In recent years, Muslim parents are asking the mainstream schools to take into consideration for Muslim girls to wear their hijabs to school but MOE is taking a strong stand against this idea . The reason given was that the mainstream schools subscribe to the idea of identical uniform represents a institute of equality and no group should have alteration privilege to the uniform. On the other hand, many Muslims who believe that Islam is a way of life and donning on a hijab is the representation of such a belief. As a result, many Muslim parents are “forced” to put their children in madrasahs. With the progression of Singapore’s society, one wonders if it is necessary for the rigidness of uniform conduct in mainstream schools without exception for religious needs? On a greater picture, is it necessary to differentiate our education system for Muslims between the mainstream schools and religious schools?
Many Muslim parents have chosen to enroll their children into madrasahs over mainstream schools mainly for the integration of religious and secular education that these schools offer. Currently, Muslim children who are in the mainstream schools can only visit mosques for their prayers outside school hours. Moreover, mainstreams schools neither allow Muslim female students to wear hijabs to school, in line of their code of uniform; nor do they allow Muslim students to observe their five daily prayers openly. This poses as a problem to parents who strongly believe that those measures are clear obstacles to practicing Islam as a way of life. As the Muslim population becomes more highly educated, many of them seek to have a greater voice for their religious beliefs for their families and their future generations. However, problems are still abundant with the rigidness of mainstream schools and the lack of resources for madrasahs to cater for such growing demand.
In 2000, the Singapore government passed the Compulsory Education Act i to ensure that all citizens of Singapore attend compulsory education. However, there is an exemption for children who opt for designated schools, namely the 6 madrasahs. Although this exemption seems to be an embracement of diversity and freedom of choice, one wonders if the quality of such schools differs from the mainstream schools’ offerings? In addition, our mainstream schools are known for their secular education. Hence, should we take into account embracing our different religions and making an effort to retain our cultural roots?
One of the most notable gauge for school quality is to study the way classes are conducted. Currently, there are no explicit benchmarks stated for the 6 madrasahs on the MOE website. Instead, the Committee of Compulsory Education only states that madrasahs are subjected to Education Act and they are under the jurisdiction of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) since 1990. This leads one to question if madrasahs are providing an education that is comparable to the mainstream schools as there are no statistics to compare against. Furthermore, there are concerns that the high emphasis on both Islamic teachings may prevent the madrasahs from exposing its students to different cultures and non-academic studies and there are no alternative routes of learning for academically weak students.
Another way to compare the quality of education between mainstream schools and designated schools is by the amount of funding available. With more funding, one can fairly assume that the school is able to hire better-qualified teachers and provide more unique experiences for its students to learn better. Under the CE act, it states that no government funding is available for the designated madrasahs. These schools mainly rely on the students’ school fees, limited grants from MUIS and donation drives.
Despite the difference between mainstream schools and madrasahs, it seems madrasahs are gradually progressing to the stage where the students can handle both religious studies and the normal academic subjects. The local Muslim community has highlighted the local madrasahs’ achievements and they have become an alternative to the mainstream schools. Such progression in the madrasahs leads one to wonder if it is possible to have our mainstream schools to offer an alternative subject and environment where students can choose to be themselves instead of a homogenous generation? Will there be a day when mainstream schools can also serve some functions of religious schools to provide a truly secular education?