PETALING JAYA: An academic has urged new Education Minister Maszlee Malik to improve the popularity of national schools by not only having adequate proportions of non-Malay teachers there but also letting non-Muslim pupils attend their own religious classes.
Tajuddin Rasdi, a professor at UCSI University, said attempts should be made to broaden the horizons of teachers and students of all faiths, with efforts to expose them to each other’s cultures.
In line with this, he added, Islamic religious teachers should also be retrained to change their attitudes to allow more openness and interaction with other faiths.
He said presently, Muslim students attended Islamic studies classes while others were given moral studies.
“I studied in a Chinese school and it had a Buddhist club. Pupils learned the teachings from the club and these were not part of (regular) classes. This could also be looked into ,” he said.
“But we have Muslims who are frightened of Christianity,” he told FMT.
“We are frightened because we don’t know (about other religions). Unfortunately, religious scholars have been saying you should not know.”
Tajuddin said Chinese and Tamil language classes should also be held in national schools.
While both vernacular and religious schools were important, he added, it was crucial for students to mix with those of other races.
“We should not hear people saying they have never stepped into a church before. Why not? We share a heritage,” he said.
“If we have the idea of isolating ourselves, we will not be a great country.”
Tajuddin said it might take about 10 years to have a good balance of teachers from different races and backgrounds.
For now, he said, the education ministry should undertake immediate measures to encourage students from different streams to mingle with one another.
For example, a student who attends a Chinese school should spend at least one week or 40 hours in a national school nearby as part of an integration programme.
Students could also visit mosques, churches and temples, he added.
“A real initiative would also be to retrain teachers to pass on the skills of integration to students.”
Tajuddin said teachers and students needed to know that differences among people contribute to the country’s strength.
“If everyone is the same, how can we build the country? Our differences are our strength,” he said.