STUDENTS of Islamic religious schools, particularly those from the sekolah pondok, once snubbed by their mainstream school counterparts for being inconspicuous, are now being given recognition.
Students from these schools now have a chance to pursue their tertiary education at higher education institutions like Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, Universiti Selangor, Universiti Tenaga Nasional, Universiti Islam Antarabangsa and Kolej Universiti Islam Sultan Azlan Shah.
“Previously, sekolah pondok students had limited career prospects as they were allowed to teach only in such institutions.
Today, they can choose to pursue professional careers,” said Datuk Dr Mashitah Ibrahim who is chief executive of the 1Malaysia Pondok Development Foundation.
Students who have mastered the Quran (tahfiz) have now gone on to become engineers, lecturers, lawyers and judges for the Syariah courts.
The government, has even established an institution of higher learning called Darul Quran for those who wish to pursue a similar path. It offers programmes such as tahfiz at the diploma level.
This is not the first government initiative to help such schools. The government has previously helped by providing financial aid and other forms of support.
With government help, many of these institutions have been modernised and offer integrated forms of Quranic education with a curriculum set by the Education Ministry.
These new forms of education have made learning the al-Quran more attractive to youths.
Dr Mashitah said that in 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced an allocation of RM740,000 for the development of 19 pondok and tahfiz schools in Kedah.
Twelve sekolah pondok were to receive an allocation of RM50,000 each while seven tahfiz schools would benefit from the RM20,000 allocated to them.
In the recent budget, RM50mil had been allocated for the deve-lopment of Islamic religious schools, another testimony of the government’s effort to enhance the position of these schools.
Meanwhile, Zubair Hassan, an educator at Maahad Tahfiz Al Hidayah, said many parents chose such schools as they offered an integrated academic syllabus and they wanted their children to excel in both fields of study.
”It is important to seek a balance of both forms of education,” he said when contacted.