Thursday, 9 January 2014

Mission schools follow clear guidelines

WE THANK Mr Poh Choon Kiat for his letter ("Respect faiths of others in mission schools"; Forum Online, Monday).

Our schools provide the common space where our young grow up together, build bonds and develop a shared identity as Singaporeans, irrespective of race, religion or social background.

Government-aided schools with religious affiliations have a well-established heritage that gives them a distinctive identity. Parents and students who choose to enrol into these schools generally appreciate the unique heritage and ethos.

Such schools may conduct activities such as religious classes and services. However, the Ministry of Education guidelines stipulate that such religious activities be optional because of the multi-religious nature of our society.

Schools will keep parents informed of such activities, and provide the option for their children to participate or opt out. Schools will provide alternative learning programmes for students who opt out.

The school will be in contact with Mr Poh to facilitate his daughter's opting out of religious activities.

Low Khah Gek (Madam)
Deputy Director-General of Education (Schools)
cum Director of Schools,
Ministry of Education
ST Forum, 8 Jan 2014

Respect faiths of others in mission schools

WHEN my family went to the Open House of a mission secondary school, we were told that non-Christians were welcome and that my daughter would not be forced to attend chapel ("Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools" by Mr Benjamin Wee; last Friday).

But after admission into the school, my daughter was forced to attend fortnightly one-hour chapel sessions.

When she protested that she was not a Christian, she was taken to see the principal, who made cutting comments about her knowing full well she was joining a mission school.

My daughter's suggestion that she do her own revision or homework during chapel sessions was flatly rejected. In Secondary 3 now, she is still being forced to attend these sessions.

The Education Ministry should ensure that all government and government-aided schools do not force chapel sessions on students of other faiths, as respect and tolerance of other religions are the cornerstone of our country's values.

I attended a Christian/Catholic school and was not forced to attend chapel.

In fact, I studied my own faith in that school and took the subject at the O levels.

Prayers and the short sharing of values during assembly is fine, but not mandatory chapel sessions or Bible study classes.

I agree with Mr Wee that religious knowledge plays an important part in moulding character.

I support religious classes in schools but based on the faith of the individual student.

The alternative is to have values-based classes - values from the major religions but taught in a faith-neutral manner.

Poh Choon Kiat
ST Forum, 6 Jan 2014

Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools

THE teaching of Bible knowledge seems to be no longer strongly promoted in Christian/Catholic government-aided schools.

It is a pity that an important opportunity to help in the overall development of the students has been missed.

Religious knowledge plays an important part in moulding character.

It helps to inculcate in the students the right moral values as they grow up searching for answers and direction in the face of challenges in life.

While I understand the need to preserve the common space in schools, I appeal for Christian/Catholic mission schools to be allowed to conduct such classes.

Parents enrol their children in these schools knowing their religious affiliation, and hence, they cannot complain that their children are exposed to Christian/Catholic values.

In fact, they are likely to have chosen these schools for the values education they provide, besides academic excellence.

Let us bring back Bible knowledge classes in mission schools.

Let us not let mission schools slowly lose their religious character.

And finally, let us not miss an important opportunity to give our children a rounded education.

Benjamin Wee
ST Forum, 3 Jan 2014

Unique role of mission schools

MS JEAN Tan Guanjie ("Protect schools' common space"; Monday) suggests that the role of schools is to protect the common space for all. While this is undeniably true, it fails to recognise the unique aspect of mission schools in particular.

Such schools are set up with the backing of religious organisations to promote their mission, be it through prayers, religious classes, and chapel services or mass.

One who enrols in a mission school should expect to be exposed to religious teachings, or else it defeats the very intention of the school.

The Ministry of Education's position with regard to the participation of students in religious activities is clear - mission schools "cannot compel any student to participate in any religious activity against the student's wish" ("No proselytising allowed in schools"; Oct 25, 2005).

Thus, Mr Poh Choon Kiat's concern over his daughter being forced to attend chapel sessions has to be treated seriously ("Respect faiths of others in mission schools"; Forum Online, Monday).

An important aspect of many religions is that of free will, and not indoctrination. Many mission schools would respect the choice of their students not to attend religious services.

Bible knowledge classes can play a fundamental role in influencing an individual's thoughts and perceptions of life.

Mr Benjamin Wee ("Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools"; last Friday) could possibly be arguing that the lack of such classes would fail to give students a "rounded education" within the context of mission schools.

