Madrasah education in Singapore



The word madrasah is Arabic for “school”. In Singapore, a madrasah refers to an Islamic religious school.1 Local madrasahs offer a dual-education system that combines secular and religious learning.2 As at 2017, there are six fulltime madrasahs in Singapore registered with the Ministry of Education: Madrasah Alsagoff Al-Arabiah, Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah, Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah, Madrasah Wak Tanjong Al-Islamiah, Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri Al-Islamiah and Madrasah Al-Arabiah Al-Islamiah.3

History
The first madrasah in Singapore, Madrasah As-Sibyan, was established in 1905 on Bussorah Street in Kampong Glam by an Indonesian religious teacher.In 1908, an Egyptian named Othman Affandi Ra’fat set up Madrasah Al-Iqbal Al-Islamiyyah, which incorporated ideas from Egypt and the West in its curriculum. It offered a wide range of subjects, including English, geography, history, mathematics and town planning.Prior to Madrasah Al-Iqbal’s formation, madrasah education in Singapore had focused on rote learning of the holy text.6 Within 18 months of its founding, however, Madrasah Al-Iqbal had to relocate to Riau, Indonesia, due to financial problems and the disapproval of religious traditionalists over its seemingly Westernised education system.7


In 1912, Syed Mohamed bin Ahmed bin Abdul Rahman Alsagoff established Madrasah Alsagoff. The school was first located at his home on Java Road, and later in a dedicated building on Jalan Sultan as a result of increasing enrolment. In 1927, Madrasah Aljunied Al-Arabiah was set up with 56 students from Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. In 1936, the first madrasah that admitted girls, Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah, was founded by As-Syeikh Muhammad Fadlullah Suhaimi.8 Today, Madrasah Alsagoff Al-Arabiah and Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah only admit girls.

Enrolment
By 1941, the madrasahs in Singapore had around 2,000 students.10 After World War II, Singapore began to lose its status as the centre of Islamic education in Southeast Asia because students who had returned to their respective homelands during the war did not come back to Singapore. Nevertheless, the number of religious schools increased in the postwar years with 81 schools by the early 1970s, although only a small number were registered with the government.11 In 1950, official records showed only six madrasahs in Singapore, with a total enrolment of 700 students. But by 1966 there were between 50 and 60 madrasahs registered with the government, with about 5,000 to 6,000 students. These registered madrasahs received partial funding from the government.12


However, the growing emphasis on mainstream, secular education in Singapore as a means of socioeconomic progress, along with the shifting population distribution in the country, made madrasahs a less popular schooling option, and many closed due to falling enrolment. By 1982, only nine fulltime madrasahs remained, four providing secondary education and five providing primary education. A gender disparity was also apparent: By 1985 girls made up 95 percent of madrasah students, while 14 out of every 15 Singaporean students pursuing further studies at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, were female. This gender disparity resulted in concerns that there would be a lack of male religious officials.13

Role of MUIS
With the passing of the Administration of Muslim Law Act in 1966, madrasahs came under the purview of Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS; Islamic Religious Council of Singapore).14 However, the council initially lacked the manpower to enforce the legislation’s provisions, so madrasahs were able to function more or less independently. On 1 March 1990, MUIS took control of the registration and management of madrasahs, providing some form of a centralised curriculum.15


In the late 1990s, the madrasah curriculum was updated to include broader initiatives from the Ministry of Education, such as the use of information technology and the introduction of national education.16 In 2003, madrasahs emphasised their commitment to national integration through the national madrasah education blueprint.17 The blueprint comprised a curriculum that MUIS had spent a year and S$8 million to develop.18 National education was included in the curriculum to inculcate a sense of national identity and to remind students of the importance of national integration. English was also emphasised as the medium of instruction to foster communication and integration.19

In 2007, MUIS and the National Institute of Education (NIE) jointly launched a specialist diploma in teaching and learning, aimed at equipping madrasah teachers with critical pedagogical skills.20 The move came as part of MUIS’s larger aim to equip all madrasah teachers with professional qualifications.21 Between 2008 and 2015, MUIS spent over S$3 million on teacher training, with programmes organised by the NIE and Australia’s Edith Cowan University.22

