Hard to fight extremism at school, says ex-headmaster

Concerns remain over racism in public schools despite assurances from the education minister. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: The recent uncovering of a plot to attack houses of worship has prompted a former public school headmaster to allege that there is a link between the execution of education policies and the rise of militancy.

Lim, who allowed only his surname to be disclosed, accused “certain education ministry officials” in the former administration of encouraging policies that he said were divisive.

He brushed aside the education minister’s recent statement that religious extremism could be countered by education underpinned by compassion, saying school principals and teachers were often guilty of perpetuating divisiveness.

“I’m happy I’m now in an international school where the policies are better and inclusive,” he told FMT. “But I am pessimistic about government schools.”

He cited instances of increased lesson periods for Islamic studies and said his current school had reduced such lessons to the minimum allowed.

He said this was done gradually and parents generally welcomed the move.

He also said his school would dismiss teachers found to be propagating extremist views.

“We fired an ustazah a few years ago who we found was an extremist. Can a public school do the same if its rubbish headmaster is an extremist?”

He said the entire public school system would have to be reformed and it would not be easy. “We can already see how difficult it is for Putrajaya with a civil service that is not entirely in tune with its new policies.”

Melaka Action Group for Parents chairman Mak Chee Kin said politicians employing the rhetoric of racial or religious supremacy were part of the problem.

“Since nothing has been done to stop them, many people feel their views are not wrong and begin to subscribe to such thinking,” he said.

If politicians were to mind their language, he added, parents and teachers would not be influenced and would not share such views with their children or students.

He said this would not happen if the government acted to curb extremist views.

Public school teacher Suriati alleged that schools, particularly urban schools, were fertile ground for the sowing of racism and religious extremism.

She said pupils in urban schools would isolate themselves by race. “The Malays are grouped together and the Chinese are on their own. Of course, there will be some groups that have a mix, but this doesn’t normally happen with students who have come to secondary school from the background of vernacular education.”

She said Malay-speaking primary school leavers would be isolated for not being able to speak English and the same was true with Tamil school leavers.

“And those who speak English fluently will ostracise themselves from the rest,” she added.