By Rozainah Abdul Rahim and Mohd Ashraf Syafiq Mazlan
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 21 (Bernama) -- On Sept 14 this year, the nation woke up to news of the worse fire tragedy to occur for decades, killing 23 people in the early hours of the morning.
In the fire at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah religious school in Jalan Keramat Ujung here, 21 young students and two teachers were killed, while six more were critically injured. But worse than that was the fact that the 5.15 am fire was not accidental. It was caused by arson.
News of the incident shocked the nation and was picked up by the international media which described it as the ?Deadliest fire in decades in Malaysia'.
It brought back memories of a similar tragedy 28 years ago on Sept 22, 1989, when 27 female students of Sekolah Agama Rakyat Taufiqiah Al-Khairiah Al-Halimiah, popularly known as Pondok Pak Ya, in Kampung Padang Lumut, Yan, Kedah died when eight hostels they were staying were razed in a fire.
The fire in Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah was initially thought to have been caused by a short circuit in the wiring in its hostel building, but further investigations by the police forensic team and the Fire and Rescue Department (JBPM) later determined the cause as arson.
According to JBPM director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim, two gas cylinders were found just outside the dormitory where the students slept and there were signs of petrol which had been thrown onto furniture and the walls of the three-storey school building.
Two days later, police detained seven male youths, aged between 11 and 18 years, to help in the investigations.
It was later discovered that the motive of the arson was teasing and a war of words between the tahfiz students and these youths.
Following the incident, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced an allocation of RM30 million to upgrade private religious schools.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said a committee would be set up to monitor religious schools because the federal government would not interfere as the management of these schools came under the state religious authorities.
He said a policy would be formed for these religious schools but its implementation was under the state governments.
On Nov 26, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced that it would launch a special manual on occupation safety and health for tahfiz schools in January next year.
The fire tragedy prompted the setting up of the national tahfiz (religious school) institution for improvements to be made, with the National Tahfiz Education Policy (DPTN) now in the final stages and to be implemented after getting the consent of the Conference of Rulers.
It encompasses safety, operations, management and annual aid from the government which will strengthen its role in society.
The agenda to empower the tahfiz institution included the appointment of Ahmad Zahid as chairman of a high-level Committee for a Special Force for Tahfiz Schools, with the first meeting held on Sept 19 in which six recommendations were drawn up.
These included amending the Education Act 1996 (Act 550) to allow private Islamic education institutions including tahfiz schools to be registered; ensuring minimum standards for tahfiz schools, orphanages, religious schools, kindergartens and nurseries and forming volunteer firefighter teams at all these premises
At the committee's second meeting on Nov 24, tahfiz schools were urged to use the national curriculum and be registered with the Education Ministry in line with the National Education Act 1996.
The Cabinet Meeting on Oct 4 agreed to provide an additional RM30 million to the earlier allocation of RM30 million announced by the Prime Minister in Budget 2017.
Meanwhile, in Budget 2018, Giatmara was given an allocation of RM50 million to upgrade and maintain the wiring system in all registered tahfiz in the country.
The Giatmara Skills Training Scheme will also be introduced to provide tahfiz students with vocational training.
There are now 941 private tahfiz institutions in the country, although only 612 are registered with the Education Ministry and state authorities while 329 are not registered anywhere.
Ahmad Zahid has also been reported as saying that there are now an estimated 150,000 students and 9,470 teachers in all tahfiz institutions.