Clarifying Literacies: There are many courses that can contribute towards nation-building
RIGHT across the education system there have been efforts to develop potentialities of individuals to the fullest, as there have been efforts to build the nation.
There have always been the twin efforts to use the education system to focus on individual competencies, for the sake of the individual, and for the sake of the nation.
Beyond basic literacies of reading, writing, numeracy, and moral development, there are other literacies.
Of the new literacies, information communication technology (ICT, or digital literacy) is considered most important.
Over the years, particularly from the 1990s, Malaysia has invested abundantly to ensure that Malaysians are IT literate.
At the school level across the education system, there are the groupings of core subjects related to the fundamental literacies.
Schools and universities offer communicative foreign languages such as Japanese, Mandarin, French, German, Thai and Vietnamese as well.
Actually, if there are positive attitudes towards other people, languages and language learning, Malaysians have the opportunity to be polyglots. The opportunities in Malaysia are much more than available to those in relatively homogenous, monolingual nations.
Over two decades ago, a compulsory course on Islamic Civilisation was offered in universities. The curriculum revision led to the formulation of a new course on Islamic and Asian Civilisation.
The focus is on civilisational knowledge, with emphasis on the great civilisations, and dialogue on the future of civilisations.
With the expansion of higher education and the implementation of the policy of democratisation of education, there has been an increase in the number of graduates.
The powerful leaders of industry and employers as a whole gave feedback that graduates are lacking in what has been termed soft skills or global skills.
The response by the government to the challenges of unemployment, particularly of public university graduates, was to provide undergraduates with soft skills while they are studying or to continue to provide them such soft skills after they have graduated.
The compulsory subjects across the school system into tertiary education are different levels of Malay, Islamic Studies, Moral Education, and Malaysian Studies.
The ongoing revisions of the compulsory subjects to become the general education subjects at university level leads to the emergence or reemergence of such subjects as Ethnic Relations, Employability Skills, Presentation Skills, Community Service and Curriculum, Entrepreneurship, Critical and Creative Thinking, Study Skills, Psychology and Interpersonal Relations, Personal Development Skills, Personal Financial Planning Skills and even Stress Management Skills.
The offerings are somewhat like the Liberal Arts offering without clear and integrated philosophy regarding the compulsory subjects, as well as the electives.
Although the National Service Programme (Program Latihan Khidmat Negara or PLKN) is not part of the school curriculum, it has actually achieved the educational purposes of building personal confidence and nurturing the foundations of citizenry and national unity.
Despite initial glitches including deaths, accidents, bullying or other mishaps, PLKN has come of age.
While there are many areas which still need improvements, overall, PLKN has received positive feedback from the majority of trainees.
Thousands of the young look forward to attend the programme. By word of mouth, it has become one of those programmes institutionalised in Malaysian youth culture. Young people who do not attend the programme feel a kind of loss for not being given an opportunity.
When there are good contents, exciting materials delivered by passionate teachers, subjects, however difficult or seemingly not relevant, can take on elevated status.
Subjects are made mandatory for some reasons regarding the education of the citizenry. Through such subjects several of the purposes of education could be achieved simultaneously.
In the past, at school level, the subject Civics was relegated to a dismissive level. In many nations Citizenship Education is regarded as among the most important in the school curriculum.
Islamic and Asian Civilisation, Ethnic Relations, Critical and Creative Thinking are some of the subjects whose importance may not be fully understood by decision-makers.
In many institutions, such subjects are taught by young academicians. Actually, such subjects meant for all students should be taught by the senior lecturers of calibre of emeritus or distinguished professorship with the teaching for wisdom mission.
With the power of intellect, life experience, pedagogical mastery, and imagination, such subjects should be taught and learned well -- as exciting, inspiring, life changing courses, not dull, boring or mundane courses.
The cumulative impact of such subjects should lead to the achievements of the purposes of education which include character and competence, beliefs, moral values, socialisation, citizenship, autonomy and capacity for values clarification and reasoned action.
Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid | email@example.com is a deputy vice-chancellor, INTI Laureate International University New Straits Times Education Columnist 14 June 2013