PETALING JAYA, Nov 12 — Malaysians might have better ethics if schools had focused more on building their character and were less dogmatic on the proper form of religious doctrine, Tun Dr Mahathir suggested today in his latest criticism of the education system.
The one-time education minister called for a revamp of religious and moral studies, which he argued has failed in producing law-abiding citizens or employers with commendable work ethics.
“Most of the teachers, they are religiously educated, but their focus on good character building is not prioritised,” Dr Mahathir told reporters after the International Conference on Teacher Education in the Muslim World here.
“Holding to honourable values, not doing bad things... those are part of Islamic teachings too, but we’re focusing on how to pray, how to recite doa (prayers), how to ask things from God.”
Earlier in his keynote speech, Dr Mahathir noted that there is a growing deterioration in character among the public, with rampant corruption and spiralling serious crimes.
“It would seem that the education system has not succeeded in producing the kind of law-abiding upright citizens that we hoped for,” the former prime minister said.
“Even if they don’t break the law, their attitude towards work and sense of responsibility leaves much to be desired. They don’t seem to have good work ethics.”
Dr Mahathir also rapped some Muslims for pursuing spiritual merit over reinforcing education on this world, which he said had led to the decline of the Muslim world’s purported Golden Age of Knowledge.
“The Muslims decided that acquiring knowledge is not something that will give them merit in the next world. They believe that only through learning about religion will you gain merit for the next world,” he said.
He said that when they stopped seeking knowledge, they also stopped advancing, which in turn impacted their ability to practise their religion.
“Muslim nations have been invaded and face war, I’m sure their children will not obtain any knowledge at all,” he added.
The 88-year-old former prime minister repeated his call to the government to resume teaching science and mathematics in English, a policy he had introduced before retiring from office in October 2003.
He also urged Putrajaya to pick up the “Look East” policy he had enforced during his 22 years in power.
Last month, Dr Mahathir said Malaysians, especially Malays, have failed to grasp and emulate the “Look East” policy, and in particular the moral values espoused by the Japanese, which he claimed made them ‘shameless’ even after committing crimes.
The original “Look East” policy was introduced by Dr Mahathir when he took office in 1981, to encourage Malaysian students in Japan to bring back knowledge and acquire Japanese cultural virtues such as work ethics, discipline and punctuality.