Surin calls for reform in Muslim schools
Time for an overhaul, says ex-foreign minister
By Achara Ashayagachat
Southern Muslim academics should embrace reform and move away from the siege mentality so a new generation of Muslims can move forward in an increasingly globalised world, said Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan.
Traditional madrasas, or pondok schools, as well as university-level Islamic study courses, needed an overhaul to be able to compete with mainstream education systems and need to explain things from an Islamic perspective, Mr Surin said.
He was speaking in Pattani yesterday at an international conference on Educational Systems in Majority and Minority Muslim Societies: Strategies and Perspectives.
''I am myself a product of the pondok system and my family is still running a pondok. But I did not limit myself to the confines of a pondok as I consider it is my right to study the science and technology out there,'' said the former foreign minister.
The pondok at Ban Tad in his native Nakhon Si Thammarat province, with financial support from the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, is considered a modernised pondok pioneering the so-called curriculum pondok reform (CPR).
He felt the choice of subjects should not be imposed on learners.
''We are entitled to learn any subject Allah could offer,'' he said.
He urged educators and academics in the three southernmost provinces to improve their qualifications to help enhance the overall academic standards of the southern region.
Mr Surin said that being competent academically and learning science is a way of instituting reform.
''But are we ready to do that? I'm not sure,'' he said.
He noted that some Muslims in Thailand and elsewhere needed to abandon their long-held siege mentality.
''We have to feel equal and ready to interact with the outside,'' he said.
He called on southern educators to come up with a plan of action that could increase the number of pondok students able to enrol in mainstream universities.
''If we fail to improve our quality in training our teachers, don't blame the world or complain about the system because we are responsible for what we are doing,'' Mr Surin said.
''The whole world is our bazaar and we are an agent of change. We are the vendors of today, not from the era of the past,'' he added.
Sumeth Yamnoon, the secretary-general of the Office of the Higher Education Commission (Ohec), said the government could not empower the pondok system unless it put forward its own reform proposals. However, some concrete efforts have been made in that direction, he said.
Prince of Songkla University is now partners with other tertiary institutes in the region, including Thaksin and Ratjabhat universities, to provide academic assistance to the pondok schools in their own areas, said Mr Sumeth.
The Ohec was also opening more opportunities for pondok teachers to take a one-year diploma course to refresh their knowledge and sharpen their skills in such subjects as mathematics and science.