Education's unique challenges

  • Education
  • Sunday, 16 Feb 2003

THE letter The making of an educated person (Star Education, Feb 9) makes good reading for educators for whom it is vital to comprehend the all-encompassing meaning of the term “education”.  

The term comes from two Latin words – ed (meaning “out of”) and ducar (meaning “to lead out”).  

When combined educar means “to lead out of”, implying that the whole act of education is to lead us out of (ignorance) or to bring out that which is within.  

A general understanding of the term “to educate” is to “give intellectual, moral and social instruction.”  

While I agree with the writer, Abdul Rashid Hanafi (of Universiti Utara Malaysia, Kedah) that it is difficult for a person to be a “master” of all the categories he has outlined, it is imperative that educators constantly strive towards the ideal of all-round development for the individual, as envisioned in our national education philosophy.  

Back in 1952, H.C. Mcknown knowingly stated: The theme of the new education is all-roundness. It recognises that when the child walks into the school all of him comes in – his brain does not walk in on a pair of wooden stilts. He comes in mentally, physically, socially, spiritually and vocationally. This newer education recognises that in all of these phases the child is educable, and further, that he must be educated in all of them if he is to be a complete, well-rounded individual.  

Not very different from that desired by our education system and yet for so long now our education perspective has been tainted by the dictates of exam-perfect scores which cannot be mistaken for academic or intellectual excellence of the scholarly kind.  

Intellectual curiosity develops “the fundamental thinking process” that Abdul Rashid notes, and it is this sense of wonderment that inspires life-long learning. Many writers to this column have expressed similar concerns – that our children go to school to learn to pass exams but remain largely uneducated, reminding us of the saying “education is what survives after you’ve forgotten what you memorised” (the original is attributed to Albert Einstein). This repeated concern underscores how far we have deviated from the tenets of our very own education philosophy. 

The biggest challenge facing Malaysian educators is having to take a long, hard look at the present context of change they find themselves in, and to understand the implications this context has for them as educators. There is a need to move from purely subject-centred teaching to person-centred teaching.  

Paulo Freire, the great Brazilian educator, formulated a learner-centred approach because he viewed education as a tool for possible society change. While we may share his view of education we falter in our methodology to effect such change. 

The challenge in education lies not only in working with the best of brains, it involves bringing the best out of the brains before us. This adds value to the personhood of the learners in our care.  

Being learner-centred is a mindset towards providing information and experiences that meet the needs of a broad range of learners.  

As educators we are fully aware that individuals come to class with a range of knowledge, preferred learning styles, deficiencies and varying attitudes. Being aware is not enough, it is our calling to maximise their returns.  

Education is a nurturing process, during which essential characteristics can be instilled in the personality of learners to make them “whole.”  

French philosopher Jacques Maritain maintains that four main characteristics of personality contribute towards the discussion of personhood and education: knowledge, intelligence, good will, and love.  

He explains that a person holds himself in hand by his intelligence and will. He doesn’t merely exist as a physical being. He is a whole, not a part; a universe unto himself – a microcosm in which the greater universe in its entirety can be encompassed through knowledge. And through love he can give himself freely to beings who are to him other selves, and for this relationship no equivalent can be found in the physical universe. 

Education, therefore, is education for freedom, and not just to exercise one’s free will. It is a freedom that moves beyond the will into the heart of personhood and results in freedom of independence.  

Person-centred education instils responsibility, open mindedness, the desire to be achievement-oriented, and a sense of knowing right from wrong. How do we measure up?  

LUCILLE DASS Head of Centre for English Language KDU College, Penang 

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