For education overhaul, PM moots cutting back on religious studies

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks during Sultan Abdul Hamid College’s (SAHC) annual dinner in Kuala Lumpur December 21, 2018. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks during Sultan Abdul Hamid College’s (SAHC) annual dinner in Kuala Lumpur December 21, 2018. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 21 — Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced tonight that the overhaul of Malaysian education will diminish the current focus on religion.

Speaking at his alma mater Sultan Abdul Hamid College’s (SAHC) annual dinner, Dr Mahathir said the focus on religion has caused students ill-equipped to get jobs.

“Someone changed the curriculum in school and now national schools have become religious schools.

“They are all learning about the religion of Islam and not learning anything else. As a result, those who pass in school are not very conversant with subjects that are useful for them to get jobs, but they are very good ulama,” he said.

Noting that the current school system produced many Islamic religious scholars or ulama, he said: “And when you have too many ulama, they always differ from each other, and they mislead their followers and they quarrel with each other.”

To address the problem of schools being overly-focused on religion, Dr Mahathir said the timetable and curriculum in schools would be changed.

“Because of that, we are going to change the timetable and curriculum in the schools, we will still study religion, but not all periods in one day, maybe one or two periods in a week,” he said.

“But we need to master all the other subjects, because if we want to progress, Malaysians must be well-educated, not only in reciting Quran, but also in other languages. If we don’t, we are going to be very backward,” he said.

“So the school curriculum will be changed and modified, so that now we will have national schools that will teach everybody all the important subjects that will be useful for them when they mature and become independent individuals,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said Malaysia is currently going through a difficult phase and needs development, adding that the country needs well-educated people and those who are able to interact with others and speak up for the nation.

“We have to work very hard in order to catch up with other people.

“And although we have to say our prayers, but we also need to spend a good time on mastering all the other subjects that are taught in the school,” he said.

In his speech, Dr Mahathir also said that Malaysians were formerly known to have good command of the English language.

Dr Mahathir encouraged Malaysians to master English which he described as a “universal language” and crucial for acquiring new knowledge to help the country progress, saying that learning the language would not diminish their Malay or Malaysian identity.

The Kedah-born Dr Mahathir was speaking at the dinner organised by the Sultan Abdul Hamid Old Collegians Association (Sahoca) KL, of which he is also lifetime president.

This year also marks the 110th anniversary of the SAHC, where his father Mohamad Iskandar was its first principal when the school was then known as the Government English School.

SAHC is also the alma mater of various other prominent individuals such as Malaysia's first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Kedah ruler Sultan Sallehuddin Sultan Badlishah, four former Kedah Mentri Besar, several former Chief Justice of Malaysia, former ministers including Tun Daim Zainuddin.

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