MOST primary-level madrasah pupils now study subjects such as the history and principles of Islam in Malay.
But from next year, more than half of the annual Primary 1 intake of 400 pupils will do so in English.
Many are increasingly more comfortable with the language and the move aims to better prepare them for national exams.
About 210 new pupils entering the revamped system next year will join Madrasah Al-Irsyad - one of three full-time Islamic religious schools affected by the changes.
Consultant Nailul Hafiz Abdul Rahim, 43, who has three children at the school, welcomed the news, noting that children here were now more conversant in English.
'They will also be more confident explaining Islam to non-Muslims. In the long run, this will result in better inter-faith understanding,' he said.
The emphasis on English, announced by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) yesterday, is one way that pupils at primary level will benefit from improvements to madrasah education.
Another change is a learning support programme to help weaker lower-primary pupils catch up with their classmates.
Teachers will also be trained to encourage more discussion so pupils develop critical thinking skills. Stronger pupils can also take Higher Arabic.
The revamped Joint Madrasah System was announced last October.
Under it, three of the six madrasahs here will focus on areas they have an edge in so as to lift academic standards.
The changes also mean Al-Irsyad will phase out its secondary classes and become a feeder primary school for the Aljunied and Al-Arabiah madrasahs, which will focus on secondary education.
The three religious schools currently offer both primary and secondary classes.
Aljunied will aim to groom religious leaders while Al-Arabiah will focus on mainstream subjects.
Details of the curriculum changes were released yesterday by Al-Irsyad's executive director Razak Mohd Lazim and Aljunied's new executive director Murat Md Aris. Muis is still seeking an executive director for Al-Arabiah.
Mr Razak, 41, currently Muis' director of mosques, will be seconded to Al-Irsyad full-time next January, but is now helping out part-time.
Ustaz Murat, 46, Muis' director for Islamic development, will be seconded to Aljunied, his alma mater, in June.
Both will help run the madrasahs, leaving the principals to focus on academic work.
There will also be changes for older students at Aljunied. These include career guidance; electives on bioethics, life sciences, counselling and Islamic finance; and a scholars' programme to stretch top students.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Apr 4, 2008.