Religion not the answer

Religion not the answer

Members of the House committee on religion, art and culture seem to believe that adding an extra 80 hours a year to compulsory religion and "morality" teaching in public schools is a practical way to reduce violence in society.

As a result, the committee this week submitted a proposal to Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan calling on him to amend the school curriculum.

But the committee should have first asked students for their feedback on the existing compulsory classes on religion, mainly Buddhism, especially in terms of whether they find them useful and how much they apply the religious principles they learn to their real lives outside the classroom.

The proposal was made in the wake of the mass shooting in Nakhon Ratchasima last Saturday. Citing research findings which they claimed link violent behaviour with anti-social activities online, the committee, led by Palang Pracharath MP Suchat Usaha, came to the conclusion that more time learning about religion, morality and culture at school should help children "become more mindful and enable them to differentiate between good and bad acts".

The proposal is born of good intentions, but the committee should have realised that the concept of good and bad acts is not limited just to the realm of religious learning or practice.

For many decades, Thai public education has not been secular. Buddhism has been part of compulsory classes for all students in public schools, from grade 1 to grade 12, except schools where Muslims make up more than half of the students, such as those in the three southernmost provinces where Islam has also been taught to Muslim students since 2018.

But these Buddhism lessons have been taught through traditional rote learning. Students are told to memorise the history and principles of Buddhism rather than being encouraged to study religious philosophy and then apply it to their real-life situations. At the same time, students of other faiths are nevertheless still required to attend these classes.

In recent years, there have been questions raised by some as to whether Thai education should become secular. In a country in which Buddhism has been integrated into public policy-making, such a call has never materialised.

Given that Thailand has a Buddhist majority, students already have plenty of options to learn about and practise Buddhism through their families and religious services and ceremonies held at community temples.

Of course, religions can be a positive influence on young people, promoting compassion and social justice. But there is no need for the Education Ministry to expand the number of hours spent teaching. The ministry, instead, should conduct an objective evaluation on the usefulness and practicality of the existing compulsory Buddhism course which has been criticised as being irrelevant and out of touch with the real world.

If the ministry wants to promote morality learning as suggested by the committee, a better choice would be to provide extra ethics, philosophy and human rights courses to help students understand form their own objective judgements on what is right or wrong, and what should be considered obligations and responsibilities, for instance.

Thai public schools already devote enough hours to religion. It would far wiser to introduce more classes in fields that can develop students' logical and critical thinking abilities -- the lack of which underlie many of the violent acts we would all like to see an end to.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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