AUSTRALIAN SUPPORT TO MUSLIM EDUCATION: A MODEL OF SUCCESS FOR ASEAN NEIGHBORS
Officials from the Thailand Ministry of Education and Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) recently visited Davao to learn about the educational approaches being undertaken by the Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM) Project in aid of Philippine Muslim education. BEAM is a partnership of the Philippine Dept. of Education (DepEd) and the Australian Government through the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).
The group, accompanied by officials from AusAID Bangkok and Jakarta, met with DepEd national and regional officials and BEAM staff working on Muslim education. The three-day Muslim Education Exchange Program (MEEP) allowed Thai, Indonesian and Philippine Muslim education officials to share experiences and build on the best practices from the three countries. MEEP is geared towards establishing linkages among the different stakeholders and showcasing the interventions developed by the BEAM- Expanded Support for Muslim Education (ESME) team for possible consideration for use in the Thai and Indonesian education systems.
Noor Mohammad Saada, BEAM Muslim Education Coordinator, said, “The BEAM-ESME is not just about providing training; more importantly, it is about building bridges of dialogue, providing the asatidz (Muslim teachers) and the pilot madaris the space and the opportunity to articulate their aspirations. More than just an affirmative action, ESME is a peace building strategy that will have long term peace and development in Mindanao.”
BEAM assists madaris (or Muslim schools) obtain DepEd recognition and provides trainings for madrasah administrators in school management, improves teaching competencies of teachers, limited facility upgrade and materials development. Support extends to strengthening the Bureau of Madaris Education in DepEd-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to take on a more proactive and sustainable leadership role within its jurisdiction. The project also supports programs focused on assisting DepEd introduce Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) subjects into the curriculum of public schools located within Muslim communities.
Prasert Geowpet, Inspector-General of the Thai Ministry of Education had said, “I have gained a lot about the management of Muslim education in the Philippines from this exchange. Upon my return to my country, I will make a report about the strategies I have learned from BEAM, among which are the Ustadz (“religious teacher”) trainings, procedures to develop a comprehensive Muslim curriculum, and a possible collaboration between Thai and Philippine universities.” The Thai delegation in particular, is very interested in applying the BEAM model in Southern Thailand.
Similarly in Indonesia, AusAID takes on an active role to improve the quality of teaching in Islamic schools through Learning Assistance Project for Islamic Schools (LAPIS). According to LAPIS Director Robert Kingham, “BEAM and LAPIS are similar in that we support social equity. Every person has the right to access quality basic education regardless of religion and ethnic background. We can learn from each other through networking with neighboring countries.”
Director of Higher Islamic Education in the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA), Abdurrahman Mas’ud believes that “the topics discussed [our visit] were all relevant in Indonesia. More dialogues should be organized to talk about issues such as poverty, injustice and the lack of education and competence which are affecting ASEAN countries.”
BEAM is one of the Australian Government’s education initiatives that demonstrate Australia’s strengths in the field of Islamic studies.
Another is the recent announcement in Australia that a new A$8 million Australian National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies will be established to further advance knowledge and understanding of Islam. The Australian Government’s commitment to support the establishment of the Centre is a significant new initiative under its National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security.
Announcing the initiative, the Australian Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Robb, said that the new National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies would play a leadership role in public debates on contemporary Islam.
A consortium comprising the University of Melbourne, the Griffith University in Brisbane and the University of Western Sydney will host the new Centre. Mr Robb said the consortium was well placed to establish a world-class centre that would provide tertiary accredited undergraduate and post-graduate qualifications. Courses – which will include subjects as diverse as architecture, art and commerce – will be open to students with an interest the Islamic world.
“The courses would provide many subjects relevant to aspiring Muslim religious and community leaders. Courses at the Centre would also provide an important vehicle for the teaching of Islam in an Australian context, applying the usual academic rigour of the Australian university system. It will also help Muslim leaders and Islamic teachers understand the context within which Muslims practice their faith and celebrate their cultures, ” Mr Robb said.