost $17 million.
Muis has set aside $10 million for the new campus and the madrasah will raise the rest. Construction is expected to start next year.
Dr Yaacob also said that collections for the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund (MBMF) have been healthy, despite a revision last June that saw Muslims paying $1 to $10 more in monthly contributions.
"The support for the changes to the MBMF is an affirmation of the affluence of our community and of our spirit of self-help," he said.
The 26th mosque under this fund - the Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands - will be opened next month.
Dr Yaacob also responded to comments by Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) on wanting to see Malay-Muslims in all aspects of public life.
Mr Faisal said the move to reserve this year's presidential election for Malay candidates compromises meritocracy and added that some in the community feel that there is a lack of fair opportunity in seeing themselves represented in positions such as permanent secretary.
Dr Yaacob said that while the community hopes to see achievements in a range of fields, this will take time. "My colleagues and I believe that what we have done all this while will give us the excellence we want in our community," he said.