THE death of a 7-year-old pupil after he was allegedly assaulted by fellow pupils at the newly-opened but unregistered religious school in Temerloh, Pahang, is yet another sad episode for tahfiz centres, sekolah pondok and madrasah in the country.
Whether they are registered or unregistered centres, the issues of safety and protection of our children indicate the inefficiency and inefficacy of supervision in these schools by the state and federal authorities.
The blame game will be at play as debates grow on how to control the mushrooming of unregistered religious schools that should be under the purview of religious authorities and the Education Ministry.
Like living the AirAsia tagline “Now Everyone Can Fly”, it is worrisome that any Mat, Dollah and Ali with some religious knowledge can now open a tahfiz school that provides education in the memorisation of the Quran by children.
For many an ustaz, it’s a relentless dream to open a tahfiz school. They hope to reap divine pahala (rewards).
It’s like building a stairway to heaven and it’s the surest way.
An authentic hadith reported by Uthman bin Affan quoted Prophet Muhammad as saying: “The best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”
Well, they can be the best among us if these ustaz can assure the parents and authorities about providing a safe, secure and conducive learning environment for their students, besides taking the most important legal aspect into account — registering their schools with the authorities.
But many tahfiz schools are fire-traps with illegal renovations to the buildings and premises as the administrators did not bother to adhere to safety regulations.
Many tahfiz schools do not screen the teachers and helpers, who may be sexual offenders or of unsound mind. In fact, the authorities seldom screen the owners of these private tahfiz schools to determine whether they are well-endowed to run their cause.
From what we can see so far, some administrators are sending their pupils to malls and petrol stations to appeal for donations.
Just in case, there is a law that protects children from sexual misconduct and bullying.
Section 29 of the Child Act 2001 states that “any childcare provider who fails to comply with the law commits an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding RM5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or both”.
Many tahfiz schools do not screen their pupils, who may be problematic to others, like in many bullying cases that have made the news.
Many schools are not equipped with necessities like proper learning classrooms or a playground. They are just set up haphazardly.
The way I see it, parents are at fault as well. They kind of like lepas tangan, or wash their hands off, expecting the tahfiz centres to educate and change their children, even though the child may have attitude problems.
For parents who truly want to see their children undertake the Quran memorisation study, it is an investment in spiritual knowledge that pays the best interest — in this world and the hereafter.
However, some parents see it as a form of “escape”, in which they are hoping that the “spiritual learning” will turn their children into better persons if they cannot educate them themselves.
So much for the adage “There is no school equal to a decent home” and “No teacher is equal to a virtuous parent”.
I noticed many tahfiz pupils hopping from one school to another after they were found to have disciplinary problems. In many cases, they were expelled for bullying other pupils.
I agree with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who proposed a law to act against parents who send their children to unregistered tahfiz schools.
One good thing that came out of this was a clarion call by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia commissioner for children, Professor Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, who urged the federal and state authorities to put all tahfiz schools under their purview to avoid violence and abuse among the pupils.
She said the Education Ministry and religious authorities were responsible for ensuring that no children were abused or bullied at school or any educational institution.
All schools, religious or not, should be registered with the government as education is a federal government’s jurisdiction as provided under Article 13 of the Ninth Schedule to the Federal Constitution.
What happened in the Temerloh tahfiz school has indeed hoisted a red flag on the pressing need to supervise schools, whether religious or not, by the state and federal authorities. There must be a coherent way to stem this problem.
There have been too many bullying cases in tahfiz schools.
Bullying among children and teenagers is a depressing topic, and there must be a concerted way by all, not just the authorities, to curb these ugly incidents that leave emotional scars on the victims for a very long time.
C’est la vie.
The writer is a former NST journalist, now a film scriptwriter whose penchant is finding new food haunts in the country