Academic proposes exciting, sensible way to teach religion in schools

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PETALING JAYA: A vocal critic of the country’s education system has given the education ministry several suggestions on how religious studies can be taught in schools.

After continuously expressing disappointment over past education blueprints, UCSI professor Tajuddin Rasdi has created his own draft blueprint on what he believes should be implemented in schools in the country.

In this draft, he outlines, among other things, how religious studies should be taught from Standard 1 all the way to Form 5.

His suggestions place emphasis on exposing students to religions other than their own, as well as practice as opposed to memorisation when it comes to learning about their own religion. He also feels there is little need to have exams for religious studies in later years.

Currently, Pendidikan Islam is included in the SPM taken by Form 5 students.

For Standards 1 to 3, Tajuddin says rituals of religion should be “practiced well” instead of being memorised, and that 15% of their school time should be allocated for religious studies.

“Trips to mosques, churches and temples of each group are a must,” he tells FMT.

“The emphasis for the early education years of Standard 1, 2 and 3 should be to strengthen the children’s personal community identity as an entity within their own cultural construct. We should not try to make them patriotic citizens of Malaysia yet. It’s enough for them to know their own cultural and religious world.”

For Standards 4 to 6, Tajuddin says students should learn about the rituals and beliefs of other cultures and be taken to places of worship other than those of their own religion.

“I do not understand why Malays are so frightened of visiting churches and temples when the great Umar al-Khatab once prayed in a Christian church during the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem,” he said, adding that the contact hours for religious studies should be decreased to only 10% of the students’ time.

As for Forms 1 to 3, Tajuddin says that some understanding of the country’s ideas about nation building can be introduced in relation to intracultural understanding.

“Let there be no more Chinese who don’t know how many times the Muslim prays or what circumcision means and let there be no more Malays who do not understand the meaning of the Ching Ming ritual.”

Tajuddin said that for Forms 4 and 5, religious studies should only be continued because it acts as a “communal anchor”.

He also believes religious teachers should be trained not simply as religious scholars but as “real teachers” with varied ideas of using multimedia, drama, singing, trips to old folks homes and other methods to instill the right values.

“At the moment, learning religion is the most boring subject of all! It’s like walking into a madrasah or a seminar room. Teaching religion, especially Islam, must be changed to be more dynamic. Once I suggested the reading of Enid Blyton’s books to teach moral values to some ustaz. They never talked to me again after that.”

He also suggests there should be no examinations for religious studies by the time the students reach these grades.

Tajuddin thinks that in order to improve education in the country, think tanks should work on ideas and compete to present these ideas to a committee of Malaysians with diverse backgrounds who would then work as judges.

“We, the people, must take back the power of educating our children. I am treating education as the building of a person and not simply the building of a workforce. Educating our children should be exciting and interesting, otherwise we shouldn’t be teaching at all.

“We should not view our children as a simple workforce but as tolerant, creative and critical individuals. These are traits which are most important as survival skills and no amount of science or extra computer time can replace such core characteristics.”

Tajuddin says his 25 years’ experience as an academician and 27 years’ experience as a father “qualifies” him to write his thoughts on a new primary and secondary school curriculum.

“Let’s face it, I don’t care how many thousands score 12A’s in SPM or 5 A’s in UPSR. I do not put much stock into rote learning which is unhealthy socially, physiologically and politically to our nation. Not in a hundred years can it produce critical minds to grapple with the problems of today and in the future. It will only produce mindless robots waiting for their next pay cheque.

“Truly, we are living in a fantasy world if we think that our children have the best if they score straight A’s in their exams.”