PETALING JAYA: Those involved in education have reminded school heads and state education departments that national schools are not Malay schools, and neither are they Islamic schools.
Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) chairperson Noor Azimah Rahim pointed out that it was the responsibility of principals and headmasters to ensure the national spirit remained in public schools.
“But people seem to forget that. It needs to have the national spirit. This is because religion has its place and time during specific lessons,” she told FMT.
She said parents with children showing an interest in religion could send them to religious or tahfiz schools as these were more specialised.
She was asked to comment on the recent ruling by Kuantan district education officer Mohd Razali Mustafar that all schools in the district had to hold a mass prayer in the school compound before the students went home. This was because, Razali said, prayer was a key element in character building, especially among schoolchildren.
Azimah, who constantly voices out on education issues, said school heads must make sure non-Malays are not sidelined or made to feel alienated in national schools.
She said the “doa” was good and should be encouraged to be done as frequently as possible, but it could also be done privately or under “one’s breath”.
Azimah said families or individuals usually did a prayer before leaving their house for a safe journey or to have a good day. The practices of Islam were never meant to be imposed on anyone, she added.
A former teacher, Tan Ai Ming, said national schools should bring back the spirit of Rukun Negara, a declaration of national philosophy, as a way of promoting unity among the young.
She said if this was not done, and the current atmosphere in national schools remained, more parents might opt to send their children to Chinese and Tamil schools or to costly international schools.
Politicians are against the idea too
Saifuddin Abdullah, the former deputy higher education minister, has asked the Pahang Education Department to carry out an immediate probe into the impact of this order on Kuantan schools.
Saifuddin feels that sometimes the intention of school principals and state education departments is good, but their approach is wrong.
He said the department should particularly check to see if such actions made more Indians, Chinese, some Malay parents send their children to other schools.
Saying this was already happening, Saifuddin added: “They perceive the national schools to be more like religious schools.”
Saifuddin, who is now Pakatan Harapan chief secretary said Islamic religious studies were already being taught as a subject for Muslim students, where “the teachers can do all of the prayers during the classes”.
He felt that sometimes the intention of school principals and state education departments were good, but their approach was wrong.
“The problem is, sometimes even the intention is wrongly placed,” he said, referring to the ruling in Kuantan.
MCA leader Ti Lian Ker had told FMT previously that national schools would draw more pupils from non-Malay families and those better off if the focus was on education and not religion as their primary duty and responsibility.
FMT is still trying to contact Razali for comments on the issues raised against the ruling.