PETALING JAYA - A question on a Moral Studies paper for Year One students at a school here is coming under heavy criticism for being racist.
Actress Sarah Lian said that the question indoctrinated young children to typecast people according to name and religion.
The celebrity posted a photo of the exam paper on Facebook on Tuesday, calling it "archaic and racist". The post has since gone viral and sparked outcry among Malaysians.
The Moral Studies exam paper from a national school in Petaling Jaya asked students to match the names to a picture of their place of worship.
The four names were Devi, Hock Lee, Kamal and Steve. The places of worship were a church, a Hindu temple, a Chinese temple, and a mosque.
In the photo, the seven-year-old daughter of Lian's friend matched Devi to the church, Steve to the Hindu temple, Kamal to the Chinese temple, and Hock Lee to the mosque. All four of her answers were marked as wrong.
"A horrible approach to stereotyping people into names races and religions. I'm so furious at this form of racism," Lian wrote on Facebook.
In an interview with The Star Online, Lian said young children are impressionable and a question like this taught them to profile people from a very young age.
"You can't really use names to describe someone's religion. 'Kamal' could have been anyone, it's just a name," she said, explaining that a name alone does not represent someone's religion or place of worship.
Lian added that the question was flawed and that the student's answer was not incorrect.
"I think a more appropriate alternative would be if they asked to match the religion to the place of worship. A statement like 'Devi does not belong in a church' is not really true. But a Christian attends church, now that's true," she said.
On Facebook, many users commended the actress for raising the issue.
However, others disagreed with Lian, and felt that the question was just aimed at teaching students about "common sense" and how to make connections. One user commented that the question had "nothing to do with race" and that it was just about "simple, every day observation".
Lian was grateful that her post started much discussion about the education system and questioned whether it provided students with the right resources and mindset to excel at an international level.
Centre For A Better Tomorrow vice-president Ng Yeen Seen said the relevant authorities must look into the matter as the "younger generation will be seriously misguided into accepting racial and religious stereotyping as justified and allowed".
When contacted, Deputy Education Minster Datuk P. Kamalanathan said he was unable to comment as Parliament was in session.