- Siti Lights
Sunday, 5 Aug 2018
by siti kasim
THE Science and Technology Human Capital Report and Science Outlook 2015 by Akademi Science Malaysia show that we may soon have a serious shortage in science-related fields.
It seems more students are opting out of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields at secondary and tertiary levels.
Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister, Hannah Yeoh – quoting the National Council of Science, Research and Development which stated that the country needed about 500,000 scientists and engineers by 2030 – pointed out that we have only 70,000 registered engineers, seven times lower than the number required.
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry proposed black shoes, special number plates and a manual for noble and religious values to be read out at assemblies.
What is going on here? Why is there this serious disconnect between what the nation needs and what the so-called custodian and driver of the nation’s education machinery?
I think it’s time to talk about the fundamental elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about when it comes to education reform in Malaysia – the number of hours dedicated to religion (including its related subjects) and the influence of religion in Malaysian schools.
With 60% of our population being Malay-Muslims, what and how their children are educated from young is a concern to all Malaysians.
They are the backbone of the nation’s future. Even a cursory look at the hours spent by these children in religious classes should alarm everyone, what more in the government’s Sekolah Agama (religious schools).
Equally of concern, in Sekolah Kebangsaan (national schools), non-Muslim children would be attending alternative subjects that may not enhance their educational value, especially in Science, at the times Malay children attend their religious classes.
Educating children is a zero-sum game. There are only so many hours in a day. Children cannot be going to classes all day long.
They also need time for games and sports and other extracurricular activities that have nothing to do with classroom learning but more to do with expanding their experience of life, physical exertion and just relaxing.
Therefore, their “classroom time” is finite and each subject accommodated means another will have less of it.
A typical Malay-Muslim child in Year One at national school undergoes approximately four hours per week of religious studies (including related subjects such as Tasmik or Quran reading).
Another hour and a half per week go to Bahasa Arab.
Science, on the other hand, is only accorded an hour and a half per week. A Year Six pupil gets about four hours of religion and related subjects, with one hour of Arabic per week. Science gets two hours per week.
Let’s be honest.
The only reason for Arabic being taught is due to its affiliation to the religion, otherwise the next language a Malay child should be learning is either Chinese, Tamil or even Spanish, the next most spoken language after English.
So basically from Year 1 to Year 6, the ratio is approximately on average two hours of Science versus five hours of religion per week.
That is the formative years of our children. What are we doing to our children? This is appalling.
We are basically indoctrinating our children in religion and neglecting basic sciences that will make them critical thinkers and progressive individual with real foundation.
In the same instance, our non-Malay children also are disadvantaged because they are not taught those sciences at the time Malay children are in their religious classes.
Let’s get it clear.
The function of education is learning to think critically.
The function of religious studies is indoctrination to be obedient followers. We are regressing our Malay children and failing our Malaysian children overall.
Again, let us be honest. Our national education system today, save the vernacular schools, both from an administrative and teaching standpoints are overwhelmingly Malay.
And the Malay-centric system is overwhelmingly religious.
Our children are taught overtly and subliminally that being the “correct” Muslims is the only option.
The authoritative teacher and peer pressure brought upon the Muslim child today is overwhelming at school.
It is a norm to find daughters coming home in tears being bullied as a result of their or their parents’ outward appearance, especially mothers, that do not conform to religious dogma.
The bullies in most circumstances are the Malay teachers themselves. As such, both parents and children conform to avoid the oppressive peer and teaching pressure.
In such an environment, the dichotomy between Muslim and non-Muslim children becomes pronounced.
Is it any wonder that our society right from school to their adulthood has become divided and suspicious, and in a significant portion, easily inflamed with hatred?
Today, race is not the main driver of such divisiveness, it is the religious influence over society starting from the schools.
We need to confront this issue head-on and not be cowed by the label of “sensitivity”.
It is the sensitivity of not talking and confronting these issues that has made the bad become even worse. One cannot solve a problem if one cannot acknowledge and confront their existence in an honest manner.
We need honest conversations and political will from the Education Ministry to overcome this seemingly intractable virus that has infected our whole education system and administrative body.
In this aspect, I have not even touched about the watered-down content or substance of the school subjects, especially Science and History, as a result of the religious influence within our education system.
That will be for another day.
What we have is an almost unique Malaysian national education problem found nowhere else in a functioning democracy.
The result of at least 30 years of Barisan Nasional and PAS politics of using religion to buy the votes of the Malay electorate.
We require a head-on examination of the philosophy of Malaysian education which is today religious-centric instead of education-centric and STEM-centric as would be required by a 21st century modern nation that wants to be developed.
It also requires a total re-education of our teaching human resources – from one that has been religiously indoctrinated to one that will be accepting of all religious and non-religious peoples and societies as being equally good.
One where the teachers are focused on STEM education and ensuring critical thinking rather than being obsessed with religious pre-occupation of any sorts when they are in the national schools educating our children.
One where rational critical thought is the inspiration for good values rather than one that derives on religious books and doctrines as the minister has instead suggested.
We need to demand this of our Government, from our educators and our education system.
If these two fundamental aspects of our basic primary education cannot be rectified – a major increase in teaching/learning time for the sciences and a significant reduction in religious indoctrination and influence in national education – no amount of other esoteric and sophisticated policies and plans would be of any worth.
Tags / Keywords: Politics , Siti Kasim
Content retrieved from: https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/siti-kasim-thots/2018/08/05/the-fundamental-need-in-malaysian-education-reform-we-need-a-headon-examination-of-our-education-phi/.