Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dissolution of non-Muslim religious societies in government schools?

The issue of the closure of all non-Muslim religious societies/clubs in Klang High School was highlighted by the Sun, in particular Citizen Nades, and it makes me wonder why this was  not first highlighted by the wakil rakyats (the MPs and/or the ADUNs) or even those appointed Local Councilors. Did people go to the 'wakil rakyat' and get no prompt response? Do people have more faith in journalist like 'Citizen Nades' than elected and/or appointed 'peoples' representatives'?

"...a note came from the department – the Kelab Agama Hindu, Kelab Agama Buddha and the Christian Union have to be dissolved immediately..."

REGULARS of this column would have remembered the number of times this writer has reiterated that he would not write on race, religion or politics. The reason for this was simple – I have always believed in one race – the Malaysian race long before 1Malaysia, and that religion is a personal thing and that none has the right to advocate one is better than the other. As for politics and the dirt it brings out, the least said, the better. Yes, I mix with politicians from both sides of the divide (some of them have become good friends) but except for the general elections when all hands are on deck for a small crew like ours, the intra and inter-party bickering, the name calling, accusations and the lies that are perpetrated become unpalatable.

I am making an exception, nearly eight years after my self-imposed gag-order. I am doing it reluctantly after seeing how children at the age of 12, are being compelled to see themselves being segregated by race and religion. It sad that almost every issue is seen through the eyes of race or religion. Even scholarships for good students who excel academically are transformed by certain parties into “you got more than me” games. What is more pathetic is the one-upmanship practised by a few and the many who wait on the sidelines to score cheap political points. And yet, we go around talking about integration, unity and the like, and not practising what we are preaching.

There’s religious education and there’s the learning of one’s mother tongue or what they called “pupil’s own language” in our days in school. On Friday, I took a trip to my alma mater after more than 40 years (I used to go for its sports day or play cricket but these were limited to the school field). While waiting to meet the principal of the Klang High School, I couldn’t help but read the notices on the board. One involved the enrolment in what has now become a co-educational school. It gave the breakdown of the enrolment of each class by gender and race. The statistics made interesting reading and we will save it for another day.

The visit was prompted by complaints from parents that the “headmistress has dissolved all non-Muslim religious societies” in the school, which I later found out, was not true. The decision was not made by the headmistress – it was made by the Selangor Education Department.

Since the headmistress was not around, she asked one Mrs Chen, the teacher in charge of co-curriculum, to address the issue. She had a chat with me. “I am new. I only came in February. When I took over the guru besar asked me to check if all the clubs and societies in the school have been approved by the department. I went through the files and there were no approvals. So, I was asked to write to check if they had been approved.”

She wrote in March and last week, a note came from the department – the Kelab Agama Hindu, Kelab Agama Buddha and the Christian Union have to be dissolved immediately. An announcement to this effect was made at the school assembly last week.

But hadn’t these societies existed in the school for years? No one raised an issue; no one objected to their existence and as usual, students were allowed to take part in them. Were they previously in existence illegally and students who had participated in them could be considered past members of “secret societies”? It is merely an administrative decision to legalise (for the lack of a better word) these clubs. Couldn’t the school be told to make a fresh application for approval pending which activities can continue? How come they have to be dissolved while similar clubs in other schools can continue to exist?

As many students are members of these societies and as co-curricular activities form part of the grading for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examinations, it is causing concern. With three months to go before their exams, why are students put under such pressure? Do they now have to scramble to be members of other societies?

My umbrage is on two issues – don’t mess with our children’s education and don’t inculcate differentiation or classification to children based on religion. They will start viewing things from a racial and religious perspective. Once these are ingrained in their minds, no amount of program muhibbah or kursus toleransi is going to help. For the sake of the future of this nation, stop messing around with our children – the leaders of the future.

