The Education Act 1996 (Act 550) should be amended to allow for the registration of private Islamic education institutions, including private tahfiz schools, to be subjected to the Act, with the agreements of state governments.
The recommendation was a proactive measure submitted in looking for ways to overcome issues related to tahfiz schools, including security, in view of the fact that the management of such schools was currently under the jurisdiction of state governments.
The recommendation, which was submitted at the High-Level Committee (HLC) meeting of the Tahfiz Schools Special Task Force chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in Putrajaya today, saw a need to improve Act 550 for better enforcement of such centres.
“I hope the state governments agree to this for the common good,” said Zahid, who is also the home minister, to reporters after the meeting at Perdana Putra.
“We are concerned about this problem, although it is under state governments. The federal government exercises concern because we don’t want to see indifference in (the administration of) tahfiz schools,” he also said.
The meeting, which submitted several recommendations on the tahfiz school issue, was also attended by seven cabinet ministers, including Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom, as well as inspector-general of police Mohamad Fuzi Harun.
Zahid said Jamil Khir was empowered with engaging the state government to discuss the proposal.
"We will engage the state government first before we amend the act," he said.
Ahmad Zahid said the recommendations of the HLC would be submitted at a meeting of the National Council for Islamic Affairs (MKI) today, which was chaired by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and attended by state government representatives.
He said the recommendations would also be tabled in the Cabinet meeting tomorrow.
Currently, he said, there are 941 private tahfiz schools registered with Persatuan Madrasah Tahfiz Al-Quran Malaysia, involving 9,470 teachers and 150,000 students.
However, he said only 612 schools were registered with the Education Ministry and state government authorities, for fear their schools would be taken over.
“The registration of the tahfiz schools will be coordinated between the state governments and the federal governments, so the issues of taking over and duplications of power between the two parties do not arise,” he said.
In the meantime, Ahmad Zahid said the meeting also proposed that the federal and state governments were jointly responsible in coordinating their administrations and channelling financial aid if necessary.
In addition, he said the formation of a setting up approval criteria framework and management of tahfiz schools nationwide was also recommended with standard specifications, to be decided by local authorities, the Fire and Rescue Department (JBPM) and related agencies.
Also suggested was that the premises of tahfiz centres, orphanages, old folks’ homes and kindergartens must comply with safety standards.
“We will also encourage the setting up of fire and rescue volunteer teams at the premises,” he said.
In addition, he said the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh), JBPM, PBT and the Malaysian Association of Facility Management would conduct a large scale safety awareness campaign at all the premises concerned.
The special task force was set up to coordinate the safety of tahfiz schools following the fire incident at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz Centre in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, in which 23, including 21 students, perished.
Ahmad Zahid said that since 1989 until the latest incident, 39 fires had taken place at tahfiz schools involving 56 deaths, including 54 students.
He said the HLC meeting also agreed to set up a permanent coordinating committee to monitor the management of people’s religious schools (SAR), tahfiz schools, and "religious huts" nationwide, including improving existing safety standard.
Ahmad Zahid said the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) and the secretariat for MKI would also act as the secretariat for the committee.