PETALING JAYA: An academic has discovered that native Christians in Sabah, especially those in the rural areas, are reluctant to send their children to government-run pre-school programmes as they fear the students would be converted.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) principal research fellow Denison Jayasooria revealed that a study he is currently working on, shows that the native Christians in such areas would opt to send their children to pre-schools set up either by churches or private entities.
His study, which revolves around faith-based communities, is expected to be completed early next year.
“There are two factors for their decision. One they want their mother tongue to be taught and the other was the fear the children, at such a young age, might be forced to convert under pressure,” he told reporters on the sidelines after a talk at the Malaysia Freedom Summit earlier today.
Jayasooria said he had learned of this particular concern from discussions with local leaders.
However, he clarified that the local leaders had not revealed any specific incidents that sparked such fears.
Jayasooria then said there needs to be greater sensitivity especially when a majority of the civil servants come from one religion and one ethnicity and are sent to a place where there is a different make-up.
60% of Malaysian Christians are natives of Sabah and Sarawak.
“Local administrators and civil servants need to be extremely sensitive to the religion, culture, language and ethnicity of the dominant group in the area.”
Issues of students in Sabah, which is home to a sizeable Christian population, converting to Islam is not new.
In 2015, controversy broke after reports surfaced that a Christian student had embraced Islam and donned a headscarf without her parents’ knowledge.
It was alleged that she was influenced by the school’s former hostel warden during her board.
However, the state education department denied any wrongdoing by the school or any teacher involved, claiming the student had wanted to convert on her own accord.
A year before, a Labuan church group claimed that “active conversion attempts were nothing new” at a matriculation college on the island off Sabah.