MUIS administers and delegates funds from zakat (tithe), wakaf (endowment), Dana Madrasah (Madrasah Fund) and the religious education component of the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund contributions to fulltime madrasahs.23 Dana Madrasah was launched in October 1994 to raise the standard of fulltime madrasahs and to tackle funding issues.24 The fund aims to offer improvements in educational standards and facilities, promote teachers’ training and development as well as the capitation and resource grants for the students.25

Compulsory education
From as early as the 1970s, concerns had been raised by Malay political leaders about the need for madrasahs to incorporate secular teaching in order to ensure the relevance of madrasah education, and to improve career prospects among madrasah graduates.26 In 1966, the curriculum at Madrasah Aljunied began to include secular subjects; in 1971, Madrasah Al-Maarif became the first to prepare its students for the General Certificate of Education Ordinary (O)- and Advanced (A)-Level examinations as private candidates.27


In 2000, the Compulsory Education Act was passed, and compulsory education was implemented in 2003. Henceforth all children who are Singapore citizens and residing in the country must receive formal education in a national primary school, up to the primary-six level.28 Although children are allowed to pursue their primary education at one of the six fulltime madrasahs, they are also required to sit for the national Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).29

Under the Compulsory Education Act, madrasahs have to ensure that their students pass the PSLE with an aggregate score higher than the average aggregate score of Malay-Muslim pupils in the six lowest-performing national schools, and do so at least twice within a three-year period to continue admitting Primary 1 students.30 The first batch of madrasah students to sit for the PSLE under the legislation took the examination in 2008.31 Out of 321 students, 98 percent qualified for the secondary level, which was higher than the national average of 97 percent. In terms of average scores, however, students in mainstream schools performed better.32 In 2016, 97.6 percent of the 255 madrasah students who sat for the PSLE qualified for secondary school.33

Joint Madrasah System
In 2009, the Joint Madrasah System (JMS) was implemented to further improve the quality of madrasah education, with the participation of three of the six fulltime madrasahs.34 Under the new system, Madrasah Al-Irsyad (renamed Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri Al-Islamiah in 2015) stopped admitting new students at the secondary level, providing only primary education. Meanwhile, Madrasah Aljunied and Madrasah Al-Arabiah stopped admitting new primary students, providing only secondary education. The madrasahs under the JMS focus on different educational tracks, with Madrasah Aljunied providing a religious pathway and Madrasah Al-Arabiah, an academic one.35


Madrasah Aljunied offers the religious track for secondary students who want to pursue Islamic education at a higher level at institutions such as Al-Azhar University in Cairo, amongst others.36 Meanwhile, Madrasah Al-Arabiah provides an Islamic environment for students to pursue national curriculum subjects over a four- to five-year route leading to either Normal- or O-Level qualifications.37

By 2014, Madrasah Al-Irsyad was admitting an average of 204 primary-school students annually.38 The first batch of secondary-school students admitted to Madrasah Aljunied and Madrasah Al-Arabiah under the JMS would sit for their O-Level examination in 2018, while a pilot batch preparing for an international baccalaureate (IB) diploma would enrol in 2019.39 With an IB qualification, students will have more options for their tertiary education.40

To support the revamped curriculum, facilities at the three schools under the JMS were upgraded. Madrasah Al-Irsyad also moved to an eight-storey building at the Singapore Islamic Hub on Braddell Road. The other three madrasahs – Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah, Madrasah Wak Tanjong and Madrasah Alsagoff Al-Arabiah – continue to offer classes for the primary, secondary and pre-university levels.41

