SINGAPORE - Singapore's six full-time madrasahs are to 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 about 350 new awards to be given to students who shine in these subjects. The rest will go to the 127 teachers of secular subjects, either as financial incentives or training grants.
The grant makes good on a pledge Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made in 2015 to give the teaching of these subjects a boost.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim on Thursday in Parliament announced a slew of financial incentives and training grants for madrasah teachers, as well as awards for their students.
The government grant will be matched by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), which is setting aside its own funds for religious education, said Dr Yaacob.
It will pour $1.1 million a year into incentives and training for the 112 teachers of religious subjects, and about $100,000 as awards to students who excel in these subjects, such as Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic 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.
Responding to Mr Zainal Sapari's (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) question, Dr Yaacob also said that madrasah quota of 400 students per cohort has produced enough asatizah needed to meet the Muslim community's needs.
Muis monitors the numbers, and looks at required competencies as well. He added: " To ensure our asatizah meet those competencies it is imperative that we continuously focus on raising the quality of madrasah education and inspiring the students to do their best."
Madrasah students' performance in national exams has been improving in recent years. In 2016, 98 per cent who sat for the PSLE were eligible for a secondary school course either in the madrasahs or in national schools, up from 91 per cent in 2012, said Dr Yaacob. More students also qualify for the express stream.
"These trends bode well for the future of our asatizah fraternity and Muslim institutions," he added.
Singapore madrasahs play an important role in developing future generations of asatizah with a strong grounding in both religious and secular subjects, said Dr Yaacob.
More than 2,500 such teachers have registered under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme, which endorses qualified Islamic teachers.
The minister, replying to Ms Rahayu Mahzam's (Jurong GRC), said draft proposals of the Administration of Muslim Law Act - which was last amended in 2008 - for public consultations will be put up on March 14. The proposals seek to reinforce Muslim institutions such as Muis and the Registry of Muslim Marriages, enhance management of Muslim assets, and further strengthen Muslim families.
Dr Yaacob also gave updates on the new Madrasah Al-Arabiah campus, which was announced last year. To be built next to its current premises in Lorong 6 Toa Payoh, the new campus will be equipped with up-to-date IT infrastructure and facilities, and is estimated to cost about $17 million.
Muis has set aside $10 million for the new campus, and the madrasah will raise the rest from the Muslim community. The school's community will be consulted on the design of their new campus in the third quarter of this year, and construction is expected to start next year ( 2018).
On the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund (MBMF), Dr Yaacob said collections in the first six months since a revision was made last June has been healthy. Since June 1, 2016, Muslims pay $1 to $10 more in monthly contributions to the fund. This is expected to raise annual contributions to $6 million, bringing the net total to $26.2 million each year.
"The support for the changes to the MBMF is an affirmation of the affluence of our community, and of our spirit of self-help," said Dr Yaacob. "Through the MBMF, we come together to build our mosques, strengthen our religious education, and uplift Muslim families.''
He added: "The rate revision last year will also help ensure there are sufficient funds to pay for current and future mosque developments."
Since 2009, when the fund was expanded to help upgrade existing mosques, 23,300 more prayer spaces have been added. The 25th mosque to be built under this fund, Maarof Mosque in Jurong West, was opened last August.
A 26th is on the way: the grand Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands. It is nearly complete, and will be opened to the public in April 2017, said Dr Yaacob.
"Our Singapore Muslim community can be proud of how far we have come over the past 52 years. Today, we stand strong because of our can-do spirit and strong Muslim institutions. We stand strong because as a community, we work together and care for each other," he said.
"By building a resilient and confident community that stands united with the rest of Singapore, and in partnership with the Government, we shall overcome whatever challenges that come our way."