An Education Director in Pahang has asked schools in Kuantan to conduct mass daily prayer sessions before students are allowed to go home. This reinforcement of religious ritual amongst Malays is supposed to make them better people: more responsible and disciplined, and with the ability to lead prayers and recite the Quran. This is just another of the many silly things our educators are perpetrating on our students, and another school bites the dust. You want to build character? You teach them the meaning of honesty, integrity and hard work. You teach them empathy and sacrifice, and show them examples of public figures (if there are any) that characterise strength of character. All very simple.
These religious rituals are burdensome on students, who are already loaded with more than enough of such rituals. They are unnecessary and should not be part of 21st-century schooling. I agree with Abdul Razak Baginda, who said we have “too much religion” in our schools. (I don’t like Razak at all — I don’t even know him. When Altantuya asked him for USD500k, he should have just paid her the money and she would be alive today. I don’t like stingy lovers.)
These rituals do nothing to help Malay students become better educated, understand personal responsibility or be more disciplined. The proliferation of religious ritual in schools is yet another sign that UMNO leaders, educators and officials have lost their marbles. It shows clearly that they have no other interests or skills to impart to students. They themselves probably have poor character.
These educators seem to be out of their depth when it comes to the scope of modern education. Only religion and God give them something to talk about, since both subjects require no standards of competence and no competitive environment to excel in.
There is no standard of right and wrong in rituals that can be empirically determined; all you need to know is how to recite verses of the Holy Book, to graduate from some Arabic universities and how to dress appropriately. Rituals are easy to enforce because you put the element of fear into them, so that students are compelled to follow them without even understanding what the whole process is about.
Character building is a lot more than reciting verses. Maybe these educators have no clue what character building means. Maybe philosophy, logic, and values like integrity, honesty, etc., are all too difficult for these “educators” to excel in themselves and teach to students. They are busy trying to please UMNO politicians that they abandoned their work. They forget what’s good for the students
Religious rituals practised daily in our schools are a failure and they will continue to fail to build character and impart life’s good values.
A man we’ll call “A” worked for many years as part of a maintenance crew for an airline. He earned RM50,000 a year. His wife worked in a factory in Banting and earned about the same amount in yearly income. One day, A decided to stop working. He now stays at home and spends his time at the mosque, praying or reading religious books. He refrains from socialising and doesn’t even help in domestic chores. According to the criteria of the Pahang Education Director, A would make the grade. He would be considered an exemplary student in our school system because of his religious devotion.
However, his piety and prayers do nothing to help his wife find enough money for household expenses. His ability to be an imam does not help his three children have enough money to spend even on books. His family is without half the income they used to have. How do public prayers in schools help A nurture and care for his family, take personal responsibility for his children, or take on a larger sense of responsibility for his community and society? They don’t.
Men and women from earlier generations did not have the extent, nor the intensity of religious rituals of today whether in schools or public places. There were no moral policemen looking out for some of them who skipped Friday prayers, or out with the girls at joget centres. They somehow did very well as civil servants, judges, journalists, policemen, and political leaders. They took pride in their professionalism, they understood honour and integrity in the service of the public. They lived modestly. It would never have crossed their minds to protect and cover up thieves and to abandon truth for money and position. It would be out of character for them to parade piety and yet teach our children the false values we see much of today. That’s character for you.
Life’s lessons can be learnt in many places and in many ways, and from different people too. Our Education Ministry must stop turning national schools into religious centres. They must refrain from imposing all sorts of religious responsibilities on poor students. Give them a proper education. It does not matter if some of them are not qualified to be an imam.
Start recruiting good teachers — not those who only know about religious rituals — but educators who are well-versed in the various academic disciplines. In that way, students, many of whom are from the lower-income group, can have the chance to excel just like their wealthy friends in private schools do.