I NEVER had any formal training in teaching. My other half who is a teacher, could have been one of the discussants at the recent Perdana Discourse Series on the Role of Education in Leadership Development delivered by Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
But the subject of education is not exclusive to teachers.
Since the idea of reviewing the status of two public examinations -- Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah and Penilaian Menengah Rendah -- was mooted, there has been a litany of views, for and against the proposition.
On July 1, Muhyiddin announced that roundtable discussions will be held to deliberate on the issue, where "stakeholders and interested parties are invited to give their views, although we have conducted a lot of research on this subject".
But I did not discuss Malaysia's examination-oriented school system during the panel session after the keynote address.
I spoke about coercion, choice and consciousness.
The other two discussants were Tan Sri Arshad Ayub and Datin Freida Mohd.Pilus.
I was alluding to the meaning of education and being educated.
We go to primary school not by choice.
Our parents decide for us.
In school, the teachers take over, instilling order and discipline, and teaching us the fundamental modes of knowing and doing things.
In his keynote address, Muhyiddin described education as a holistic process of developing each individual's potential.
It is both inside and outside the classroom.
Apart from transmitting knowledge and skills, education includes experiential and exploratory learning, leading to creativity and innovation.
To produce the right human capital, he called for a revaluation of the curriculum towards an effective and holistic system of assessment, failing which "we run the risk of failing the nation in the future".
I told participants who attended the panel discussions that the outcome of education is consciousness.
It is about being, about our identity, where we come from and where we are in the larger scheme of things.
It is as much about character and nation-building as being critical and subversive. The nation expects a new phase in education in Malaysia.
Australian academic James Campbell in his article (Learning Curve, June 20) on education revolution encapsulates the context in which we are going through.
He delves into wisdom -- not the mode of its acquisition, but understanding what it is -- an intangible element defining how we make use of our education and what lessons we take from it.
How then do understand wisdom?
The indicator of a wise man is in his questions.
Ask my students.
In the courses that I had taught ranging from Opinion Writing to a graduate course on Epistemology, and now Malaysian Studies, I shared with them the art and science of asking the right questions.
I often ask my students, as part of their examinations, to ask a series of questions on what had been taught.
I am not interested in their answers.
I would grade them on their questions.
But I have also asked my students to ask their own questions during examinations and answer them.
Grades were given for both.
Campbell argued that an education system that understands wisdom and its manifestation, and instilled practices and capacities into its students would be world-class.
He relates these arguments to the 10th Malaysia Plan where the education system is "critical in strengthening the competitiveness of the country and in building 1Malaysia".
But how do we create wisdom? Should we cultivate wisdom, and intelligence and thinking at the same time? If I were asked about the product of the present education system, my response would be intelligence -- not wisdom and not thinking.
During the panel session, I had raised issues and ramifications of the education system for Malaysia -- that pertaining to consciousness and competitiveness.
I had imagined the value of being critical by not necessarily being subversive to nationhood and nation-building.
In that regard I had raised the value of cultivating a sense of time and a sense of place in the teaching and the conceptualisation of history and geography respectively.
The education system in Malaysia must instil a shared concept of history and that of geographical space in students.
The system must make us territorial -- both in the concrete and abstract sense.
The national flag represents that symbol.
Place it in every classroom and know why it is there. Various parties have complained that the Malaysian education system is examination oriented.
It has been argued that because of the focus on tests, learning is not enjoyable, it takes away creativity, innovation, thought and reflection.
Some have said that students are passive and do not know how to ask questions.
They are also not active in extracurricular activities and sports.
The focus on public examinations has taken away the education from the system. But any move to re-evaluate and revamp the Malaysian education system has to address the teaching profession -- talent, capacity and excessive bureaucracy.
Much of the discourse focuses on the output -- the students; but few have addressed the profession and the culture of the education bureaucracy in Malaysia.Both the profession and policy makers represent the input.
These greatly shape and structure the system.
The obsession with authority and hierarchy will have to go.
