New subject for unity

Will an additional subject - Civics and Citizenship - make better Malaysians of our students? SIMRIT KAUR and GAVIN GOMEZ look at whether this new subject will be a burden or benefit

FOR years, Moral Education has come under fire. Parents criticise its implementation, students struggle to score an elusive A for a seemingly simple subject while teachers wonder how to create interest in a subject a big majority of students hate. 

“Our teachers stress that we must know the values and sub-values well in order to score in Moral Education. Why should we be made to memorise values? Morals and ethics are subjective, not something that should be imposed. In an examination question for example, we are told that only one sub-value is appropriate for a situation. The examiners are so rigid,” says Form Five student Joshua Matthews. 

The decision to introduce Moral Education as an examinable subject in 1993 resulted in even more complaints from students who were unhappy about their poor grades in SPM. 

DR ABDUL RAHIM: Done properly, the subject should results in thinking students.

Over the years there have been several reports of impending revisions to the subject. Earlier this year, StarEducation was told by sources that “significant changes” were underway for Moral Education as ministry-level decision makers were not happy with the way the subject was being taught. 

Confirming this, education director-general Datuk Abdul Rafie Mahat revealed earlier this week that a new subject tentatively called Civics and Citizenship Education would be introduced in 2005 for both Muslim and non-Muslims students from Year Four onwards. 

The rationale given is that a new subject is needed to promote nation building, patriotism and civic mindedness among the younger generation. Both Islamic Studies and Moral Education were found to be lacking in this aspect. 

Whether or not Civics and Citizenship will replace or be in addition to Moral Education has not been decided yet. The status of Islamic Studies will not change as Muslim students will still have to take it, he said. Non-Muslim students, on the other hand, may have to take either a revamped Moral Education as an additional subject or Civics and Citizenship, or both. 

Although many would agree that it is time to review Moral Education, they question whether the introduction of a new subject is necessary. 

Nothing has been decided yet, as Abdul Rafie himself admits, noting that any decision made would have far-reaching implications. “We have to look into the timetable, training of teachers, curriculum and syllabus, textbooks and so on. All this cannot be done overnight and must be planned thoroughly,” he said. 


Civics and Citizenship 

A ministry official says the new subject is intended to develop unity through the understanding of one another's cultures and beliefs. “We also want to inculcate patriotism among students.” 

He acknowledges that although there are elements of both values in other subjects, ''it's in bits and pieces, there is no concerted effort to emphasise this in any other subject. For example, in History, the emphasis is on dates and events.” 

Another source reveals that the likelihood of Moral Education and Islamic Studies being scrapped is highly unlikely. “It's unthinkable to scrap Islamic Studies. There would be an outcry among Muslim parents. And if you do away with Moral Education, what are the non-Muslims going to do when the Muslims go for six periods of Islamic Studies? The best solution is to have both and introduce a new subject. Although there will be some overlapping between Civics and Citizenship and Moral Education, we will ensure that it is minimal.” 

He adds that some elements and values more appropriate to Civics and Citizenship will be taken out of Moral Education. The latter will focus on character development with emphasis on universal values. 

On whether the new subject will be tested in national examinations, he says no decision has been made yet. “Even if there is assessment, it will not be the traditional paper and pen format. There will be more assignments and project work.”  

Civics and Citizenship may not even have a textbook as the ministry wants to move away from the traditional way of teaching and assessment. “We are looking at using resource materials instead.” 

Universiti Malaya lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Abdul Rahim Abdul Rashid says that policy makers must be sure about what aspect they want to focus on when designing the curriculum. “They must think about what kind of citizen we want to produce among the younger generation.  

To be effective, teachers must not shy away from discussing controversial and topical issues. Taught properly, the subject should result in more critical and thinking students, he opines. 

National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) president Tengku Habsah Tengku Petera supports the introduction of Civics and Citizenship as a subject. 

“All students, regardless of race, should be taught good values and citizenship together, similar to the Tatarakyat subject we had before,” she says, adding that the subject should also emphasise morality and discipline, as the decline of moral values among students is a serious matter. 

Why now? 

Former education director-deneral Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Arshad supports the revival of Civics and Citizenship in school and believes it is in line with the introduction of national service. The first batch of 18-year-olds are due to begin a three-month national service stint in February next year. A total of 85,000 students will be selected from over 400,000 SPM school leavers. 

The new subject will prepare students for national service by instilling patriotism, unity, loyalty and civic-mindedness in students, he adds. 

“In our efforts towards nation-building these elements are important. Teaching them through other subjects is not sufficient. It is only natural that we start inculcating these elements early in school,'' he said. 

Why is there a need to introduce a new subject into an already crowded school curriculum?  

Explaining the rationale behind the new subject, a ministry official says the Government is concerned about the lack of unity and civic consciousness among the young. Many also don't seem to realise their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a parliamentary democracy. 