Postsecondary pathways
The Institut Pengajian Tinggi Al-Zuhri, established in 2000, offers a diploma in Islamic education for postsecondary students. The institute is supported by MUIS and the Persatuan Ulama dan Guru-guru Agama Islam (Singapura) (Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association). The diploma is recognised by 11 universities and higher-learning institutes in Malaysia. Besides religious education, some of the careers pursued by graduates include accounting, human resources and business management.42 Another institute that offers a diploma in Islamic education is the Muhammadiyah Islamic College Singapore located in Geylang.43



Authors
Nadirah Norruddin & Nurhaizatul Jamila Jamil



References
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6. Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied & Dayang Istiaisyah Hussin. (2005, August). Estranged from the ideal past: Historical evolution of madrassahs in Singapore. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs,25(2), 249–260, p. 259. Retrieved from EBSCOHost via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
7. Mohamed Fairoz Bin Ahmad. (2010). Orientalism and integrative history: A study of an early 20th century Islamic periodical in Singapore. Retrieved 2017, May 2 from National University of Singapore, ScholarBank@NUS website: http://www.scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/handle/10635/18808; Sejarah penubuhan madrasah disingkap. (2000, April 21). Berita Harian, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Chee, M. F. (2006). The historical evolution of madrasah education in Singapore. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 6–28). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, pp. 9–11. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC)
9. Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. (n.d.). Background of madrasahs. Retrieved 2016, December 13 from MUIS website: http://www.muis.gov.sg/danamadrasah/background.html
10. Sejarah penubuhan madrasah disingkap. (2000, April 21). Berita Harian, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Sejarah penubuhan madrasah disingkap. (2000, April 21). Berita Harian, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chee, M. F. (2006). The historical evolution of madrasah education in Singapore. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 6–28). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC)
13. Chee, M. F. (2006). The historical evolution of madrasah education in Singapore. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 6–28). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, pp. 14–16. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC); Salim Osman. (1989, April 28). Declining enrolment in 60s and 70s led to fewer schools. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Haron A. Rahman. (1987, July 15). Proposals to upgrade Islamic education. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chee, M. F. (2006). The historical evolution of madrasah education in Singapore. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 6–28). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC)
15. Chee, M. F. (2006). The historical evolution of madrasah education in Singapore. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 6–28). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, pp. 14, 18. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC)
16. Chee, M. F. (2006). The historical evolution of madrasah education in Singapore. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 6–28). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, pp. 18–19, 21. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC); Muis kendali didikan agama mulai esok. (1990, February 28). Berita Harian, p. 3; No intention to close madrasahs. (1998, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; $700,000 dikumpul pada hari pelancaran [Microfilm no.: NL 19780]. (1994, October 16). Berita Harian, p. 1.
17. Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman. (2006). The aims of madrasah education in Singapore: Problems and perceptions. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 58–92). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, pp. 83–84. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC)
18. Simon, M. (2002, December 14). Curriculum drawn up, but will madrasahs take to it? The Straits Times, p. H18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman. (2006). The aims of madrasah education in Singapore: Problems and perceptions. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 58–92). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, pp. 83–84. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC); Simon, M. (2002, December 14). Curriculum drawn up, but will madrasahs take to it? The Straits Times, p. H18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Arlina Arshad. (2007, September 20). Specialist course for madrasah teachersThe Straits Times, p. 33; Kor, K. B. (2010, January 14). 24 madrasah teachers complete NIE course. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Arlina Arshad. (2007, September 20). Specialist course for madrasah teachers. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Positive response to enhanced government support to madrasahs. (2015, August 25). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