I observe a condescending attitude of the education authorities towards teachers. But the more significant problem is the urban-rural gap in the teaching profession.
I have doubts about how this has been approached by our education policy-makers and administrators.
We are not only talking about facilities.
We are also talking about ethos.
There are two cultures and two education systems in Malaysia -- one rural, the other urban.
And this is not to mention different ideologies and parochialisms.
The difference is visible.
The gap is significant.
This affects the conception and execution of order and discipline, attitudes and world views between rural and urban schools, not to speak of exposure to language and information. If it is argued that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities in both rural and urban schools can level the playing field, think again.
ICT is not wisdom.
It is the wisdom of teachers, school heads and principals, not forgetting parents and the authorities.
The policy of placing new teachers in rural areas also must be re-evaluated.
This policy has damaged the system.
Instead of sending rookies, send the experienced ones if we are serious about educating our rural population.
At the same time, have teacher exchange programmes where, for example, teachers from the Klang Valley serve in rural areas for a period of time and vice versa.
When this happens, there will be interaction of ethos and values, a more mitigating situation is created where teachers learn from each other in different social, cultural and economic settings.
Rural school teachers, for example, should be exposed to more cosmopolitan settings, learn and understand world-class systems and procedures in Klang Valley schools.
Urban teachers should also experience teaching in rural schools.
This is essential in designing and perpetuating an effective education system.
The narrowing of the rural-urban gap is urgent and critical.
The status of History is also a concern.
This is where vision and idealism come in.
Apart from reconstituting the subject of History, what has to be addressed is the teaching of History.
At issue here is not so much the curriculum, but its delivery.
Who teaches History, to whom and in what context? Certainly, the approach and emphasis differ depending on the background, intellectual orientation and ideology of the teachers.
Also I would assume that perspectives vary among different types of schools -- national, national-type and religious.
Apart from History, subjects such as Geography, Literature, Art and Music should be enhanced to develop thought, creativity and reflection to enable long-term and abstract thinking. Much has been said about sport and its role in schools.
The one student, one sport policy can only be implemented in a situation where public examinations are de-centred.
The massive task is transforming values and attitudes towards sport among teachers, students and parents.
The approach towards the teaching of physical education needs to be re-examined.
Non-option teachers should not be forced to teach physical education.
And no more ustaz or ustazah to teach Physical Education.
I am sure the education bureaucracy would face some resistance in phasing out examinations. This would especially come from publishers; distributors and retailers of examination notes and questions; and tuition centres. These emerged due to the examination focused school system. Let there be no compromise on such stakeholders.
But assessments in schools would still be there. This is where school systems and procedures, facilities and the character and ethos of teachers would have to be uniform regardless of setting and locality. The Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia is to be maintained. A common assessment needs to be developed for entry into boarding schools and universities, for example.
Doing away with such a regimentation also augurs well for teacher creativity, which is now constrained by the need to comply with completing the syllabus and ensuring their students make the grade.
Doing away with public examinations would remove this "monolithic" pressure nationwide to the family unit and in turn would eradicate other problems too.
On the other hand, would taking the pressure away from public examinations lead to other issues of a more potent kind? This reminds me of German-born British economist E. F. Schumacher's view on education. In his 1973 book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, he likened education to a toolbox. It provides the relevant and necessary tools for life. Schumacher was silent on its context.
But value would have to be given to the toolbox. The tools would have to be used in context. There must be a purpose. Each tool has a specific function; and the user of the tool must not only have the intelligence for its use, but also the wisdom for its proper use in time and place.
We have to de-school ourselves. This is the time to reinvent our pedagogy and the ethics of the consumption of national identity. In so doing, taking the cue from Spanish philosopher George Santayana, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Source : Learning Curve 2010/07/10 A. Murad Merican. The writer is a Professor of Humanities at the Department of Management and Humanities, Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS. He is also the Perdana Leadership Foundation Honorary President Resident Fellow. Email him at email@example.com
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