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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Lessons from recent events

Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh

Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh

Teachers and parents should be encouraged to discuss current issues to stimulate young minds and encourage higher order thinking skills.

IT was a slightly wet morning as the rain had just stopped. A sign of God’s blessings perhaps? It was, after all, the last few days of Ramadan.

The students of SMK Seri Hartamas in Kuala Lumpur, were seated in the school’s open hall. I was there that morning to launch the Gaza Humanitarian Fund managed by Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM).

Just before the launch, Datuk Dr Musa Mohd Nordin, VPM’s Chairman, talked about the organisation’s projects in Palestine. From building schools to administering emergency medical treatment, the plight of those in Gaza and Palestinians in general, were highlighted.

The crisis had already been vivid, with images of the merciless killings of innocent women and children — mutilated, blown up and shot — plastered all over the newspapers and the Internet. But that morning there was something more real about it all; we were in the presence of someone who was still very much part of the struggle.

What was going through the minds of the students? I wondered, as I observed them listening attentively to Dr Musa’s speech.

How important was this issue to them? What information or news, if any, were they getting from Facebook and Twitter?

Did they have anyone to discuss the information with, in a safe and constructive environment, away from a lot of the hate and misinformation?

To me, this was more than just about the humanitarian fund; this was an opportunity to educate.

Education needs to go beyond textbooks. Life is a great teacher and understanding current issues enhances learning experiences. It creates awareness and widens world views.

For instance, while history will tell our students that the making of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one that had existed even before 1948, there will also be discussions within the context of current happenings that will enable deeper exploration of security, humanitarian and geopolitical concerns, which go beyond the often-espoused religious considerations.

When students are able to collate, organise and synthesise the information contained in their textbooks with current issues, higher order thinking skills are fostered. There is greater appreciation of the knowledge; more perspectives are considered and what is learnt becomes more real and relatable.

SMK Seri Hartamas’ Parent-Teacher Association played a pivotal role in organising the event.

Parents could be seen manning the various exhibition booths and selling Palestine paraphernalia to raise funds. Some were in the audience with their children to show support.

I’m glad that the parents had seen it meaningful to give their children the exposure rather than keeping them away from the atrocities and harsh realities of the world.

I do believe the openness and frankness would be beneficial for the children and nation in the long run.

I would like to thank the school, notably Puan Asiah Husin, SMK Seri Hartamas’ principal and Datin Nawal Salleh, the Director of the Kuala Lumpur State Education Department for their support.

I strongly welcome and encourage such initiatives between the school, parents and NGOs because I believe that holistic education is a collaborative endeavour.

Similarly, I call upon teachers to integrate current issues into their daily lessons. Aside from fostering higher order thinking skills as envisioned within our Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, teachers can guide their students’ understanding on various topics in a safe and constructive environment.

Our children are more information-empowered than ever before, but this also means that they are information-vulnerable.

For instance, tragedies close to our hearts involving MH370 and MH17 have seen unprecedented volumes of information travelling around cyberspace.

Though a lot of the information is, in my view, a victory for humanity as there were many messages of love and unity, there was just as much information out there, that was false or malicious. They act as reminders to us of the perils of social media and the need to be responsible over it.

As educators and parents, our duty is to ensure that our students and children can talk to us about these issues.

Being able to open up and share is liberating to both the mind and soul, and the classroom is a sacred space for this to happen.

I believe that our Malaysia Education Blueprint is sophisticated enough to allow educators, parents and students to approach education dynamically.

Education should not be insular, but encompassing of all knowledge that is good.

This is a process that we have to undertake together. Finally, VPM’s effort is a noble one.

The Gaza Humanitarian Fund aims to collect donations to purchase medical supplies for Gazans embroiled in the present conflict, and I have been made to understand that VPM is one of the few independent international organisations able to enter Gaza with supplies based on many years of goodwill and trust. I wish them the best.

Those keen on donating or interested in the Gaza Humanitarian Fund can visit www.vpm.org.my

The writer, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh is Second Education Minister.

Connect with him via Twitter @idrisjusoh

This is the first in a series of articles for this column which will appear every fortnight.

It will also see the contributions of Deputy Education Ministers Datuk Mary Yap and P. Kamalanathan who will share their views on various education-related issues.

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