Form One student Matthew Achariam does not see the need for a new subject: “I don’t think learning Moral Education and Islamic Studies separately means that non-Muslim and Muslim students are not united” 

According to Abdul Rafie, one of the reasons behind the introduction of Civics and Citizenship is to have Muslim students learn elements of Moral Education in addition to Islamic Studies. “We have also received feedback that there are Muslims who want to learn Moral Education.”  

Dr Abdul Rahim feels it is high time that Moral Education is replaced. “What is more important in a multicultural society is Civics and Citizenship, which is a broad subject. Moral Education is just a small part of the whole picture.  

“I fully support the introduction of this new subject. If the curriculum is done right and structured well, it will make students aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens. However, the syllabus at each level must be age-appropriate as this is a subject more suitable for the upper levels.” 

He says that the teaching of Moral Education had not been successful as teachers focus too much on the memorisation of certain values.  

“Content is formulated based on these values only. This is not the way a curriculum should be formulated. Because of this, students don’t see the subject as being relevant to their lives.” 

In Moral Education, one of the methods used is to pose hypothetical moral dilemmas. ''This method which creates a conflict in people about moral situations can result in confusion,'' he adds. 

Dr Abdul Rahim feels that if Civics and Citizenship is to be made examinable, it should test students on aspects like politics, government, individual rights and global issues. 


Possible problems 

Like any other subject, Civics and Citizenship will need trained and committed teachers for its implementation to be a success. 

This is a problem that the implementation of Moral Education has yet to resolve. Assoc Prof Dr Chang Lee Hoon from Universiti Malaya says until today, 20 years after the implementation of KSBR and subsequently KBSM in 1988, Moral Education is still considered a “filler” subject that anyone can teach. “This issue needs to be resolved first not only for the sake of Moral Education but also for the new Civics and Citizenship subject.” 

The teacher trainer who supervises Universiti Malaya TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) students on teaching practice says that there are not enough teachers being trained to teach Moral Education. 

“As a second method subject in the TESL programme, many trained teachers are required to teach the more important subjects like English rather than Moral Education.” 

Dr Abdul Rahim suggests that teachers with a degree in social studies be given the task of teaching Civics and Citizenship. 

Parent Sarah Tan, with two school-going children says that based on reports so far, the two subjects seem very similar. 

“Children already learn values like unity, tolerance and patriotism in Moral Education. The ministry should just let Muslims study it rather than introduce Civics and Citizenship. This new subject will only burden students more and parents too as they have to buy another set of textbooks for the subject.” 

She adds that in primary schools, students already learn about citizenship in the Kajian Tempatan subject. “Having Moral Education is good enough. Anyway I feel that children absorb good values from their elders.  

However, Sue Yaacob, whose daughter is studying in Year Six, supports the move as students don’t have time to learn about values in Islamic Studies. 

“I notice that Islamic Studies is more about rituals and memorising facts on Islamic history. There is not much time to learn about universal values.” However, she hopes that it will be taught for only one or two periods a week. 


Different views 

Although nothing has been decided yet, many believe that Civics and Citizenship may replace Moral Education, a subject that many deem to be a failure (see chronology). 

It is ironic that Moral Education replaced Civics Education following the introduction of the KBSR and KBSM. The 1979 Cabinet Committee Report's findings showed that Civics Education was not being taken seriously and that there was a need to teach values in school. 

Dr Chang says that Moral Education was introduced and Islamic Studies revamped to substitute Civics Education. 

“There was growing concern that there was 'moral confusion' as well as a lack of respect for traditional values among youths. Moral Education was introduced to provide students with good moral values that are acceptable to our multi-cultural and multi-religious society.” 

With the introduction of Civics and Citizenship, the Moral Education curriculum would also be revised to ensure that there is no overlapping. 

Dr Chang says that the ministry should not do away with Moral Education. “It should be retained but with a focus on character development and perhaps use a different perspective from Civics and Citizenship.  

She says that any overlap should be minimal as Moral Education and Civics and Citizenship complement each other. “For example, Civics and Citizenship can focus on social responsibilities and patriotism, and Moral Education on moral values or virtues.” 

A principal of a secondary school refutes the commonly held belief that students don't take Moral Education seriously. “It is a core subject, students know that if they do badly in it, it will affect their grade.” 

Non-Muslim students do three periods of Moral Education a week while six periods are given to Islamic Studies. Some schools use the extra three periods for Pupils Own Language (POL) classes or relief teachers are sent to the classroom. 

Dr Chang believes that teachers should get students to talk, discuss and share their values. “The aim of Moral Education is to get students to clarify and reflect on their own values, rather than directly telling them what is moral and what is not.''  

“We often hear of students complaining in the press that that they are told to memorise the values and use the exact wording of each value and sub-value, if they get it wrong, they are penalised.  

She adds that teachers feel compelled to teach students to memorise the definitions of the values because of the exam. “There should be an alternative to the present way of assessing Moral Education.”  

An issue that needs to be resolved is how to assist teachers to be more effective in their teaching. She adds that if the authorities don't tackle this issue, “Civics and Citizenship will face the same problem.''  

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