Benefits to religious studies in schools, but also risks too

Representatives from religious groups suggest that general religious studies in schools could be beneficial for preventing religious misinformation, at the first public hearing on deliberate online falsehoods on Wednesday (March 14). VIDEO: GOV.SG

Public education is crucial in quashing misunderstandings arising from disinformation, religious groups said during a public hearing on online falsehoods yesterday, setting off a discussion about whether religious studies have a place in schools.

But both the religious leaders and the members of the committee running the hearing agreed that while there are benefits to teaching religion, there is also a risk of it being seen as proselytising.

Dr Roland Chia of the Trinity Theological College, Dr Kweh Soon Han of the Singapore Buddhist Federation and Roman Catholic Archdiocese communications director Andre Ahchak spoke about how religious studies could be a bulwark against false or twisted information about certain faiths online.

Dr Chia said of this misinformation: "There is no basis for comparison, so... (youth will) take it as a true representation of that particular religion."

But they accepted concerns raised by Select Committee members, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary and Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, that parents may not be on board with the plan. Mr Shanmugam told Mr Ahchak: "I understand you when you say learning about the different religions made you a better person, because it leads to greater tolerance, greater understanding, but we actually get a lot of pushback now from parents when this idea is broached."

Religious knowledge was made a compulsory subject for Secondary 3 and 4 students in 1984. It was phased out in 1990, as it was seen to have emphasised differences among the religions and encouraged students to proselytise.

Dr Puthucheary also noted that, among other things, some parents are concerned about exposing their children to faiths other than their own.

Reverend Dr Ngoei Foong Nghian of the National Council of Churches of Singapore acknowledged that there would be many potholes to watch out for, but added that inviting religious groups to talk to students can help to foster greater understanding and respect.

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'Benefits to religious studies in schools, but also risks too'. Print Edition | Subscribe