Can YOU answer this Malaysian school exam question ‘correctly’?

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A post by actress Sarah Lian about a Malaysian school exam question has put the spotlight on drilling religious stereotypes in children...

An Instagram post by Chinese Malaysian actress and television personality, Sarah Lian, has just made news. It has put the spotlight on how we may unknowingly be drilling religious and racial stereotypes into children.

Sarah Lian's post

The issue is related to Sarah Lian's friend's 7-year-old daughter who had answered this question 'wrongly' in her Moral Studies exam paper, conducted by a school in Malaysia.

So, going by this worksheet, children had to 'match' the names 'Devi, Hock Lee, Kamal and Steve' to their respective places of worship. The 'options' for places of worship were church, Hindu temple, Chinese temple and mosque.

Sarah expressed her disagreement with this sort of questioning, which pigeonholes people into religions, based on their names. She writes on Instagram, "A horrible approach to stereotyping people into names races and religions. I'm so furious at this form of racism. How archaic and racist!"

Her friend's daughter had matched Devi to the church, Steve to the Hindu temple, Kamal to the Chinese temple, and Hock Lee to the mosque. All 4 were marked 'wrong'.

"My friend's 7yr old daughter apparently scored badly. And you wonder who makes kids racist and stereotypical??? Well, here's your answer!", fumes Sarah.

The 'right' answer by the way, is Devi-Hindu temple, Hock Lee- Chinese temple, Kamal-mosque and Steve-church.

Her post has since then, gone viral, and generated a lot of buzz in Malaysia. It has also sparked some much needed discussion about reforms in the education system.

Can names be matched to religion?

Do names really define a person's religion? Take for example the name 'Kamal' - it would be considered 'Hindu' in India, whereas 'Kamaal' would be Muslim.

Indonesian mum Putri Fitria says, "Dewi is very common name here. But we don't relate it to any specific religion. I have many friends named Dewi, but they came from different religions - Christian, Moslem, Hindu..."

Thai based Veerati says, "Dewi would mostly be Buddhist here."

How really are little kids supposed to know which name belongs to which religion? We asked a teacher in PCF Sparkletots, Punggol Central, on how children were educated about religion in Singapore.

She tells us, "We don't do these kind of worksheets. We do say that place of worship for Hindus is temple, for Christians it's church, mosque for Muslims...we usually talk to children about religion only during festivals. When Hari Raya comes, we may talk about how Muslims celebrate Hari Raya etc..."

Talking to children about religion

Our children are tomorrow going to be working with people from different parts of the world. An important part of preparing your child to be future ready is teaching him to be empathetic and kind to people of all races, cultures and beliefs. Children must understand that it is okay to be different and really, differences are a thing to be celebrated.

How do we approach this difficult topic of religion? Here are some pointers:

  • Start with your religion first: Expect tons of questions; especially because many of the mythological stories lack logic. But don't scold your child for asking too many questions, or make him feel scared about doing so. Encouraging our children to be critical thinkers has long-term benefits for their future.

Never be afraid to admit that you don't know something. A better way would be to explore the answers together, read up on books and discuss on probable reasons for that belief.

Also, never lie or hide your own religious beliefs. The child should understand that religion is not something to be scared or ashamed of.

  • Expose your child to different religions and cultures: There's no better way for this than travel. When we travel with children, they realise that the world is made up of many different people, speaking different languages, practicing different religions and doing many things in many different ways. 

The impact of these life experiences will help shape their personality and global outlook. It boosts appreciation for other cultures and customs, prevents prejudices and increases self-awareness and self-esteem. It also helps in understanding the reasons of conflict in many different parts of the world.

Another great resource is the library, which brings the world to your homes.

  • Respect other religions: Children should be taught to respect other religions, and embrace the differences that exist around us. As parents we naturally hope our children follow our beliefs. Should we give our children the ability to choose their religion?

There are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers to this question. Suffice to say that our aim should be to raise kind, happy and tolerant children capable of having a mind of their own.

Also READ: 10 traits of a well-rounded child

(Source: The Straits Times)

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