What’s in a name? A lot apparently, if this first grader’s exam question is anything to go by.
The question, which came up on a paper given to seven-year-olds in Malaysia, asked students to match up names with various places of worship.
They were given four names: Devi, Hock Lee, Kamal and Steve, representative of stereotypical names of people in four of the country’s main race groups — Indian, Chinese, Malay and Caucasian respectively.
They were asked to match them up to the “correct” place of worship.
The girl matched Devi up to the church, Steve up to the Hindu temple, Kamal to the Chinese temple and Hock Lee to the mosque.
All four of her answers were marked wrong.
“My friend’s 7-year-old daughter apparently scored badly. I’m so furious at this form of racism. How archaic and racist! This is so sad,” said Malaysian actress Sarah Lian in a post on Facebook.
The post has since been shared almost 2,000 times.
Some were quick to support Lian.
“Thank you for pointing out the racism in our education system. Its rare to have someone say this openly,” said one netizen on Facebook.
“This is so so wrong. Devi may well be a Christian attending church…[while] Hock Lee enters the mosque to pray after adopting the Muslim faith,” said one user.
But others disagreed.
“Is this racial profiling or an attempt at educating a child about diversity?” one asked.
“How is this racism? So what if they stereotype a person’a name with religion — if you meet [someone named] Muthu in real life go ask him if he’s Hindu or not,” another said.
However, the father of the child, who attends a school in the Malaysian district of Petaling Jaya, told Mashable that he didn’t think the school was particularly at fault.
“I think my girl’s innocent answers were spot on, but as far as I’m aware [this question] was part of [the school’s] syllabus and they’re doing their job, it’s a good school,” Arvin Gold said.
“I’m not bothered about how she scored in this subject.”
Gold adds that he only uploaded the photo on Facebook because he was using his daughter’s bad grade to “poke fun at his wife.”
“[I was joking to my wife] that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I wasn’t expecting this…my posts [usually only cause] funny and friendly banter among friends.”
However, the post has definitely caught further attention than originally intended.
Joseph Kurup, a minister in the Prime Minister’s department, called for the Education Ministry to punish the offending teacher.
“The teacher who came up with such a misguided notion…that one can assume one’s religion by looking at one’s name…should be disciplined,” he told the Malay Mail Online.
“If the case is genuine and left unchecked, the younger generation will be seriously misguided.”