Monday 20 October 2014

Islamic Education Fund to be made available to more needy students

More can tap fund to pay for lessons; new programme also lets them learn at home
By Walter Sim, The Sunday Times, 19 Oct 2014

More Muslim children will get help paying for religious classes, with the enhancement of a fund to finance Islamic education.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) yesterday said it has revised the eligibility criteria for assistance programmes under the Islamic Education Fund.

Apart from that, it also launched a home-schooling programme, Kids aLive Home Edition, to cater to parents who want to teach their children about Islam at home.

The Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, said: "For now, only 40 per cent of our students are taking part in Islamic education programmes. We hope to raise this to 60 per cent."

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the launch yesterday at Al-Mawaddah Mosque in Sengkang, he added: "We need to decrease the obstacles that might be preventing some families from coming forward."

The Islamic Education Fund, which received a $2 million boost this year, was introduced in 2004 and provides subsidies to help needy children pay for religious classes.

Currently, 2,000 students benefit yearly. This figure is expected to rise to 4,000 by 2016 as more people will qualify for assistance under the revised criteria, said Muis chief executive Abdul Razak Maricar.

The Needy Student Grant is now available to students who come from families with a per capita income of $500 or below - up from the previous limit of $450.

A Family Support Rebate, which covers two months of mosque madrasah fees, has also been extended to families with at least two children, and with a per capita income of between $501 and $750. Previously, the income criterion was capped at a total household income of $3,000.

Students who attend religious classes at non-profit organisations can now also qualify for financial aid - something not possible before.

And with the launch of the home schooling programme for children aged five to eight, parents who prefer to teach their children at home will also be able to get access to class materials adapted from the curriculum offered in 35 mosques.

These materials will be made available through online learning platforms iTunesU and Edmodo. In addition, the programme will also provide access to religious teachers, whom parents can get advice from.

Dr Yaacob said this was one way to strengthen bonds between parents and children.

"Children will look towards their parents if they have any doubts. I feel strengthening the role of parents in their children's education is important," he said.

Madam Masturah Salman, 34, a married mother of two boys aged five and seven, found the detailed lesson guides helpful.

"Sometimes, as parents, we are not fully equipped with the knowledge to share with our children," said Madam Masturah, who works in the education industry.

Since 2004, a total of $3.5 million has been disbursed from the Islamic Education Fund to help defray the costs of monthly fees and learning materials for more than 11,000 students attending mosque madrasahs.

Mr Abdul Razak said that Islamic education will continue to be an area of focus for Muis. He pledged to ensure that religious classes for the young will include "contemporary issues and provide relevant guidance for them in their daily lives".

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