The Government started the scheme in 1993 by setting up the Edusave Endowment Fund with an initial contribution of $1 billion. The capital sum reached the targeted $5 billion by 1997. This fund is invested and the interest earned is disbursed as grants and awards to schools and students to pay for enrichment programmes and fund additional resources. .
After the National Day Rally announcement, any Singaporean child who is studying full-time in a government, government-aided or independent school, junior college, centralised institute, Institute of Technical Education or special education school, or enrolled in madrasahs, privately-funded schools, as well as children who are home-schooled or residing overseas, can benefit from Edusave.
One of the major announcements in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally (NDR) speech was extension of the Edusave scheme to madrasah students. “This is a long-standing issue. Malay PAP MPs have raised this with me over many years. We have reconsidered this policy, and we have decided to change it. We will extend Edusave accounts and contributions to all students of school-going age, whether they attend madrasahs, study abroad, or are home schooled,” Lee said in his Malay speech.
Specifics by MOE
A day later, the Ministry of Education (MOE) in a press release on August 19, stated, “With effect from 2014, Edusave contributions (EC) will be extended to all children who are Singapore Citizens aged 7 to 16. This will benefit 20,000 more children, including those enrolled in madrasahs, privately-funded schools, as well as children who are home-schooled or residing overseas. Those aged 7 to 12 will receive the EC amount applicable to primary-level students, which is currently $200 per year. Those aged 13 to 16 will receive the EC amount applicable to secondary-level students, which is currently $240 per annum. Like students in MOE schools, children who are home-schooled or enrolled in non-MOE schools in Singapore will be able to use their EC to fund enrichment activities in Singapore organised by their education providers.”
For some, this “policy shift” has been the most important take-away from PM's NDR this year.
The opposition Workers' Party (WP) MP, Pritam Singh, in an interview to The Strait Times said that according to him, the announcement in PM's speech that came “close to a strategic shift was extending of Edusave to madrasah students”. The WP in a statement on NDR 2013 also “welcomed the use of Edusave for students in madrasahs, which is something that has been advocated by the Workers’ Party in Parliament”.
Last year, Singh's colleague and fellow MP from Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, while participating in the debate for Committee of Supply had demanded that Edusave be extended to madrasah students and argued, “Muslim parents send their children to either of the six full-time madrasahs in Singapore to teach them Islamic values in terms of manners, morals, humanism and courtesy. The religious curriculum taught there emphasises the values of community and solidarity, and the need to build a compassionate society where people live in harmony regardless of race, language and religion.”
Strategic shift or not but its certainly a welcome development.
The recently released Suara Musyawarah report [an independent committee set-up by Minister-in-charge of Muslim affairs Yaacob Ibrahim last year to collect feedback on the concerns and aspirations of Malays in Singapore] also recommended extending Edusave to madrasah students.
“There are strong calls across the various groups the committee met, for the government to provide greater support for the six full-time madrasahs. Notwithstanding that madrasahs are Islamic religious schools that operate as private schools registered with MOE, madrasah students are required to sit for the PSLE since 2008. Further, the Joint Madrasah System (JMS) has made much progress in terms of reviewing the madrasah curriculum to be more in line with national education. These efforts go to show that madrasahs offer secular education components that are aligned to the national curriculum, on top of offering Islamic religious education. They also reflect the madrasahs’ efforts to ensure that the quality of madrasah education and that madrasah graduates are equipped with similar knowledge alongside their peers who go to national schools,” said the Suara Musyawarah committee in its report.
The MOE has set a target to implement the extended Edusave scheme by the second half of 2014 and will be releasing more details on its usage later.
The madrasah issue
Last year, the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) explained the madrasah issue in its third convention journal, The Next Decade: Strengthening Our Community’s Architecture. It stated:
“The madrasah issue emerged when the government introduced a new Education Act in 1999 which made it mandatory for all Singaporean children to attend primary schools. Given that madrasah education is considered private education, the implication was that children could only attend the madrasah at the secondary school level. The community opposed to the new policy. The issue worsened when the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong remarked that the madrasah were churning out too many graduates who were not sufficiently trained in the modern sciences and hence could not find jobs in the competitive Singapore job market. In essence, the Singapore government felt that the madrasah were churning out more graduates than needed by the Singaporean Muslim community. Thus, the six madrasah in Singapore are now restricted to a student intake of 400 students each. Madrasah students who are already enrolled in the system are exempted from the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), a compulsory examination for all students before entering secondary school. Students admitted after the Act came into effect, that is the 2003 cohort onwards, are required to take the PSLE and achieve a certain benchmark set by the government.”