Damanhuri Abas: High Time Government Treats Madrasahs More Fairly

Four of my five children are in Madrasah. They spanned 3 out of the 6 remaining full-time Madrasah still providing valuable service to the Muslim community. The Madrasah is a vital educational institution serving both iconic and strategic value to the interest and identity of the local Muslim community. The recent adjustment to allow Madrasah students to get Students yearly per capita grants for extra-curricular programs are overdue but nonetheless welcomed and helpful.

Yet decades on, the government is still only making baby steps towards acting as they should to provide equal share of aid to all educational institutions that serves the arduous task to the public of providing learning for our next generation. Just because it is a religious institution that is privately owned do not in any way justify an exclusion from its rightful entitlement for public aid when it is crystal clear that the Madrasah have no profit motives in doing their selfless work for the Muslim community.

It was only like yesterday when the Muslim community had to rally behind these 6 full-time Madrasah when changes to the education act were made imposing compulsory secular education upon them. By the Grace of God, far from wrapping up, the Madrasah raised up their game and vigorously struggled and came up to speed in meeting the conditions imposed upon them. Backed by a very strong united collective community-driven action, they continued to move forward under severe duress straining and testing them tremendously along the way.

It was never a level playing field for the 6 surviving full-time Madrasah. Some had to struggle under enormous circumstances to keep the listing institution alive and floating believing in their relevance and value to the community. Financially, the Madrasah were severely tested having to cope with burden of staff salary, operational cost from maintenance, upkeep, etc., to ensuring educationally robust infra-structure within severe spatial constraints to meet the ever changing challenging new educational needs for their students.

It was nothing short of a miracle that with only the heavily subsidized fees paid by parents which barely covered not more than 30% of operational cost, the deluge of donations from the community became the vital lifeline for the Madrasah over the last few decades until today. But surely this is a great affront to justice, fairness and equality that the 6 Madrasah continue to be denied the equivalent financial support they should have been entitled to like other similar religiously based schools that runs in Singapore providing selfless services to their communities.

Why does the Government choose to discriminate against the Madrasah by denying their full right to be fully funded as a legitimate educational institution in this country serving the public with no profit motives?

We can see religious based schools among them the Buddhist based schools such as Manjusri and Maha Bodhi operating in spanking buildings paid for by taxpayers money. We have even huge buildings for Christian based schools from convent schools such as CHIJ to St Andrews, St Joseph and many more with some even sitting on prime sites in various parts of this Island. We then have the race based Chinese schools with its strong Confucious ethics and Chinese identity with the label of SAP schools endowed with even more glorious infra-structure. The only exceptions are our Hindu brethren as the second biggest minority without any religious or ethnic based school.

The Government must answer for its refusal to give equal treatment like what is accorded to the other religious or ethnic based schools but not to the Madrasah. The past excuses are really unacceptable when we think of the severely imbalanced provision given to the examples of the list of religious and ethnic based schools mentioned above.

Here the Muslim community had never asked for special provision, it is simply equal, fair and just treatment that we are asking from the Government. There is no justification for the Government not providing all the material support needed by the Madrasah like any other educational institutions that serves the people albeit a designated group in society, the Muslim families who chooses to school their children in the Madrasah.

The selective arguments that Madrasah is a private school do not hold water. The Madrasah is a private school categorised as Islamic schools in the Ministry of Education apart from other private schools in general and directly under the purview of the Islamic Council of Singapore, MUIS.

This demarcation shows the unique position of the Madrasah as an essentially Muslim community based school and not a strictly private school with profit motives. How can the Government choose to place the Madrasah on the same status as other profit-driven private schools knowing fully well that they never functioned today as a strictly private entity but exists only as first an Islamic educational service provider for the Muslim community and now fully running national curriculum too?

The recent news of the merger of JCs leaving potentially unused infra-structure should be good news for the 6 full-time Madrasah as they should have first right of refusal to occupy the premise under subsidized or even rental free occupancy since they were not given any funding or privileges for decades before to build on any land provisioned with the luxury of space conducive and ideal for an educational institution comparable to other national ones or the religious/ethnic based ones mentioned earlier.

It is overdue that the Government be just and fair to the 4% or less of Muslim students who chooses Madrasah as their choice of school so that the constitutional demands that each Singaporean child be given equal opportunity to access the best education in sufficiently provided space for full holistic learning of the mind and physique be met. This grotesque marginalization of Madrasah and the education it offers must end as it goes against the spirit of our beloved country’s constitution that guarantees equal rights and access to quality education regardless of race, language or religion.


Source: Damanhuri Bin Abas

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