Historic schools agreement

Muslim Judicial Council president Sheikh Irfaan Abrahams,middle, co-signed the memorandum. With him is Deon Louw, deputy director for Institution Management and Governance at the WCED, left, and MJC second deputy president Sheikh Riad Fataar.

The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has signed a historic memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) for its Hafith School Education Programme.

Children attending Hafith schools dedicate a few years to memorise the Qur’an, and during this time, they do not attend mainstream schools.

In the past, this meant that many of the children had challenges trying to get back into school.

With this MOU, however, the WCED appointed the MJC as the regulator of Hafith Schools, which will also see children who are part of this, being taught mathematics and English, to make the transition back into mainstream schools easier.

Sheikh Riad Fataar, the Second Deputy President of the MJC, said it had taken them four years to get to this point.

At the ceremony, Sheikh Fataar said as the regulator, the MJC would look at the building of Hafith schools, the teachers’ qualifications and whether there was sufficient accommodation made for the children registered there, among others.

“We have people in our fraternity who are education experts. The MJC Academic Support Programme started off with 120 pupils, and it has since grown to 425 pupils. The WCED recognises only the MJC as a regulator,” he said.

Parents need to fill in a home education form at the WCED. After the children complete their time at Hafith schools, they will be assessed by the WCED, to determine which grade would be most appropriate for the child. It was also agreed that every child would get a Centralised Educational Management Information (Cemis) number — this is a unique identifier, which the child will have throughout their schooling.

MJC presidents Sheikh Irfaan Abrahams co-signed the MOU on Tuesday February 4, at a ceremony held at the MJC office.

Speaking at the event, Sheikh Abrahams said: “I met Dr Nazli Domingo-Salie (WCED’s deputy chief education specialist) because of me being at Darul Islam Islamic High School. When I was appointed president of the MJC, Dr Domingo-Salie told me I am in a better position now to attend to the compliance of Hafith schools. I thought that it would probably take between 10 and 15 years — here we are — four years later.”

Deon Louw, deputy director for Institution Management and Governance at the WCED, also described the signing ceremony as a momentous occasion.

“I am responsible for the registration of independent schools or home education. Parents would apply for home schooling, but would send their children elsewhere — and this was illegal — hence the discussions and why we are sitting here today. The challenge was that when a pupil leaves for Hafith school and comes back — would they be ready for Grade 8? A parent must apply to the head of education to be exempted from compulsory school attendance for the study of the Holy Qur’an. This usually takes between three to five years. After completion, a diagnostic test will now be done, to assess them. The WCED and the MJC will keep a database and monitor the progress of this programme. We are excited that we are now able to close the gaps,” he said.

Dr Domingo-Salie said one of the challenges she faced when doing an inspection at Hafith schools, was that some of them did not comply with South African law.

“The wisdom of this collaboration is that we are standing together, and we are not breaking down the institution of the memorisation of the Qur’an. Our students and our country as a whole, can only benefit from this,” she said.

The next step, according to Sheikh Shahid Esau, is to get teachers at Hafith schools an appropriate qualification, so that they may be registered with the South African Council for Educators (SACE).

Discussions around this have already started, Sheikh Esau said, and he encouraged all Ulama (Muslim religious leaders) to take this up.