KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 12 — Malaysia’s mission schools are now allegedly facing a push in Islamic agenda with conversions of non-Muslim students said to be taking place, according to a report by an Asian Catholic news site.
In the report, Sister Rita Chew, who heads the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu’s education commission, spoke of her concern regarding the push for Islamic influence in the schools.
“Some people seem very intent on pushing an Islamic agenda right from kindergarten,” the nun was quoted saying in a report by Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) yesterday.
“This is our chief concern. Conversions are taking place in schools but they (the government) are denying it. It’s happening in the kindergartens. Christian parents are discovering their children are learning Islamic prayers.”
The news site said religious conversions are reportedly taking place in all schools except private schools, and not just mission schools, while also claiming that there is a bias against non-Muslim students at schools.
Chew reportedly said it appeared as if Muslim missionary groups are racing to re-classify Sabah and Sarawak as “Islamic”, allegedly with the government’s approval.
Sabah and Sarawak, where Christians traditionally form a sizeable part of the population, are where half of Malaysia’s mission schools are located.
Out of the 448 Christian and mission schools in Malaysia, 130 and 98 are in Sarawak and Sabah respectively.
UCAN also cited a list of incidents of alleged racial and religious bias happening in local schools, including a 2013 incident of non-Muslim students made to eat in the school’s restroom during the Muslim fasting month.
Other incident included the appointment of a Muslim religious teacher to be a Sarawak mission school’s principal, and Christian students being barred from acknowledging their faith in a learning institute.
It also cited a letter from a Sarawak group of Christian parents in 2010 to the teachers’ union head expressing their unhappiness with a school changing their children’s official status to Malay -- which in Malaysia means the individual is constitutionally a Muslim.
Citing a retired educator who declined to have her name disclosed, UCAN reported however that many Muslim parents favour mission schools for their children as they are seen as being focused on excellence and a rounded education, compared to government schools that are reputedly pro-Malay and Islamic-focused.
“The focus there is exams and result oriented ... not an open, all round education or knowledge, which is what parents also want for their children,” the retired teacher said.
A Muslim mother identified only as Siti, herself a mission school graduate, claimed that her daughter in a mission school had more confidence in contrast to her national school graduate son.
The news portal said most of Malaysia’s mission schools are government-aided state schools with government-paid staff, while churches own the school property and has a board of governors to administer the school.
The church authorities’ privilege to nominate qualified individuals to be principal have become gradually chipped away, UCAN said, later explaining that mission schools accepted government aid starting from the 1970s when they could no longer be self-supporting.