Education pitfall lies in Adenan’s way

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    Dayak sentiment against religious teachers is a serious issue, and the CM must navigate it carefully to avoid losing his momentum.

    Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem is riding on a high. His firm hold on Malaysia’s largest state has earned rewards in the form of budget goodies designed to drag the often ignored state to heights of greatness. Election talk has grown louder as the White Rajah’s successor takes long strides to fix the damage left by his predecessor, and most pundits predict a landslide for him should the state election be held today.

    However, rumblings of discontent have risen around the appointment of an ustaz, Kelantanese Ruslin Che Mood, as headmaster of SMK Sungai Paoh. The Dayaks, concerned over what they perceive as attempts to subversively convert the largely Christian indigenous peoples of Sarawak, view the appointment as an insidious step towards Islamisation in East Malaysia and have been vociferous in their disapproval.

    Sarawak Minister for Welfare, Women and Family Development Fatimah Abdullah has sprung to Ruslin’s defence, telling the Dayaks that they should not be racially and religiously sensitive over the issue. She claimed that the Education Ministry had scrutinised Ruslin, in full awareness of the negative sentiment against religious teachers from the peninsula.

    Now, whether or not Rusli is a secret agent sent in to convert impressionable schoolchildren is debatable. We do not know the man himself, after all. But choosing a retired uztaz from Kelantan, Malaysia’s most conservative state, to head a small school in Sarawak is bound to raise eyebrows, if not concerns, and given the regularity at which conversion scandals pop up in East Malaysia, the concerns of the Dayaks are not unfounded.

    Surely there were candidates among the Dayaks, a group of people numbering over three million, who could have been tapped for the post given to Ruslin. It’s safe to assume that any qualified Dayak would understand the concerns and aspirations of the local community better than an outsider can. If there is no such person, then something is seriously wrong with the department in charge of training teachers in Sarawak.

    Adenan must clear the air with his minister if he hopes to avoid any further controversy over the appointment of teachers to Sarawak schools. He has put too much work into pushing his dream and vision of Sarawak to the forefront. Losing all that momentum over an issue like this is something he call ill afford.

    Source: FMT News