R. NADESWARAN'S “homecoming” was somewhat sombre seeing and hearing the deterioration of standards at the Klang High School which gave him a foundation in education, sports and leadership. Comments: citizen-nades@thesundaily.com

And, reading another report in the Sun, we find out that this is not the first time this has happened. Early 2010, it also apparently happened at SMK SS17, Subang Jaya. It is shocking to hear that the Education Department may have been acting on its own - surely this should not be happening...and the UMNO-led BN government cannot just simply avoid responsibility by saying that it was done by some department or 'public servant', acting on their own. 

It must be a fundamental right for all religious groups to able to have their own society/club in schools, universities... and the State(government) should also not interfere with this right with the imposition of conditions, etc..

In a multi-religious Malaysia, maybe there is also a need for having prayer rooms/chapels for non-Muslim religions in government/private buildings. As a start, there MUST be prayer rooms for non-Muslim religions in all Hospitals - both government and private hospitals. When a loved one's life is in risk, friends and relatives really need a place where they can go and pray...

No such directive, says Nazri
by Llew-Ann Phang, Hemananthani Sivanandam and Meena L Ramadas

Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz

PETALING JAYA (July 12, 2010): The decision to dissolve non-Muslim religious societies in Selangor schools may have been taken unilaterally. 
Education authorities are now conducting inquiries as to how the Selangor Education Department came about with this ruling.

The issue came to light following revelations in Citizen Nades’ column today that non-Muslims societies at the Klang High School have been ordered to be dissolved.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz told theSun that the issue came as a real surprise to him because the Cabinet had never made such a decision.

“I have been a minister for the past 10 years and I have never come across a decision whereby non-Muslim religious societies are not allowed to be in school. 

"This is a real surprise because as far as I’m concerned, the Education Ministry is under the Federal government and I’m very sure the Cabinet has never made any decision about it. I think they (the Selangor Education Department) should withdraw it,” said Nazri, adding that he would raise the matter in the coming Cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Wee Ka Siong has ordered checks immediately.

“I have asked for a full report but it will only be ready in a week," he told theSun.

Nades’s column revealed that the school’s Kelab Agama Hindu, Kelab Agama Buddha and the Christian Union were dissolved two weeks ago. The union had been in existence since 1969.

Parents of students had written in to say that the “headmistress has dissolved all non-Muslim religious societies” in the school. 

However this was not true, as upon Nades’s visit to the school, he learnt from the teacher in charge of co-curriculum that the decision was made by the Selangor Education Department.

She claimed she had been asked by the headmistress to check if all the clubs and societies had been approved by the department but she found there were no approvals for these clubs.

Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon
Klang High School is not the first school to experience the shutting down of non-Muslim religious clubs as this has in the past happened in other schools.

Earlier this year, parents of SMK SS17, Subang Jaya were also told that similar clubs at the school were closed as they were not registered with the State Education Department.

Meanwhile, the Selangor government said it did not issue any directive for schools to disallow the establishment of non-Muslim societies.

State executive councillor for education Dr Halimah Ali said in fact, most schools in Selangor do not welcome the state government's initiatives for them.

"The federal government education agencies also do not communicate with us," she said, when asked for comment at the state assembly today.

In the meantime, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon is also keeping a watchful eye on the matter with the intention of briefing the prime minister if the directive is found to be widespread.

An officer from Koh's office said the minister was concerned and is conducting his own checks.

Here are some other views on the contentious directive:

>> Former Malaysian Hindu Sangam president Datuk A. Vaithilingam, who held the position of principal assistant director of Selangor schools for co-curriculum in the 1980s was appalled when he heard about the closures.

“I do not remember having any religious societies being dissolved. This comes as a big shock to me,” he said, calling for deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who is Education Minister to look into the issue.

Vaithilingam reminisces when Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was the Education Minister he made it clear that the teaching of religion other than Islam can be done out of school hours in schools.

“These societies have been existence for a long time and even when I was in service, Klang High School, along with Anglo-Chinese School in Klang, were top performing schools and they had these societies running in their schools,” he added.

