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    Singapore’s Education System: Time for a Revamp?

    I was reading a Monocle article about the Swedish Education minister. His words struck a chord on me as he said that the role of a nation was not to save jobs but rather to save its workers. Industries will inevitably come and go but most importantly, its citizens have to be nimble, skillful and fluid enough to glide from one industry to the next.

    Automated Logistics

    It was an interesting take especially in the era of driverless cars that will potentially wipe out millions in logistics. Something like the movie Passengers. No more taxi drivers, truckers or pilots for that matter. An era of driverless planes, boats guiding the seas automatically around the world or trucks that do not take a restroom break. People in Singapore do not even realise that their North-East line is already fully automated with a train driver there only to serve as a precautionary measure.

    Too Old to learn?

    When I look in a Singaporean perspective, I realised that we are not malleable enough to shift between industries. The government is trying to alleviate that with Jobs Credit Scheme for retraining of workers. But is it too late to teach people new skills. It is like asking a differentiated photoreceptor eye cell to convert itself into an auditory ear cell. We may have the DNA to create everything, but our genes have been regulated and switched off.

    Thus, I realised that such a skill has to be imbued at a young age like an undifferentiated Stem Cell. Singapore’s education system needs a revamp. Specifically at Primary school level. My time teaching in a Secondary school has made me come to the opinion that students are already too ‘old’. We can teach them things while they are in lower Secondary but they are too focused and targeted in upper Secondary especially with the looming GCE ‘O’ levels.

    Why only English, Mother Tongue, Math & Science?

    Looking at shows like Masterchef Junior and even Baby Boss, children have an enormous unquantifiable capacity for learning. And yet, Primary schools in Singapore and fellow Singaporeans for that matter are too focused on only English, Mother Tongue, Math, and Science. Frankly, our children have the ability to learn three languages or even more. Why stop them there. The society and the economy have to move away from the perception that only Math and Science is King. Not everyone is supposed to be a Doctor, Lawyer, or Banker. You can be a Poet, a Pianist, a Sculptor or a Graphic Designer. Most of these sectors are dominated by foreign talent from models to Public Relations and even CEOs.

    Other Subjects to be Incorporated

    The German education system is unique as they have lessons in their curriculum system called Life Skills. Modules each term where students learn to ride a bike, swim, ice-skate, roller-blade, charity drive, camping and outdoor survival. Physical Education is not about running 1.6km but rather about learning sports and diet nutrition. In India, its students learn coding from the age of 8, practices the classical dances and has modules called entrepreneurship.

    We need to incorporate Design and Technology, Art, Music, Computing, Engineering, Food & Nutrition, Entrepreneurship, Life Skills, a third language like Spanish or French and Social Work modules from Primary School onwards.

    Scrapping of PSLE

    Something’s gotta go to incorporate all these lessons. This means that we have to forgo the PSLE. Students begin preparing for the PSLE from Primary 4 onwards. Some schools even call students back during June and November school holidays to start practising on worksheets. We are creating zombies of knowledge that do not know how to function as a normal adult, to feel for their fellow man and experience the colourful life.

    Overall

    Ultimately, the change has to come not only from the government but also from its people. Only then shall we have a workforce that is able to tide over any waves of future uncertainties.

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    My Teacher: Ustaz Zhulkeflee bin Haji Ismail

    Ustaz

    I still remember when I first heard of Ustaz Zhulkeflee bin Haji Ismail. I was still a young 22 year old NTU undergraduate and was having a dinner and teh-tarik session with my group of friends at Jalan Masjid when I chanced upon my senior from NTU. I knew he lived at the West Side of Singapore thus I was shocked to see him around Jalan Masjid. ‘What are you doing in my neighbourhood bro? Hilang ker ni? Hehe.’ I remarked. My senior smiled and replied he was going for a class at Masjid Kassim done by an Ustaz Zhulkeflee. He even dragged me by my shoulder and asked me to come along so I asked him what the class was about? He said it was a Fardhu Ain class done in English and it actually challenges you to think about Islam. That truly intrigued me. An Ustaz that encourages you to be critical about Islam! It was especially new for religious studies back in the 2000’s. Unfortunately, I had to excuse myself. Looking back, I guess Allah was calling for me but I was not ready to receive such wisdom.

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    Am I doing enough as a Muslim?

    bismillahirrahmanirrahim

    In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

    This is going to be my first faith-related post and I hope I can express in words my feelings. InsyaAllah.

    On my way home from work today, I was accompanied by a colleague from Spain. We were talking about our daily lives and what we were doing before we came to Frankfurt when he expressed his interest in learning about Islam.

    He told me that he became interested in Islam when he visited Morocco. He fell in love with the people, culture, and religion. He also shared with me that he took a Qur’an that was given out along Zeil (a shopping district in Frankfurt). My immediate thoughts were, first, Morocco isn’t the best example of a Muslim nation nor are its people, and secondly, I hoped that the Qur’an he took while at Zeil wasn’t from the Ahmadiyya sect.

    Now that I am sitting at home, having completed my Isya’ prayers, I am able to reflect on my thoughts and feelings. Who I am to judge our fellow Muslims – especially the Moroccans. Yes, they may not be the best Muslim but I am far from it either. In fact, I don’t think I am living up to my name, Nurulhuda – the guiding light.

