Education Minister Malaysia: look locally to teach humanity, peace

Reposted from: Free Malaysia Today (FMT). November 10, 2023

By A. Kathirasen 

Education minister Fadhlina Sidek became emotional in the Dewan Rakyat when defending the “Palestine Solidarity Week” programme that was held from Oct. 29 to Nov. 9 in all educational institutions, including schools and colleges.

FMT reported her as saying: “The purpose of this programme is to educate students about the value of humanity, peace education, and peace (itself).”

She pleaded with critics of the programme: “Give the education ministry the space to carry out our responsibility. Don’t disturb us (ministry). Don’t disturb our schools. Don’t disturb our teachers.”

I don’t want to talk about that programme as a host of commentators and members of the public have talked about it, and continue to discuss its repercussions, mostly in negative terms.

What I would like to do is remind the minister and the government that they do not have to look at something that happens in foreign lands to teach the “value of humanity” and the need for peace to our students and teachers.

There are more than enough major local happenings and events that can be turned into teaching and learning moments.

“This is what we need in Malaysia: we need to understand ourselves, dispel our ignorance, and acquire knowledge and wisdom; we need to drop negative thoughts and actions and embrace the positive; we need to live and let live; we need peace in our lives and we need to spread peace.”

For instance, the major festivals that Malaysians celebrate are wonderful occasions for schools to teach humanitarian values and peaceful co-existence to students, especially those in primary schools who may not be able to think critically or understand socio-politico-economic issues. Also, neither the minister nor the Anwar Ibrahim government will be accused of bringing politics into schools or of trying to shore up political support from a particular community.

There is so much that can be taught about humanitarian values and peaceful living by discussing aspects of Hari Raya Puasa, Wesak Day, Christmas, Deepavali, Gawai, Kaamatan and other festivals.

Since Deepavali or Diwali is here (Nov. 12), let me use this as an example.

Deepavali is the Festival of Lights and every Hindu home is lighted up with small clay oil lamps, known as “agal vilakku” among Tamil speakers and as “diyas” among north Indians. Deepavali itself means “a row of lights.”

Students and teachers can start off by talking about the Deepavali celebration and then discuss the significance of light in their lives.

For instance, the classroom lights can be switched off and the students asked to relate how they feel. Then the lights can be switched on and teachers can ask whether they felt more secure and cheerful when the lights were on or when it was dark.

Students can be taught that just as light exudes positivity and brightness, they should live with a positive and cheerful outlook.

In all cultures, darkness symbolises ignorance while light symbolises knowledge. So, students can be encouraged to remove the darkness of ignorance from their lives by seeking knowledge. Examples can be given of people who searched for and acquired knowledge leading to their many successes.

From there the teacher can move on to point out that most of our problems – including inter-group or inter-religious problems – result from acting out of ignorance and without proper knowledge, or without thinking something through.

For instance, if they have the knowledge that different religions have different ways of approaching God, they would be more tolerant, or accepting, of the ways of other people.

From there it is an easy jump to talk about wisdom as light is also equated with wisdom. If students were to develop wisdom through study, instruction, experience and listening to the experiences of elders, they would be able to lead more satisfying lives.

And since the ego is the enemy of wisdom and the cause of many troubles – whether in the family or society – they can be taught to keep it in check. They can also learn that a wise person is respected by everyone, no matter the racial origin or religion or nationality.

Light can also be equated with compassion and students can be taught the value of compassion in humanising us.

Just as a lamp radiates light and dispels darkness, students and teachers should learn to be rid of the darkness within them and bring cheer and be ready to offer help to others and not look upon others as enemies or strangers out to harm them.

They should dispel whatever darkness there is within them – such as anger, greed, jealousy and habits such as smoking – and also help remove the darkness in society – such as poverty and misunderstandings and fights.

Light also reflects peace and therefore they should strive for peace in their thoughts and actions and behave in such a way that they become ambassadors of peace.

Students can be taught about how light plays an important role in the religions and cultures of all communities and ethnic groups.

For instance, Malays light up their homes during Hari Raya Puasa and Chinese celebrate light with the annual lantern festival. Light also features prominently during Christmas and Wesak Day celebrations.

Teachers can also point out what the various religions say about light.

The Quran (Surah 24:35) says: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.”

The Bible (John 12:46 ) says: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.”

The Dhammapada (146) says: “Why do you not seek a light, ye who are surrounded by darkness? “

The Guru Granth Sahib (1314) says: “O Lord of Light, your light is infused within all.”

And the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1:iii:28) says: “Lead us from the unreal to the Real; from darkness to light; from death to immortality. May there be peace everywhere.”

If the ministry picks up on this suggestion to use our festivals as teaching aids, I would say that it is sincere in wanting to teach peace and humanitarian values.

This is what we need in Malaysia: we need to understand ourselves, dispel our ignorance, and acquire knowledge and wisdom; we need to drop negative thoughts and actions and embrace the positive; we need to live and let live; we need peace in our lives and we need to spread peace.

Importantly in a multiracial, multireligious society, we need to see that despite our differences, we are human beings. And recognising this, we should act with kindness towards all and shine a light that will benefit all of us.

Rumi says it well:

If ten lamps are present in one place,
each differs in form from another;
yet you can’t distinguish whose radiance is whose
when you focus on the light.

The writer can be contacted at

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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1 thought on “Education Minister Malaysia: look locally to teach humanity, peace”

  1. Dr. Surya Nath Prasad

    Restructuring Education Based on Spiritual Secularism for Kindness, Tolerance and Nonviolence
    By Surya Nath Prasad, Ph.D., Transcend Media Service

    Integrated Science and Religion for Peace
    Surya Nath Prasad, Ph.D. – Transcend Media Service, 1 Aug 2016

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