There is an overemphasis on Islam in the national education system, coming at a cost of the type kind of education required in an increasingly challenging world, said Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The 95-year-old told Free Malaysia Today the current system makes it appear as if almost every pupil would be an ulama when schools should be focusing on technology and science instead.
“The overall emphasis on religion overshadowed what religious education was meant to do, which was to instil basic Islam in its teachings and values.
“Schools are increasing the number of periods to teach Islam beyond what an ordinary Muslim wants.
“Due to this, children do not learn other skills, especially science and maths, which are extremely crucial nowadays,” said the former prime minister, who served as the education minister in the 1970s.
According to him, there should be a balance between instilling Islamic values in pupils and the creation of an academic base that will allow them to succeed in the working world.
He blames a certain minister and civil servants for promoting religion in schools. The motive is to cater to the Malay base, he said.
Last January, when Pakatan Harapan was still in power, Dr Mahathir said more focus should be given to English, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in schools, and less lesson time for religious studies.
This, he said, is to equip pupils to be better prepared for the future.
Dr Mahathir, who was then acting education minister, said national schools have been focusing too much on Islamic studies, making them more like religious schools.
“Now, technology is the focus. You’re not going to have any jobs if you don’t study technology. You won’t get jobs if you study history, languages and stuff like that,” he said.
Mahathir added that the education system now had a role in building character because more parents were working and were not full-time caregivers, thus placing more responsibility on schools and teachers to mentor students.
“If students believe in hard work, obviously they will be able to succeed,” he said. “But if they believe in just getting free money from the government, they will not succeed.
“In the past, parents would teach their children good values. They would tell the children you don’t steal, you don’t do wrong things, this is a sin, this is a crime and all that.
“But now the parents are all working. They don’t spend enough time teaching their children. So, we have to teach the children from the kindergarten level.”