>> Meanwhile, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism & Taoism (MCCBCHST) said such a move has "very serious implications" and that a prompt explanation should be given to parents and the public.

Its president Dr Thomas Philips said if indeed it was true that a such a directive was given, the council will protest the policy "with the strongest possible vehemence."

>> Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk S. Devamany meanwhile blamed “little Napoleons” for such decisions.

He said there is nothing wrong in having societies teaching children good value and system which cannot be incorporated in the curriculum.

“We should allow students, teachers and parents to get involved in this for the good of the child. That should be the paramount job of any teacher. Why are they stopping this? If they are stopping this I’m totally against this,” said the Cameron Highlands MP.

“ We don’t want such leaders to be in the system. These are the people who will create problems to this nation and destroy the 1Malaysia concept mooted by the PM.

"We must investigate first, if there is truth, immediate action must be taken. Let’s nip the problem in the bud,” said Devamany.

>> PKR’s strategist and Batu MP Tian Chua said that it was vital for children to understand the diversity, multiplicity of religion and mutual respect to each other.

“This should be encouraged and children should learn how to be tolerant in a Malaysian society. However, to have various committees could also be quite divisive if all children just want to play up the differences. 

“I think there should be a balance on how to give guidance to children so they understand the diversity, otherwise I can also share the concern that each of the religious society can also be a mobilising point for religious politics,” said Tian Chua.

He said that proper guidance and integration should be given to people and said that banning all religious societies is a regressive move.
Nurul Izzah Anwar
>>Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar said Muslims and non-Muslims should be exposed to the different believes and practices in early stages.

A former student of SMK Assunta, Nurul Izzah said such exposure can help people in the long run to achieve the 1Malaysia aspiration.

“I had first-hand experience but I think it’s good to allow Muslims or Chinese or Indians to be exposed to the different beliefs and practices from the beginning. I mean when else can you see nuns coming and singing hymns and saying prayers?

“Initially it was quite different seeing all these, seeing nuns singing hymns and reciting morning prayers but after a while it helps you develop your own sense of confidence in your own religion and have intelligent conversations with people of other faiths. I think it really helps to have that,” said Nurul Izzah.

>> State executive councilor for caring government Dr Xavier Jayakumar said all children should be allowed to join and form their own cultural and religious groups.

“It is very sad to read that schools do not allow the formation of non-Muslim societies and impose this on the children,” he said.

He said just as Muslim children have the ability to join cultural or religious societies that they identify with, non-Muslim children should be allowed to do the same. -- theSun
And, the MCCBCHS has also issued a statement on the matter (which I have copied from Lim Kit Siang's blog, and pasted here)

Why have non-muslims religious societies in Klang High School been dissolved?


The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism & Taoism (MCCBCHST) notes the report on page 8 of The Sun (12 July 2010) that in Klang High School “… the Kelab Agama Hindu, Kelab Agama Buddha and the Christian Union have to be dissolved immediately” and that an announcement to this effect was made at the school assembly last week.”

There are very serious implications of such an action and therefore MCCBCHST seeks immediate confirmation from the Selangor Education Department whether this has indeed transpired and if so, a prompt explanation should be given to parents and the Malaysian public at large as to the reason/s for such a directive. If in fact such a directive had indeed been given, MCCBCHST would like to express its disappointment that there was no prior consultation with it over such a serious matter as this.

Owing to the gravity of such an issue, the Ministry of Education too cannot remain silent.

Needless to say, if indeed such a directive to close non-Muslim religious societies in schools or to not permit the setting up of such societies in schools, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of National Unity should not be in doubt that MCCBCHST shall protest such a policy with the strongest possible vehemence.

MCCBCHST with its member bodies shall, however, be ready to assist the Ministry of Education in any way we can to ensure goodwill and mutual respect amongst all Malaysian students.

Rev. Dr Thomas Philips,
MCCBCHST President,
12 July 2010

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