Square Pegs in Round Holes: Madrasah Graduates in Modern Singapore (Edition no. 7/February 2016)

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Oleh Ustaz Tarmizi bin Wahidobor ummah 1

Background

The quota for madrasah students allowed for enrollment each year has been limited to around 400 and this is due to many factors. Most of the reasons given are due to some studies which suggest that there is not enough room to accommodate the employment of such graduates in the long run.

Because it is a topic that is close to our hearts, some of us tend to get emotional, and maybe even prefer the alternative explanations that we hear, rather than the narrative that is shared with us via the news and other official channels.

But let’s say, of all the reasons that are presented to us, one rationale that is most justifiable, is the perceived low economic value of madrasah graduates and asatizah to society.

No matter how hard we try, we simply can’t ignore the context of where we are, the country we live in, and its economic policies which drive the nation forward.

Hypotheses

  1. Madrasah graduates can only contribute back to society in a limited number of fields.
  2. Not only are the areas of contribution limited, but the demographics of those whom they can benefit are usually confined to their own community (of same religious and racial backgrounds).
  3. There is apparently not enough evidence to prove that madrasahs are able to produce graduates who will have the potential to add value to the nation’s economy.

Needs

The first need is for the madrasahs to prepare the students by helping them explore other disciplines and areas of study. The issue that some madrasahs will raise would be in trying to squeeze in new modules in what is already a packed timetable for the students and teachers.

It is common knowledge to many, that in most madrasahs, students at the primary level start with a higher number of subjects as compared to those in conventional schools.

Nevertheless, things have changed over recent years, and most of the 6 full-time madrasahs appear to have progressed quite a bit from the ways of yesteryear. There are now more initiatives which encourage cross-cultural integration, as well as new opportunities for the students to learn about modern science and technology from the very best.

The second need is for parents of the madrasah students to be highly attentive of their child’s core competencies and areas in which they are struggling with in school. If their strengths and weaknesses are identified early, parents can then help to guide them to move towards a direction which would help them make better decisions for their future.

The third (and most important) need is for the present batch of graduates to be the pioneering group that would represent what it means to be active, progressive, and  relevant contributing members of society.

What this means simply is, that our contributions must not only be relevant for the needs of present-day Singapore, it will also be progressive in its thinking, ground-breaking in its approaches, and valuable to the nation’s growth and future development.

Without doubt, the number of madrasah graduates who have gone on to work in industries which are deemed ‘unconventional’ has increased. However, how much of their work have actually translated into real economic value for the community and the nation?

As much as we don’t like it, our country is extremely pragmatical in most of its approaches. It’s run almost like a corporation. Thus, the nickname Singapore Inc. There needs to be a bottom line. But the good news is – bottom lines today are not calculated merely by the number of dollars and cents. Because there is also a social impact bottom line.

Meaning, if we can help to raise our value as individuals, by uplifting our community and eradicating its ‘diseases’ effectively, people may begin to pay more attention to us and madrasahs, will be looked at and perceived differently thereafter.

obor ummahEfforts & recommendations

It is known that the government along with its relevant ministries and agencies have been working together to help the students broaden their areas of interest and opportunities for employment upon graduation.

This is to ensure, that in the case where no room for employment can be afforded to them in the conventional workplaces such as mosques, madrasahs, and Muslim-run VWOs, that they would still have good alternatives to choose from.

We should focus on gathering or collecting data based on how much social change our madrasah graduates have had an influence on due to the teachings and programmes that they have conducted through their own line of work.

If we are not confident that we will be able to collect enough significant evidence to back up stronger claims, then perhaps it is timely for us to assess, review, and rethink new ways of doing things to achieve optimal socio-economic outcomes.

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