We need an education system that will produce a new generation of students and graduates who value differences and possess questioning minds.
TODAY, I would like to revisit our national education philosophy and propose some ideas and perspectives that might lead us to consider rewriting or changing the objectives altogether.
A simple question to begin with might be: Should we educate our children and our graduates for a local market or for a global one?
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 in the world.
The official national education philosophy reads as follows: “Education in Malaysia is an ongoing effort towards further developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner, so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonious, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God. Such an effort is designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards, and who are responsible and capable of achieving a high level of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, society and the nation at large (bit.ly/edu_philosophy).”
At a glance it sounds nice and all but upon further reflection I found that I have several issues with it. The first is, of course, the idea of education that prepares children for this country and not for a global existence.
Before the existence of the Internet, this philosophy might have held water but now, with Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, I think we are in uncharted waters.
At my university, I am leading a task force on online cheating and my literature review reveals that no one university, prestigious or otherwise, knows how to handle this. Everyone is guessing and playing it by ear.
The second issue I have is with the word “harmony” – it may seem very nice but it is ill-defined.
I have heard some politicians proclaiming 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 know about other Malaysians but I don’t subscribe to this bigoted view of national politics in a Malaysia as envisioned by our forefathers.
Finally, the introduction of a divine element in the text is curious to me.
Which “God” does the philosophy refer to? Does it mean that those who do not believe in a “divine God construct” are “uneducated”? Well, I don’t think scientists like Stephen Hawking or Michio Kaku subscribe to the traditional, scriptural God – are they “uneducated”?
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 alike their own culture, faith, ideas and perspectives but the truth is that nature invalidates this claim.
Take for instance the relationship between a husband and wife. A spouse can be someone who is completely different from you and yet you can live with that person for 40 years. In such a relationship, one plus one does not equal two but six different identities.
Each of us has one identity but if we live with a different other, we will absorb some of the other’s character or traits into ourselves, and we then have an identity of compromised understanding. The key to national unity is not the dominance of one race but the acceptance of all 40 ethnic groups and multiple other faiths. I have one wife and five children and I have had to live with six different identities and so far it has been good. Once, when I tried to force them to accept my own views and ways, I almost broke the family.
The second objective of education 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 thoughts and ideas to make our country and the world a better place.
Now, many are uncomfortable about questioning “religious truth”, “historical facts” and “Constitutional principles”. The simple academic fact is that 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.
I do think our national education philosophy has served its purpose well because it was constructed in a certain context of time and need – but I believe it has outgrown its purpose. We need an education system that will produce a new generation of students and graduates who value differences and possess questioning minds so they can be meaningful members of our community, our nation and our global relationships.
Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University.
The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.