TRANSFORMATION: Education Development Plan aspires to shape attitudes and values for national integration
THE Malaysia Education Development Plan (PPPM) 2013-2025 is undoubtedly the most comprehensive document on education produced in the country since Merdeka.
It examines in-depth the most critical issues confronting the Malaysian education system, from preschool to postsecondary levels.
These issues are presented as 11 paradigm shifts, ranging from equalisation of access to quality education and enhancing competency in Bahasa Malaysia and English to harnessing information and communications technology for the learning process and expanding cooperation with parents, the community and the private sector to ensure the progress of students.
Concrete proposals on how transformation will take place accompany each paradigm shift. The emphasis is upon outcomes that are spelt out clearly.
A close look at the proposals and the desired outcomes would reveal that they have been guided to a large extent by the National Education Philosophy enunciated in 1988 that seeks to produce balanced and harmonious human beings from the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical perspectives who believe in, and are loyal to, God.
Our concern here is with how the PPPM relates to national unity, which since the Razak Report of 1956 has remained one of the cardinal goals of education.
The PPPM regards "unity" as one of its five aspirations. It states that the "education system should provide opportunities for pupils to share their experiences and aspirations to build and strengthen the foundation for unity among the people of Malaysia". It further emphasises that a strong sense of national identity is important for the success of the nation.
While most of the 11 paradigm shifts are connected to national unity, it is paradigm shift No. 3 that addresses the challenge directly.
In according primacy to lofty moral values such as integrity, compassion and justice, the goal also regards the ability to accept individuals of a different religion and ethnicity as one of the laudable outcomes of the transformation it seeks to achieve.
Paradigm shift No. 3 states that the curriculum for Islamic Education for Muslim students and Moral Studies for non-Muslim students will focus on values that reinforce unity and good relations among human beings.
There is an ocean of literature on love and respect for all human beings -- indeed for all creation -- in Islam and the other religions, which can be incorporated into the curriculum at all levels of the education system. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence to show that our preschool, primary and secondary schoolchildren are exposed to stories and episodes that celebrate the oneness of humanity.
Our curriculum planners, especially those who are in charge of Islamic Education, should have the courage and the conviction to mainstream writings on humanity's shared origin, heritage, values, joys and sorrows in textbooks.
In fact, more than written texts, our schools should be able to utilise outstanding films and documentaries on humanity as teaching aids if they are truly committed to implementing the PPPM.
The PPPM's paradigm shift No. 3 also seeks to facilitate interaction among pupils in schools using different mediums of instruction through the Education Ministry's "Rancangan Integrasi Murid Untuk Perpaduan" (RIMUP).
This programme encourages interaction among pupils and teachers from the national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools through co-curricular activities. An evaluation of RIMUP conducted by the ministry's inspectorate showed that it had succeeded in its aim of breaking down barriers and bringing pupils and teachers of different backgrounds together. It is a pity, therefore, that RIMUP's activities have been curtailed of late because of budgetary constraints.
It is in the interests of the nation to increase RIMUP's allocation and to expand its programmes and activities. This should be done as a matter of urgent priority. We should not wait until 2016, which according to the PPPM is the scheduled date for RIMUP's expansion. One hopes that in the 2014 Budget to be announced next month, there would be a clear commitment to the revitalisation of RIMUP.
In RIMUP, the teacher has a tangential role in fostering unity. The PPPM, which is cognisant of the central role of the teacher in the transformation of education, has not given enough attention to her role vis-a-vis unity.
Teacher training curriculum should be reviewed to determine whether it is helping to eradicate prejudices and stereotypes, and to enhance understanding and empathy among the communities. Does the curriculum equip the teachers with knowledge and skills to address religious and ethnic issues that students in secondary school sometimes raise in the classroom?
Even more important, can teacher training build attitudes that will make a future teacher a genuine bridge-builder rather than an erector of ethnic walls? This is a redoubtable task given that by the time a trainee teacher enters college, her dominant ethnic attitudes are more or less set.
This is why in the ultimate analysis, the PPPM has a modest role in shaping attitudes and values that will contribute towards unity and integration. The family perhaps has a more crucial role to play. The community, religious personalities, cultural institutions, politics, and even the popular media may sometimes be more important than the school.
Nonetheless, the school and formal education are vital to the quest for national unity. And, the PPPM, properly monitored and implemented, may make a significant contribution to that national mission of ours.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar The NST Home Opinion Columnist 15/10/2013