Thus, it was unfair of Ms Tan to say he was "dismissive of the basic principles of moral decency and human solidarity", as he had been arguing within the context of a mission school education.

Mission schools recognise their calibrated roles in our secular society. Making Bible knowledge classes available to their students may not necessarily disrupt the schools' common space, but better facilitate the students' understanding of the particular religion.

Desmond Chew
ST Forum, 8 Jan 2014

Protect schools' common space

IN HIS letter, Mr Benjamin Wee suggested that parents enrolled their children in mission schools "knowing their religious affiliation, and hence, they cannot complain that their children are exposed to Christian/Catholic values" ("Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools"; last Friday).

My parents' reason for enrolling me in a Catholic secondary school was a practical one - it was closer to our home.

As with many of my Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and non-religious classmates, the common space was important in encouraging a sense of unity, cohesiveness and independent thought.

Bible knowledge classes can be made available for students of Christian/Catholic faiths in mission schools.

But mandating these classes for all students as long as they are in a mission school does not appear to be sending the right message about religious tolerance.

This is especially so for mission schools situated in the heartland, where parents of all religious inclinations - or like mine, with none at all - may select these schools for pragmatic reasons, such as distance.

Lastly, saying that the absence of Bible knowledge classes is to "miss an important opportunity to give our children a rounded education" appears to be completely dismissive of the basic principles of moral decency and human solidarity that are not unique to the Christian/Catholic faiths.

It is a dangerous assumption if not carefully considered, given the secular nature of Singapore society.

Jean Tan Guanjie (Ms)
ST Forum, 6 Jan 2014

Offer Religion 101 to students

BOTH Mr Benjamin Wee ("Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools"; last Friday) and Mr Francis Cheng ("Religion not the only way to mould character"; Forum Online, Monday) acknowledge that religious knowledge - as distinct from the practice of religions - can help to develop the character of students.

If students attend school to get a rounded education, shouldn't they be afforded opportunities to learn about different religions - whether it is their own or not?

Apart from benefiting from the moral teachings of the various religions, they will learn to appreciate all religions.

We should embrace the unique environment that schools can offer in teaching Religion 101, covering all the major religions in Singapore.

There will not be any shortage of teachers as religious bodies would gladly offer volunteers.

True respect in a multicultural and multi-religious society like ours can best be achieved if we are truly open to one another's thinking and appreciate the good moral teachings that all religions strive towards.

The net result would be our younger generation getting an unbiased view of all the best moral teachings, which would form the crux of their moral compass in their lives.

Geoffrey Kung
ST Forum, 8 Jan 2014

Religion not the only way to mould character

WHILE religious knowledge, to a limited extent, helps to develop character, it is not the only solution ("Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools" by Mr Benjamin Wee; last Friday).

More important is how parents bond with their children and impart their own traditional family values of discipline, obedience, respect and righteousness.

Children's personal traits and the home environment in which they are brought up are also important.

We need to accord common space in schools, giving priority to the teaching of the core subjects and the fostering of a shared identity among Singaporeans of various communities.

Francis Cheng
ST Forum, 6 Jan 2014

Being good without being religious

I AGREE that an introduction to various world religions is a good way of striking a better balance in the school curriculum ("Offer study of various religions as option" by Ms Ada Chan Siew Foen; Monday).

It will help students to understand that there is a world beyond the one they know, inculcate a broad-minded view of the world, and teach them that humanity is not homogeneous.

However, Ms Chan also stated: "If it had not been for caring teachers and dedicated nuns who conducted regular catechism classes, many of us would have been misguided by a lack of moral compass and direction in life."

Is she implying that those who do not attend religious classes in their youth will become "bad people"?

One's morals and values are not necessarily defined by what one is taught in school. How do you teach a child to have a "moral compass" in a classroom environment?

A person's morals are influenced by the actions of those around him, especially in the formative years. How parents, siblings, teachers and friends act with regard to moral decisions undoubtedly has an effect on a child.

Besides, being a decent human being does not always stem from exposure to religion. Does having not been exposed to religious classes in one's youth mean that one will refuse to help an injured man in the street? Are atheists or agnostics any less likely to feel for their fellow human beings?

I do not believe so. One helps people in need because one identifies with them by virtue of their shared humanity.

Religion is a powerful and important facet of human existence, and can be the precipitator for many a good, or moral, action. However, the practice of compassion and aversion to sin are not exclusive to exposure to religious classes.

Ajinkya Suhas Chougule
ST Forum, 11 Jan 2014

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