Educate students about various religions, but don't proselytise

I strongly disagree with Ms Maria Loh Mun Foong, in that religious studies should have a place in our schools ("Leave religious studies out of secular schools"; March 19).

An important distinction must be drawn between education and evangelism. Granted, it can be a fine line, but it is one that nevertheless exists.

Evangelism is the active courting of individuals to subscribe to a particular brand of religion, through persuasion or even coercion. Indeed, this manner of preaching has no place in secular schools.

In contrast, education seeks to inform students of the various major religions, describing their characteristics and precepts, as well as providing comparative analysis, in as objective a manner as possible.

This is done with the aim of building understanding among students of varying religious or atheistic backgrounds. After all, cultural awareness and sensitivity are of paramount importance in a multi-ethnic society such as Singapore.

More than that, if some of the values and ethics presented in these lessons prove especially resonant and universal, students can, of their own accord, integrate them into their personal moral codes.

A well-designed religious studies curriculum does not and should not constitute an outright imposition of beliefs on students.

Perhaps the best examples would be Singapore's numerous mission schools, which have incorporated religious and moral education into their syllabuses and programmes, while still cultivating acceptance of other religious creeds, and remaining respectful to non-believers.

Therefore, while it is certainly regrettable that Ms Loh and her daughter had to endure over-aggressive proselytisation, we cannot conflate these activities with the explanatory forms of instruction that writers such as Mr Syed Alwi Altahir ("Religious studies can help foster good values"; March 7) and Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao ("Religious literacy can add to common good"; March 1) have proposed.

If schools do not provide an environment to discuss religion and foster relations among the different religious and irreligious communities, we risk creating insular echo chambers of misinformation, distrust and intolerance.

This would ultimately be to the detriment of racial and religious harmony.

The first step to prevent the development of such a dystopia would, hence, be to promote religious studies, so as to groom a generation of responsible, civic-minded and religiously aware citizens.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi