Rethinking the education blueprint


Free Malaysia Today

Since the unity government asked for suggestions, I have decided to present my own, for a new approach and method in education.

I have published a book on “Issues and Ideas of Education in the New Malaysia”; perhaps the education ministry might want to look it up.

A simple question to begin with might be: should we educate our children and our graduates for a local or global market?

Malaysia’s education curriculum seems to have a narrow focus that ignores the many cultures and histories of the other 39 ethnic groups in this country as well as myriad others around the world.

I have several issues with the official national education philosophy. The first is, of course, the idea of education that prepares children for this country and not a global existence.

Before the existence of the internet, this philosophy might have held water but now – with Instagram, YouTube and TikTok – we are in uncharted waters.

The second issue is it talks about “harmony”, but the word is ill-defined. Some politicians proclaim that harmony can only be achieved when one race dominates all the administrative and political posts, while other races play a subservient (they use the word “moderate”) role.

I don’t subscribe to this bigoted view of national politics in a Malaysia envisioned by our forefathers.

I would like to propose two objectives as our nation’s education philosophy. The first is to produce citizens who appreciate differences in culture, faiths, ideas and perspectives as an important and necessary asset for their social, economic and spiritual welfare.

Many people think that they can exist better in a world where everything is exactly like their own culture, faith, ideas and perspectives but the truth is that nature invalidates this claim.

The second objective is to produce a person with a critical mind that questions his or her own inherited knowledge, perspectives, values and narratives of race, religion and politics.

If we produce a generation of Pak Turut, we will never progress in thought and ideas to make our country and the world a better place.

Many are uncomfortable about questioning “religious truth”, “historical facts” and “constitutional principles”.

None of these three “truths” is truth in any way but an understanding within the context of time, knowledge, and issues of a particular place in the past.

New scientific understanding has reinterpreted many “facts” about social and cultural narratives as well as religious and historical accounts. Thus, the “truth” is, politics, religion and cultural perspectives are dynamic entities and cannot be static or dogmatic.

Being critical does not mean a total rejection of a nation’s perceived cultural, political or religious values; it is simply an exercise in deconstructing and unpacking them to be repacked and constructed into a personal confidence of understanding.

Our national education philosophy served its purpose well before because it was constructed in a certain context of time and need, but today we need an education system that will produce a new generation of students and graduates who value differences and possess questioning minds.

Restructuring our school education

For primary education, the first intellectual growth phase is age 7-9 in Primary 1, 2 and 3. Children should “mess around” and “play”’ more without too many report cards and grades.

The most important subjects are Bahasa Malaysia and their mother tongue. English should wait. Religion should also wait. There is no need for a nine-year-old to speak Oxford English intellectually. Meanwhile, God will not throw nine-year-olds into Hell for not discharging their religious duties.

However, if the parents disagree, they can take their children to the surau or Sunday School after class.

There should not be any homework, with an emphasis on more physical than intellectual learning. Science and Mathematics should be reduced to simple counting and understanding, as well as appreciation for nature’s wonders. No grades.

Free Malaysia Today

The second phase will be for 10-12-year-olds. English is now introduced, as is Religion or Cultural Studies, and the children will go to separate classes. Emphasis will be on the universal values shared by all religions but phrased according to each student’s faith.

There is no bad mouthing and condemnation of each other’s faith in the pedagogy, and visits to temples, mosques and churches of other faiths should be compulsory.

Science and Maths should be combined and reduced significantly because presently children are overloaded.

Arts and Creative Design are important to encourage thinking outside the box, which is lacking today. Computers and other media should be integrated into other subjects, rather than remain as a standalone as they are now.

Free Malaysia Today

Secondary school should be divided into two. In the first phase (ages 13-15), time for history should be slashed. Why burden young minds with so many historical facts and baggage that makes little sense, while labouring to create “good guys and bad guys”?

Meanwhile, we have too much geography, learning about how much rubber or palm oil is produced. So what? How is a 14-year-old boy supposed to empathise with that?

We should teach Human Civilisation and Culture relating to Malaysia in Form 1, the same in relation to Asia in Form 2, and to the World in Form 3. Some physical geography, economics and history should be thrown in.

Science should be reduced and reformatted with sustainability included, so that students can be aware of the future of the world without having to understand every single branch of science as a scientist would.

Free Malaysia Today

By Forms 4 and 5, the students are becoming productive young adults. From now, there should be more emphasis on English. The other three core subjects of Computers, Sustainable Development Goals and Health are to prepare the student to meet a new world, and be global agents of change.

The five core subjects (in the table) are to create a well-rounded citizen and global player. Meanwhile, Options A-F are for specialisation.

Students will be better prepared than they are today when they reach university or college.

Free Malaysia Today

The above represents the first act of a long discourse that would hopefully result in a more complete undertaking. We are at a tipping point in our society. If we do not act, then we would have all failed the nation and jeopardised our children’s future.

We are in uncharted waters in politics, environment, technology and new economies. Just window dressing a few subjects and paying lip service to others won’t cut it.

We need an outside the box look at our education or else we are just delaying the inevitable end of our nation in whichever category you care to name. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

Rethinking the education blueprint