NEARLY all madrasah teachers are now trained, and this will help students in religious schools keep up better with those in mainstream ones.

Another 40 of these teachers graduated yesterday with a specialist diploma in teaching and learning. This brings the number of trained madrasah teachers to 200 - accounting for 94 per cent of all madrasah teachers here.

Just a decade ago, only 16 per cent of them were professionally qualified. The situation improved after the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) invested more than $2.5 million to train the teachers over the last 10 years.

In his opening speech at yesterday's graduation ceremony at the Singapore Islamic Hub, Minister- in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said the investment shows Muis' strong commitment to providing madrasah students with quality teachers.

The specialist diploma programme in teaching and learning for full-time madrasah teachers was launched in 2007 as a collaboration between Muis and the National Institute of Education (NIE).

While these teachers continue giving lessons in schools, they also attend classes on how to manage students and use technology to teach, for instance.

The 18-month programme includes observation by NIE supervisors of their teaching techniques, and learning journeys to mainstream schools.

Muis' senior director for madrasahs Razak Mohamed Lazim said: "We want our madrasahs to excel like other teaching institutions. To do that, we can't run away from the fact that educators need to be capable. If our madrasah teachers excel, so will their students."

This year, 150 madrasah students qualified for the express stream in secondary school - the highest number in the last three years - after sitting the PSLE, on top of their religious exams.

Madrasahs, said Dr Yaacob, are important institutions close to the hearts of the Singapore Muslim community, and will continue nurturing future religious leaders.

He said: "Given the growing complexity of living in the modern world, our community will certainly need their guidance and that of other experts."