23. Bilangan pemohon masuk darjah satu madrasah kian meningkat. (2017, February 11). Berita Harian. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. (2016). Religious Education. Retrieved 2017, August 28 from MUIS website: https://www.muis.gov.sg/mbmf/Religious-Education/The-Need.html
24. Matlamat Dana Madrasah. (2006, August 9). Berita Harian, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. (n.d.). Dana Madrasah. Retrieved 2017, June 6 from MUIS Website: http://www.muis.gov.sg/danamadrasah/Dana-Madrasah/dana-madrasah.html
26. Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman. (2006). The aims of madrasah education in Singapore: Problems and perceptions. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 58–92). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, p. 61. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC)
27. Chee, M. F. (2006). The historical evolution of madrasah education in Singapore. In A. E. Lai & Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (pp. 6–28). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, pp. 13–14. (Call no.: RSING 371.077095957 SEC); Zakir Hussain. (2009, July 11). From scepticism to confidence. The Straits Times, p. 28; Madrasah Ma’arif mulakan pra-u bulan ini. (1972, February 3). Berita Harian, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Ministry of Education Singapore. (2010). Singapore: Compulsory education. Retrieved 2017, June 21 from Ministry of Education website: http://www.moe.gov.sg/initiatives/compulsory-education/; Parents must register kids for school. (2002, July 1). Today, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Simon, M. (2002, December 14). Curriculum drawn up, but will madrasahs take to it? The Straits Times, p. H18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. (2016, November 24). 2016 Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) performance of madrasah students [Press release]. Retrieved 2017, May 29 from MUIS website: http://www.muis.gov.sg/documents/Media%20Release%20-%20Madrasah%20Performance%20in%20PSLE%202016%20(for%20website).pdf
31. Yong, D. (2008, November 23). Madrasah pupils did well in PSLE, says minister. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Shamsul Jangarodin. (2008, November 21). 98% pelajar madrasah lulus PSLE. Berita Harian, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. (2016, November 24). 2016 Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) performance of madrasah students [Press release]. Retrieved 2017, May 29 from MUIS website: http://www.muis.gov.sg/documents/Media%20Release%20-%20Madrasah%20Performance%20in%20PSLE%202016%20(for%20website).pdf
34. Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. (n.d.). About JMS. Retrieved 2017, June 6 from MUIS website: http://www.muis.gov.sg/madrasah/About/index.html
35. Maryam Mokhtar. (2013, January 16). The revamped madrasah education system. The Straits Times, p. 9; Zakir Hussain. (2007, October 27). Madrasah revamp to lift academic standards. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah. (n.d.). Current pathway. Retrieved 2017, August 28 from Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah website: http://www.aljunied.edu.sg/curriculum/current-pathway
37. Madrasah Al-Arabiah. (n.d.). Retrieved 2017, August 28 from Madrasah Al-Arabiah website: http://mai.sg/academics-and-assignments/
38. Up to 400 Primary 1 places available each year in Singapore’s madrasahs. (2015, January 21). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
39. Maryam Mokhtar. (2013, January 16). The revamped madrasah education system. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. (n.d.). JMS timeline. Retrieved 2017, June 16 from MUIS website: http://www.muis.gov.sg/madrasah/Timeline/index.html
40. Shahida Sarhid. (2016, September 17). 25 dari Aljunied akan dipilih bagi program diploma IB. Berita Harian. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
41. Maryam Mokhtar. (2013, January 16). The revamped madrasah education system. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Haryani Ismail. (2007, December 13). Al-Zuhri sediakan pengajian bersepadu dan menyeluruh. Berita Harian, p. 3; Tidak semestinya lulusan Al-Zuhri pilih kerjaya sebagai asatizah. (2011, January 7). Berita Harian, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
43. Kolej Islam Muhammadiyah mulakan program ijazah bulan ini. (2004, February 3). Berita Harian, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Ahmad Osman. (2000, May 4). Leaders laud PM’s madrasah idea. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Ahmad Osman. (2000, June 3). Keeping the madrasah relevant in the new ageThe Straits Times, p. 74. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Ministry of Education. (2000, August 15). Aline Wong Committee recommends compulsory primary education [Press release]. Retrieved 2017, April 22 from Ministry of Education website: https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2000/pr15082000.htm

Popular again after decline in ’70s and ’80s. (1998, March 1). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1998, March 1). Why are more Malay pupils going to Islamic schools? The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 7 September 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Politics and Government>>Education
Schools--Singapore
Islamic education--Singapore
Education>>Special education
Philosophy, psychology and religion>>Religion>>Islam
Education
Muslim students--Singapore