    Islam is supposed to be easy and yet we make it difficult. As Muslims we are supposed to be proud of our religion, yet we practise it only behind closed doors.

    Coming from Singapore, we are taught to be mindful of practising our religion. Hoping to not offend other people and accommodate to their needs. But seriously, what is wrong in requesting Halal meat for a staff party? To keep a beard or wear a headscarf at work? Asking for prayer breaks? Letting the Azan (call to prayers) be heard by others? A friend from UK commented that if a call to prayers can’t be heard, what is the use of it then? In the international school here, people of other faiths admire and even state there is no harm in expressing one’s faith.

    But still I will sneak out of my office for my prayers when it is time to perform solat Zuhr and Asr’. Other times it is on the pretext of having lunch – and during those times, I am usually fasting. I guess coming from a non-Muslim nation and currently living in one, it made me the person that I am.

    The only time I  felt that I could do my solat leisurely and openly was when I worked at Berita Harian (BH) in Singapore. Almost all of us, – there was a Chinese Malaysian working at BH during the time I was there, – in that newsroom are Muslims, cause by default, most Malays in Singapore are Muslims. So it was easy and less awkward for me to perform my duties. But it isn’t the same when I am out of a Muslim environment.

    Here in Frankfurt, whenever I do my prayers, my mind is half hoping that no one opens the door. And I try to finish my prayers in under 10 minutes so that my boss doesn’t notice that I am away from my desk.

    Muslims from Islamic nations have it easy. They can just stop whatever they are doing when it is time for prayers and perform their obligatory solat. I seriously envy them. And as Muslims, we all should be doing just that but we aren’t. I guess this is one of our challenges in this world. Learning how to prioritise between our duty with Allah and work. And most of us have it wrong. I, myself included.

    I guess it is about time that we shouldn’t be shy of our religion. I am already wearing my faith on my head. Why not be proud of it as well, and start practising openly? InsyaAllah by watching us pray openly in the public, someone passing-by might be interested to know more about Islam.

    We have to overcome our awkwardness and insecurities. Slowly but surely we can be better ambassadors for Islam. We also have to be prepared to answer tough questions like – do I have to convert if I want to marry a Muslim woman? Errrr… tough question brought up by my Spanish colleague. How does one answer that question without putting him off? All I could muster was:

    “There is no compulsion in religion.” لاَ إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ – [Al-Baqarah 2:256]

    And proceeded to tell him that whatever it is, he should learn more about the religion first before making any decision. Honestly, I was too afraid of telling him that a Muslim woman can’t marry a non-Muslim man. May Allah guide him to the correct path and this question will not be an issue anymore. 🙂

    For now, I am looking forward to giving him my Qur’an with English tafseer. InsyaAllah.

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    Forgiveness

    Last Friday Jumaah sermon at Masjid Al Taqua was one that touched my heart and made me reflect in depth.

    Forgiveness.

    It sounds like a simple act and indeed it is an annual affair done by South East Asian Muslims on the first day of Eid al-Fitr or Hari Raya Aidilfitri. All dressed up in our new celebratory clothes, we shall then seek for forgiveness from our parents and grandparents, spouses, siblings, children, relatives and friends. It will be a moment of relief, tears streaming down our cheeks and hugs filled with warmth.

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    3 Resolutions for Maal Hijrah 1437

    Many of my non-Muslim friends do not know that Muslims are celebrating our New Year this October. It’s funny cause I usually get new year wishes during Hari Raya Puasa (Eid al-Fitr) and Hari Raya Haji (Eid al-Adha). Explanations aside, I guess cause we Muslims in South East Asia actually do not lavishly celebrate the New Year. It is more low key and personal.

    Significantly, Muharram is the month when Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) migrated (hijrah) from Makkah to Madinah. It was a notable event as Muslims were finally free to practice their religion without fear unlike in Makkah. Interestingly, this is also the month when Prophet Moses (r.a) led the Israelites out of Egypt from the Pharoah’s harsh rule. More miraculous events also happened on Ashura or the tenth day of Muharram.

    • Prophet Adam (r.a.) was forgiven by Allah
    • Prophet Nuh’s (r.a.) Ark landed safely
    • Prophet Yunus (r.a.) was rescued from the whale

    We also remember the Prophet’s grandson Imam Hussain who was martyred at Karbala.

    Thus, with the start of the new year, I have come up with three resolutions that InsyaAllah I will be able to accomplish.

    1.   Pray on Time

    This is tough especially in our hectic lives. We tend to put Allah on the back pedal whenever there is a deadline due. I guess we tend to forget that all blessings come from Allah and only He wills for everything and is able to solve all our problems.

    2.  Dawah for Islam

    I think you guys have noticed the new FAITH tab on our blog. Both Nur and I agreed that it is about time for us to spread the understanding of Islam. We are truly not learned individuals, but we shall try the best of our abilities to try clear misconceptions and would refer to scholars if need be. Our intentions are just for people to know more about this lovely religion.

        3.   Study & Read the Quran

    I have read so many books, magazines and countless of articles, but I would sadly have to admit that I have never completed the Quran. Thus, I hope to attend more classes studying the Quran and InsyaAllah come to a greater understanding and appreciation of Allah’s words.

    I do hope if you guys can share with me on Facebook or the comment list below which Quran classes that you have found to be beneficial. Thanks for the help guys!

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