Education for a fragmented society

MALAYSIA, with her 39 ethnic groups, is a fragmented society. We live as strangers among ourselves, with the Semenanjung people not knowing and generally not caring to know our brethren in Sabah and Sarawak and vice versa.

Who is the culprit of this social engineering feat? It’s none other than our education system at all levels – primary, secondary and tertiary.

Firstly, we treat education in a “scientific way” by deconstructing a subject into little pieces. Thus, society as a subject is deconstructed into history, geography, science, morality, religion and arts.

We study things in pieces, and after 11 to 13 years of the first level of schooling, we forget or don’t know what the whole thing was about in the first place! Was there even one to begin with?

After that, we merrily go off to college or university to learn the deconstructed fields of Engineering, Architecture, Medicine, Law and a thousand other elemental forms of career and job-oriented stuff.

Thus, arts and architecture students do not know much about engineering and engineers wonder why we even have arts and architecture in the first place!

I have always wondered why we don’t study the history, culture and religion of all the ethnic groups in our country.

Why are we stuck on and obsessed with one particular group?

Wouldn’t we be enriched and brought closer together as a nation if we knew how everyone’s history, beliefs and lifestyle contributes to our wholeness of being Malaysian?

Why must so much time be devoted to political parties, independence and some age-old archaeological diggings?

History, I read somewhere, is about the present, not the past.

It is the present concerns that define what we need of the past. If we were to document everything in the past, the whole Internet cloud storage system would go bust.

History is a limited window of the past to fit a present need for some specific thing. There is no history without the “present and immediate agenda”.

Therefore, I would like to recommend that we immediately restructure our study of history to address a badly-needed present agenda – getting to know one another!

Focus more on studying how our different communities live, pray, socialise and play. Now, wouldn’t that be a game changer?

In addition, make the narrative of our history show that all the different races contribute together towards our present success or failure stories. Our success is our doing and our failures are our faults.

Next is Geography, a subject I found to be the most boring on earth when I was in school. Let’s focus on the people who are involved in economic activities instead of how many tonnes of rubber and oil palm we produce, how much ports earn or what plants are suitable for cultivation on our soil.

Let’s focus on who the communities working in the padi fields or manning the shops are. Who cares how much Proton earned annually during its heyday? I want to know how mamak restaurants, apam balik stalls and Foodpanda riders drive the economy while the petroleum and palm oil prices crash.

We don’t put images of people to the products and services. Everything is about numbers, tonnage and ringgit only.

Do rubber and oil palm plantations destroy or complement the environment? How do the Orang Asli prosper with their sustainable ways of living? Our students are not taught these things.

That’s why I say that we study in elemental pieces, gleaning bits of information here and there with no overall structure to provide meaning on our people and environment.

I suggest that we reduce the numbers and statistics and put people’s faces to the economic activities instead. And try to interest young minds towards the agro-based industry rather than flying cars.

What about science subjects? Well, we study too much about invisible molecules and not enough on our traditional sustainable crops and how to make them produce better yields.

Again, science is isolated from the beauty of the world and the magic or miracle of nature.

We learn about photosynthesis, green leaves and chlorophyll but do not appreciate the trees and the sun as miracles of creation, giving life, shade and backdrops for romantic meetings as depicted in old Malay songs.

We forget to romanticise the life-giving forces of science and only study it as a by-product of scientific laboratory deconstruction.

What about the arts? Well, if you are not clever, you go to the arts stream; it’s as simple as that! We do not teach that human beings express their humanity in poetry, painting, architecture, food, dance forms and many others.

To us, the arts is simply not science. Medicine used to be called “The Art of Medicine” and not “The Science”.

The arts represents a higher order of thinking and shows off the different cultures of the people in this country.

On moral and religious studies, simply put, we teach one group of students about a single way to look at one value system and we teach another group another value system. And then we tell them not to mix the two, otherwise they would be confused about what “being good” is all about.

The way I see it, our “wonderful” education system is deconstructing our society into its 39 suspicious and mistrusting groups of citizens.

Happy Merdeka, Malaysia!

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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